Running the World: 5 Ways Sports Can Change a Girl's Life

How sports can change a girl's lifeHow sports can change a girl's lifeIf you haven't heard Beyonce's hit song, "Run the World," listen to it now. Then come back. I'll wait. The first time I heard this song (because I'm not cool and I live in a cave) was in October when I attended the espnW Women + Sports Summit in Arizona. That's also where I met Rahul Brahmbhatt, director of the Magic Bus organization.

Since 1999, Magic Bus has been using sports as a catalyst for social change in communities living under the poverty line in India by combining youth mentoring and experiential learning as its core foundation. In the early years, less than 4% of children in Magic Bus were girls - a direct reflection of a society that only placed girls in the traditional roles of daughter, wife, mother, and homemaker. When Magic Bus enters a community for the first time, the question posed by parents is always the same: "How can anything sports-related possibly change my daughter's life for the better?" Today, more than 44% of the 220,000 children in Magic Bus are girls - and they are writing the next chapters in their lives everyday. Here are just a few examples of how sports can, and are, changing the lives of girls and women across the developing world.

1. Health Reform
Just a year and a half ago, in 17-year-old Anjani Yadav's rural North Indian community, 80 percent of girls had anemia. Seeing this, she taught children about low iron and supplements as a Magic Bus Youth Leader. Today, Anjani is proud to report that not a single girl in her community is reporting low iron levels. What does a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader do? A Magic Bus CYL is a young male or female generally between 18-25, who has been identified by the community, village elders, teachers, or local NGOs as a high-potential individual. He/she goes out into his/her own community and works with 25 boys/girls, taking on the role of coach/teacher/mentor. He/she runs sessions for children aged 8-15 a minimum of once a week, 2 hours each, focused on 30 mins of warm-up/team building, 1 hour of exercise/activity/experiential learning, and 30 mins of processing/reflecting.

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2. Youth Volunteerism

Gulafsha Ansari, 15, is helping break gender-based stereotypes in her community by using the leadership skills she has learned through soccer and sports. She resides in a town where girls traditionally are not allowed out of the house after reaching adolescence. She has taken it upon herself to be the role model for peers in her area by planning and executing a time every week where girls can play soccer. To achieve this, Gulafsha spent 3 months going door to door requesting that the parents allow their daughters to play, illustrating to them the benefits it has given to her, and slowly many families relented. Today, she manages a weekly program in her community that 20-25 girls attend.

Sports build a communitySports build a community3. Community Building
In 2007, Magic Bus noticed there was 0% girl participation in their program in a Muslim area of Dharavi, Asia's largest slum. Since their goal is 50% participation in all programs, this was unacceptable. The team did three months of surveying, and surprisingly, the mothers in this community were the barriers to the girls participating; they didn't see the value in girls playing sports. Magic Bus offered to hold a mother's and grandmother's tournament three months later where the women could see, firsthand, the emotional and physical benefits of exercise and experiential learning. The event was such a huge success that Magic Bus holds these annual tournaments in each of the urban centers in which it operates. The best part is that the original teams formed between women were the seeds for the first self-help groups in these slum areas, where women could support each other and brainstorm initiatives in savings, microfinance, and more. Women who have spent their entire lives as someone's daughter and then someone's wife were able to see one another in a new light: as friends and teammates.

Related: 9 ways to help your child athlete avoid sports injuries

Sports builds life skillsSports builds life skills4. Job Preparedness
Sarita Gupta, 22, was like many youth in India today; she completed school and has technical skills, but doesn't have the employability skills - anger management, punctuality, teamwork, etc. - to succeed in the emerging economy. Three years ago, she became a Magic Bus Community Youth Leader, which gave her access to the Magic Bus Employability Program, Connect. Drawing upon the lessons inherent in sports and coaching, Connect helped Sarita develop the skills and emotional intelligence needed to be successful in a well-paying job. She now works full time as a designer for a local garment company and is earning more than 5 times what her mother, a ragpicker and seamstress, earns each month to help support her joint family.

5. Dreaming Big
Prajakta Tambadkar, 16, hails from the urban slums of Mumbai, where girls are typically pulled out of school by 10th grade to be groomed for marriage. Prajakta has been part of Magic Bus for more than six years, and for the past two years, has had the opportunity to spend summers in the United States to take part in the Julie Foudy Sports Leadership Academy with many of her Magic Bus teammates. This once-shy girl has blossomed; Prajakta was recently named to the U19 State of Maharashtra Women's Soccer team and will be competing nationally. Her goals now are to finish college in India and then move to the United States, where she would like to attend graduate school and continue to work on her soccer.

- By Dara Petinelli

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