Seeing hope and making it happen!
Waking up at 6am, brushing my teeth with a bottle of water, getting dressed and finding out that it’s actually raining outside. This may not be unusual for my homeland in London but this was a different environment altogether. I was in Chennai ready to start our sports ministry work with my accomplices on this journey Tim and Dan and rain was not scheduled in the plan. Apparently it hadn’t rained in five months before we arrived, we must have bought the weather with us. As our man who makes everything happen called Churchill came to pick us up and take us to the YMCA sports ground you can’t help but notice how different it is from the world I was used to. If I could summarise it in three words I would call it ‘The Great Divide’. Next to huge tower blocks, shiny new malls and sandy beaches were shacks, homelessness and sewage. So of all the things I came here to do why do I choose sport? Aren’t their more pressing matters in places like Chennai?
I have had a passion for sport all my life, as my dad was welsh and loved rugby so he made sure my passion was alive for anything competitive. Basketball is a different sort of sport in comparison but as I had the height and relatively good shooting action that’s what I landed on. To come to India in which cricket was the main focus I thought would make this a challenging task but if football could provide interest to the young people of Chennai then why not basketball? We had the right facilities as the YMCA in Chennai had two very impressive basketball courts which would made the whole process of teaching basketball a lot easier, plus the football training had a number of high quality pitches that could be used. The Onside programme has been set up since 2011 and for the past few years a team of coaches from the UK have gone out to help at the summer camp, which takes part in May when the schools are finished.
The whole week was a great success and the best thing about it is that we have the people in place to make sure it runs smoothly while we are away. The training we provided was taken on by each player, the willingness to be taught and wanting to improve is something I believe players in the UK could learn a lot from. Football may have been taken more seriously but basketball seemed like a real joy to these young people. It was something they didn’t regularly get to play before I came but it was a brand new experience to some and even learning the basics brought a lot of enthusiasm to these young people. Due to this, I will be buying a basketball net that will be next to school that these young people attend so on their breaks they can continue to enjoy the game of basketball while we are away. We are close to getting a coach in place to so the basketball side of the sports ministry can start running.
I guess the most rewarding experience for us coaches was seeing how they reacted to talks about God and teaching them about good character. Covering topics such as team work, respect, value, faith, confidence and attitude was a great opportunity for us. What was also encouraging that the school that is linked to this sport project has even said they see an improvement in the classroom because of what they are learning through their training, now that is an positive impact. We even had one of the guys who attended the camp put this on facebook:
“The week was splendid in fact was made splendid by the onside coaching staff. We'll definitely miss you guys. We had some good divine and motivational lessons from you guys. Anyways we'll be waiting until next year, have a safe journey back home. Keep spreading this camp around the globe I wish you guys the best of luck.”
You know you’re doing something worthwhile when you at least impact one person in this way. I believe the sports project has a way of engaging with the young people of Chennai and allow them to hear God’s word and apply it. Not just on the pitch or court but life in general. Some of the guys who have come up through the programme are now volunteers and help mentor and guide the next generation. I pray that this would just be the start of the journey for Onside and it will go on to grow and impact others through sports ministry. As Nelson Mandela said, sport has the ability to transform people so I believe that’s something worth investing in.