When our kids make us proud…

At the end of May 2015, we embarked on a trip with 11 of our children to attend ‘Bridging the Gaps ‘  an Ultimate  Frisbee / Youth camp being held at Ahmedabad. This camp which brought together 125 teens and 35 coaches from across India is a unique sport-art sleep-away camp designed to teach life skills development to its participants.  Other than facilitating cross cultural bonding over sport and art-based personal development activities, the teens learn to overcome barriers, challenge themselves to develop skills and relationships and learn to celebrate the diversity of other’s experiences.

At Project KHEL, we focus a lot on the scaffolding theory, where the ‘expert supports the novice’ till a point of time, beyond which the novice is able to stand on his/ her own and perform just as well. We look at our regular programme on Life Skills Education, as doing just that. The sessions aim to inculcate in the beneficiaries better ways of thinking, behaving, reacting, expressing and decision-making, with constant support from the facilitators and after some time, they should not need our support.

One limitation we had felt quite often was that we were barely able to place our children outside of their regular surroundings, except for the one off events that we organize. Attending the Bridging the Gap camp came as one of the bigger opportunities for our children and for us, the biggest opportunity to test how well we had achieved our objectives.

This was to be our first outstation trip with a selected group of our children. Since we were taking the plunge and bearing the huge responsibility of travelling with children, we converted it into a Frisbee camp + educational tour by adding trips to Agra and Fatehpur-Sikri, and we never had to regret this decision.

Throughout the travel, the children were looking out for each other, making sure everyone is there before we leave a particular place, making sure everyone has eaten and so on. Our nervousness went on to a whole different  level once we reached the camp site. We knew our children were not fluent in English and we knew there would be participants from different parts of the country and so I guess we were a tiny bit anxious, but wanted to let our children take their own time. And honestly, within the 10 mins of meeting other participants, our children reminded us how we so often had said in our session that language is not the only means nor a barrier when we genuinely want to communicate to someone. The very first day itself, we had teared up a bit, our chests swelling with pride, well because, we had taught them well! As the evening went on, our children began introducing our organization and our structures of growth with such ease and confidence that could make even our facilitators look less informed. It was a wonderful feeling seeing them talk so well and confidently about so many things.

The following days weren’t any less than awesome either. All our children had been separated into teams for the duration of the camp so none of them were with another familiar face from Lucknow. We were apprehensive about how they would perform in mixed groups with language issues, cultural barriers and playing with other children who had already played the sport. However, they shone! And how! Translating their coaches’ instructions, helping out the slower children in their team, looking out for the more introverted children in the camp, they were making their presence felt in every little way possible. We don’t know how to say this without sounding boastful, but for most interactive sessions, we saw our kids being the first to give coherent replies, speaking one at a time, raising their hands before talking and stopping to talk if someone else began talking at the same time. It wasn’t this was some sort of competition, but we did feel exceptionally happy seeing children from a bigger, more established organizations, working on similar lines as ours, lagging way behind in these small aspects. Since they barely took opportunities to speak in the beginning, most of what they said towards the end was already covered by our children. We’ll repeat, we weren’t in some competitive mode, but to be able to keep our heads held high in front of the giants of our own sector definitely boosted us immensely in our confidence.

While every minute in the camp swelled our hearts with pride, because WE were the teachers of this wonderful lot from Lucknow, it went beyond mere happiness when random children from the camp came to shake our hands saying “so you’re the didi/sir from KHEL” and when coaches walked up saying they personally needed to congratulate us because our children in their teams have been exceptional. The cherry on the cake was when even the organizers took time out to learn more about our work and ideologies because that is how brilliant our children made us look.

Throughout the camp, coaches and mentors from each of the teams made it a point to congratulate us on our children and we were almost always left speechless and embarrassed with all the attention we were getting because of THEIR conduct and performance! On the last day, we knew we had to thank the organizers for the support they had provided in making the trip to the camp possible. While we were doing this, one of the organizers said- “every time a coach began talking about a child who was playing and behaving exceptionally well, our first response would be- ‘is that child from Project KHEL?’” The icing on the cake was a super emotionally charged farewell huddle with our children and the camp organizers Liz and Sangeeta. Amid all the tears, both of them spoke of how the Project KHEL children already HAD whatever the camp aimed to inculcate through the 5 day camp!

As mentioned in the beginning, we were nervous because this was our first time taking our children out of their regular surrounding and placing them in a completely strange place with people they had never met before, but by the end of it we were left speechless with happiness because every child had outperformed our expectations. Also, as on organization, we got proof of our systems, beliefs and ideologies, because needless to say, it worked. We removed the scaffolding and our children stood tall among the 120 odd children from across the country, maintaining their own and making their presence felt throughout. Our take away from the camp is to stick to our ideals – though we often have to talk in terms of numbers to donors and prospective funders, its not just about the numbers – we work with just over a thousand children each week – what matters is WHAT we do with those children. Thank you