- Abhishek Omprakash Dubey
It’s a hot humid day, when I enter one of the most dreaded slums in Mankhurd, Mumbai in India. With a legacy of the notorious activities the place carries, my feet is unsteady, and I feel sceptical about my safety. This is though I have been a Mumbai local for the past 3 decades. It is my assumption as a native of Mumbai that Mankhurd or any slum area is not safe to walk in.
My interaction to this place commenced when my Korean language teacher, suggested I teach Taekwondo to the kids in the slum area for a duration of 3 months. Miss Noh, a Korean national who had been volunteering and teaching the kids craft and art, was of the opinion that the kids should have an opportunity to participate in sports and understand the tenants of Taekwondo. Me being her student and for the love I had for Taekwondo, I could not refuse.
In slums, where children and youth come from marginalized communities, basic sanitation and clean water is rare. Sports are considered expensive and luxurious, and learning martial arts is hard to dream of. Play is instrumental in shaping positive minds and healthier physical conditions. But kids from these communities barely have opportunities to include play in their lifestyles.
My first class for these children started in August 2012. On the way I couldn’t help wondering what I was getting into, and what for. Soon I met my group of 6 students in a room no bigger than 200 square meters. This space was converted for Taekwondo training. I still remember those young faces filled with joy and curiosity, eager to know what martial arts was all about. First day of training mostly consisted of getting to know each other and basics of Taekwondo. The activities required a lot of team work.
The lesson of our training program was to primarily ensure the kids have fun. This was based on the idea that if there is no fun, it’s difficult to motivate and gather kids in a common place. Our lessons implied values of learning, emphasized bonding between friends, and illustrated the benefits of a healthy body which leads to healthy mind set.
Sessions carried on with the help of local community leaders. I remember people coming and throwing stones on our Dojang door just for the fun of it and my students running out to fight them. This gave me a glimpse on how the kids were raised to physically fight by default, for their rights in every situation they faced.
It made my job tougher too. The idea of peaceful solution were not inculcated in these kids. This made the kids approach things in a wrong way. Knowing that physical fights are not the solution to all issues, I was worried the minds of these kids will persistently be affected even when they become adults. The same approach will be carried on in their societies thus leading to constant conflict in their communities.
As time moved on, I slowly realised that the kids were filled with energy that was being dispensed in wrong directions. I started working with Miss Noh in engaging the students to connect with their friends in the community and educating them to display their strength for the betterment of the community. We held classroom lectures and taught them games which involved a need of dependency from their friends. We tried to teach them about cooperation and companionship.
Soon it became the most awaited lesson of the week for the kids in the slums. Though no girl was present to learn Taekwondo as the families didn’t allow, the crowd kept increasing. I provided Doboks for the kids to wear as martial arts essence thrives upon learning why and how to take care of the Dobok, the Dojang, and the people around us. The training went on for 3 months until finally the kids showcased what they had learnt on the demonstration day.
The joy of doing sports and martial arts was second to none for them. Until they were introduced to Taekwondo, physical education was not a priority. Now they wanted Taekwondo to be a regular activity in their school curriculum. I realised that despite various religious and economic backgrounds, this was one place where they all felt the same. I was also surprised to know many children were being robbed of their childhood days because they have to work out of school due to their economical standing in the socities.
Whether it has to be blamed on the large population, or educational structure, or the rapidly growing economy, the fact is that the ground reality is far from different if the policy makers aspire to build prosperous communities. Sports and martial arts are surely one medium to advocate social and community development. They have the power to convince youth to channelize their childhood in physical activity, which is every child’s right. However, the surrounding structures or a conducive environment has to become the basis first, to ensure more youth engages in the quest for a better life. Perhaps by building a better social structure where gaps between economic standings of the society are reduced.
※ This writing does not reflect the idea of ICM