By Harshikaa Udasi | Opening Doorz Editorial | November 10, 2016

Ganesh Chawan, founder of 360 Life Changer Charitable Trust engages underprivileged children in sports. “I could see that they would end up doing things that would be detrimental to them—drinking and smoking. They didn’t have enough to do after school.”

Harshikaa Udasi, fascinated by his determination and the camaraderie he shares with the kids, decides to find out what it is that makes him tick.

Every evening, you can see Ganesh Chawan on the basketball ground at the YMCA, Borivali, a sports-crazy suburb of Mumbai. Actually, most of the time, you can’t really see him. The best way to tell where he is would be to follow the kids’ huddle. There, trying to stand his own with children towering over him and clamouring for his attention, will be this man— their basketball coach. Try comparing their height with his and he shrugs, “Yes, they are all taller than me, I think!”

But this man stands tall. A coach for the last 13 years, he is also the Founder of 360 Life Changer Charitable Trust, an NGO which encourages underprivileged children from the slums to take up sports, coaching them in their area of interest. ‘Ganesh sir’ as he is fondly called by everyone, personally coaches them in basketball and tchoukball, with 11 other coaches [“basically good friends who want to help me with the cause”] consulting on table tennis, badminton, football and other games. With 150 underprivileged children coming every alternate day to him from various BMC schools, this single man’s initiative has made a difference.

Ganesh Chawan: The game changer

Ganesh was a coach at YMCA Bandra when he saw young kids, largely pre-teens and teenagers, whiling away time post-school hours. “I could see that they would end up doing things that would be detrimental to them—drinking and smoking. They didn’t have enough to do after school,” he says. That’s when he thought of engaging them in sports, specifically basketball which he coached regular members for at YMCA. The authorities were forthcoming and he started coaching these kids thrice a week on the same ground, alternating them with the days when members would come to train with him.

And he soon realized that the kids were super enthusiastic about this new concept. “They would come willingly, play hard, learn the techniques, practise continuously, have a great time with their friends in a positive way and by the time they would reach home, all they had energy for was to eat and crash! That’s how a child’s life should be—irrespective of his economic status, right?” he asks rhetorically. His efforts paid off and he had a jolly band of young followers. One of his early students from YMCA Bandra, Samson Sandhu Singh, even made it to the National U-14 team and is a known name now.

As he shows us a news piece about another of his protégés— Priti Yadav, who has excelled in the recent U-19 girl’s Tchoukball Tournament organized by Mumbai District Tchoukball Association, Ganesh says with pride, “My kids are passionate about the game and they fight tooth and nail to win. That’s what spurs me on as a coach too.”

There is a list of shining stars in his group. There’s Nilesh Yadav (older brother of Priti), who has played the U-19 Nationals and has won the Best Player North Mumbai District and Abhishek Prajapati, who is playing the Nationals too. “In fact, Abhishek was selected for the Asian Championships but we couldn’t manage to send him abroad due to lack of documents and funds. We needed Rs one lakh then,” he says, helplessly.

Funding and inadequate documents are the biggest impediments to the growth of these children in their respective sports. “What’s the final goal for any sportsperson? To make it internationally. With these kids, the problem is that their documents are somewhere in their villages and there is a lot of paperwork required to get their passport done. Funding their travel and their gear is an equally, if not more, difficult task. Sometimes getting their parents to give Rs 50 to travel from here to Navi Mumbai for a match is difficult! With girls, it’s even trickier because parents ask me, ‘What’s the point? She’s going to get married and make chapatis at home ultimately’! Yes, this is Mumbai,” he says with a sigh.

But there are good Samaritans who always crop up. Children and their parents from the nearby affluent schools, Mary Immaculate Girls’ High School, Vibgyor and Divine Child, for instance. The children act as facilitators during tournaments and donate their shoes, while parents sponsor money for jerseys and travel. “There are times when I have given my own shoes to one or the other kid to use and return!” laughs Ganesh, making light of the situation. “See, basketball is actually an indoor game but in India, we have made it an outdoor sport because of lack of facilities. In this case, there is greater wear and tear of shoes and each good pair comes for thousands. If we change them every 3 months, the cost is unimaginable.” That’s when you notice. The kids are playing in their floaters, some even bare feet.

In spite of the seemingly insurmountable challenges, Ganesh dreams of starting a sports school for the slum children. “I wish I can do it. Establish a school where they can complete their formal education and where sports and studies go hand-in-hand. Not as an extra-curricular activity. It will be a boarding school and hopefully, I will be able to take care of all their documents. They will have valid passports and we will create world-class players,” he smiles.

If you wish to help 360 Life Changer Charitable Trust, call Ganesh Chawan on +91 98928 49897

They are on the lookout for clothing, shoes, venues, coaches and funds. If you have the will and the capacity, raise a sportsperson.

(Harshikaa Udasi has worked with top publications across the country for the last 15 years. When not busy with her journalistic pursuits, she runs a book reading club for children called Book Trotters Club. Besides these full-time pursuits, she enjoys observing the two main circuses of our country—Bollywood and politics.)

Also Read: Finding Miss Genelia

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