DIBRUGARH, July 29: Panitola Sukpothar Lower Primary (LP) School is between two villages with residents of Hindu and Christian communities, who kept their distance from each other. That is why January 26, 2010, was nothing less than momentous for the locality. Villagers of the two religions came together to participate in the various sports organized on Republic Day. The initiative to hold the event was taken by Seema Dhanowar, a community coach who is part of the Sports for Development (S4D), the pilot project of International Inspiration programme. In this departure lies the progress towards the goal behind the inception of the project.
Pinki Karmakar, the girl from Barbarua Tea Estate who carried the Olympic torch, sparks off instant recall. She like Seema is a community coach and they along with others are involved in the programme, which is the fulfillment of the promise made by the former athlete and Chairperson of London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), Sebastian Coe, during the Singapore bid in 2005. He pledged to use the power of sports to inspire and make a difference in the lives of young people. International Inspiration (II), which its websites term as the official international sports legacy programme of London 2012, is being undertaken in 20 countries of the world and in Britain. Governed by an independent charitable foundation, the II Foundation, it is being supported by UK Sports, British Council and UNICEF.
India is one of the beneficiaries and Assam is one of the five states where S4D, which was launched in the country in 2008, is being implemented. Dibrugarh district was zeroed in on and hundred schools in the three development blocks, Barbarua, Lahoal and Panitola were selected. One hundred and fifty youths of these blocks have directly benefited from the programme, apart from teachers. They took part in capacity building workshops and were supplied with two sports kits each, one for grown ups to be used by the residents living in and around a school and one with plastic versatile items for use by students. Among the resource materials is a book with 22 traditional games from the benefiting countries. The community coaches involve the students in sports and try to engage the neighbourhoods in similar activities.
The gains of the programme are apparent for Prem Chand Pal, who is working with the students of Dikom Sessa LP School in Lahoal. “The students used to come in dirty clothes. Now they try to maintain cleanliness. I can see that they have regular baths and keep their nails trimmed.” The community coach mentions that the children of the area now take part in the sports events organized by OIL. His compatriot, Montu Urang, who is attached to Natun Bosa Bapuji LP School in Lahoal, has a similar experience to narrate. He recalled that many students used to stay away from school and roam around plucking bogori or killing birds. “When I told them I will be teaching them games, they showed interest. Now they attend school regularly. There is a girl who came to classes but never paid attention. Nowadays, she is attentive to what her teacher is teaching.”
The games have not only improved the attendance in schools, they have also helped the children open up and voice their opinions and queries. During the sessions with the students, a game is preceded by a brief outline about it and warm up. After playing the game, they discuss about the benefits.
Block facilitator, Kishna Dhan of Singlijan LP School of Lahoal narrates how the once quiet students are more forthcoming and ask questions. “We now interact and I try to answer their queries. The players of our areas used to find it difficult to follow the calls made at the district sports events and fared badly. But now they know the rules and can respond appropriately to any call like get, set, go.” His training has also had other windfall. It has helped the football player prepare the local team in a better way. Dhan, shy yet proud, reveals that the Singlijan Tea Estate football team is ahead of the leading football teams of Dibrugarh in the league matches.
“I have developed techniques to improve the skills of the players. They now show better presence of mind on the field and the results are there for all to see.” The community coach is much in demand with other villages inviting him to train their teams. “I held a coaching camp of one month at Dongapothar recently,” he reveals.
Meanwhile, Pinki has become an inspiring figure for others and she knows it. “Others now think that if I can do it, they also can do it,” states the young girl in a T-shirt emblazoned with International Inspiration on it. The road condition, cleanliness and other aspects did impress her during the visit to London but the attitude of people struck her most. “When people get up on the bus, they wish the driver. Here, we shout at the driver if the bus bumps a bit. I saw that if a bicycle tried to overtake a bus, the driver slowed down for it to pass. Here the driver is more likely to shout at the bicyclist and ask if he wishes to die.”
Back at Barbarua Tea Estate, the student of Barbarua Girls’ High School has resumed teaching 27 adults in the school she started in February voluntarily after realizing that many women were not even educated enough to give their signature. Her social consciousness won Pinki the opportunity to carry the torch amongst so many others in the country. The organizations supporting the programme want to replicate her success story and nurture more leaders.
With it, ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger)’ will come to mean more than just a call to excel at a sports event. In the success of the programme lies a key to social change.