Tackling school drop-outs through the power of sport
Gender inequality, low literacy levels and a rigid caste system are just some of the challenges facing children in poor communities of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, southern India. But children here have one thing in common - they love sport.
Plan International’s Empowerment Through Sports project, supported by sports media firm Perform Group, harnesses children’s love of sport to tackle some of these issues. The project also uses sport as a ‘hook’ to get children who have dropped out to return to school. Over three years the project will directly impact 3,600 children and build 16 new playing fields, giving them a safe place to play.
I recently accompanied four employees of Perform to visit the project on Andhra Pradesh’s east coast, an area prone to cyclones, floods and other extreme weather events - as we would soon discover.
We arrived in a small fishing community and were warmly greeted by parents of children enrolled in the Empowerment Through Sport project. We gathered in the local cyclone shelter and talked to the parents about how their children had been impacted by the project, and how it has changed their attitudes towards their children’s education. One parent told us that her son, who wasn’t interested in school and dropped out to help his father on the fishing boats, decided to return as he wanted to participate in the Empowerment Through Sport sessions that run at his local school. A total of 218 children have now returned to school as a direct result of the project.
Plan believes that the involvement of the whole community is crucial to the sustainability of the projects we run and the support of parents has been crucial to the project’s success. It was reassuring to hear how enthusiastic parents were about Empowerment Through Sport and how they have come to discover the value of their children playing sport.
A short hop over to the village school, we spoke to children about what they enjoy about the project and what they have learnt. 12-year-old Kamya told us, “Now boys and girls play together - we didn’t do that before. The project teaches us about gender equality, and girls have the same rights as boys.”
The projects sessions are conducted by community youth volunteers who receive training on delivering sports and informal education sessions. We spoke to 19-year-old Adi who told us volunteering for the programme has made him more confident and he gets great enjoyment out of helping children learn about their rights. He is proud of being a volunteer, and has also gained respect within the community for his role in the project.
We travelled south to Prakasam district and were honoured to be invited to the district-wide annual sport tournament that involves eight schools. Despite the torrential rain we were given an enthusiastic welcome by the population of the entire district. Perform’s CEO of New Ventures Ben Warn opened proceedings and we were duly invited to kick off the tournament with a game of handball.
As the games were underway, we were taken on a tour of the village by school teachers and other community members. We were invited into the home of 11-year-old Saima. Her father broke his leg in a motorbike accident, leaving him unable to work and support his wife and three daughters. His 18-year-old daughter left the family home to get married and his middle daughter, aged 15, went to work in the cotton fields. Saima dropped out of school to help support her parents. She heard from her friends that they were now learning sports at school and also learning about hygiene, the right to education and social issues like early marriage.
Seeing Saima’s enthusiasm, and having learnt more about the importance of education through the community outreach aspect of the Empowerment Through Sport project, her father decided she should go back to school. She is now in grade six and dreams of being a teacher.
Access to basic services remains a significant problem for the communities we visited. Nevertheless, Empowerment Through Sport has made a huge difference to children’s school attendance, and has increased their understanding of their rights to education, play and equality. They were immensely proud to receive their medals at the conclusion of the tournament.
Plan recognises the role sport plays in supporting education and tackling gender inequality. Former Chelsea star Carlo Cudicini recently visited one of our football programmes in Ghana, find out about his trip and how football can be used as a powerful force of change.
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