One Woman Decides to Use Basketball to Teach Life Skills to Impoverished Children

"In India structured sports is meant for the elite and upper class…We all know municipal schools; government schools and tribal schools are not in par with private schools".

Photo Credit : Ms Sundar (in saree) with HI5 Youth team,

In the words of Usha Sundar, cofounder of Hi5 Youth Foundation, a network of sports resources that encourages underprivileged children to get into sports and develop essentials skills for life:

Giving is the most beautiful word – imparting, performing, dedicating, devoting. To rationalize this we realized when something is beyond reach for someone, the cause can be fulfilling. When something is fun and joy for someone, the cause can be rewarding, when something is doable, we call that being fortunate.

My husband Sundar and I needed to live a life by “giving” and see it transform to a worthy cause after coming back to Mumbai from 16-year stint in the US. Without being tied down to a usual routine, we went visiting many educational institutions saw people doing incredible work, but wanted to be unique. We love children and sure love their smiles.

Our boys who played basketball in the US would always credit those growing up years to the game and definitely felt successful in adult life because of “team sports”. They felt it taught them the right values and positive attitude towards life. Our younger boy while working, volunteered his time coaching basketball to school kids in the same neighborhood that he grew up in. As a young adult, he was a mentor, coach, role model and a friend to the children. This definitely inspired us in the early stages.

After brainstorming many months, my husband and I came up with this idea of being unique – “Sports Education” for the underprivileged children. Thoughts have to convert to actions. In India structured sports is meant for the elite and upper class. Playing with the right infrastructure, right gear and with structured curriculum was unheard of for the underprivileged. We all know municipal schools; government schools and tribal schools are not in par with private schools.

The idea emerged that we launch a basketball foundation at the grassroots level where we can train children who are hungry for opportunities. Besides us, another colleague, a veteran basketball coach in Mumbai joined in as part of this journey. With many hours and days of work, we put together a structured curriculum. To scale this movement, we needed curriculum, courts and a team of young coaches. I made many cold calls to private schools and clubs for a basketball court but nobody obliged. Finally, YMCA Ghatkopar was grateful during their non-peak hours. We mobilized children with the help of social workers and hired coaches for training. Thus, our first launch was on April 13, 2015 with 120 children and 2 coaches in Ghatkopar.

Today, the youth foundation we set up is the largest in India is an excellence based program that trains 1200 children, 50/50 girls and boys at 15 centers, over 20 coaches, two modern basketball courts built by Hi5, and 52 teams participating – a multi-year, a multi-level program with professional training including full gear and embedded with life skills given completely free to children between 9 and16 years. The results are amazing; with the right values given there is complete transformation, self confidence, grit, the “I CAN” attitude especially with girls. It’s rewarding to see our work spreading happiness and cultivating talent among these children.

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