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Former Indian goalkeeper Mir Ranjan Negi was in Australia, training the onscreen team of female hockey players in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Chak de India to play the sport, when he realised that if the group of actors could learn the game in only five to six months, the idea to expand coaching services to underprivileged children could help transform lives. And thus, on October 21, 2007, Abhi Foundation (named after his deceased son Abhiranjan Negi, a hotel management student and sportsperson who played hockey for Don Bosco, Matunga) was formally launched.
“We had our agenda quite straight,” explains Negi. “If we could gather children and help them take sports seriously, we could transform Mumbai into a sports city. We wanted sports to reach each and every kid. We want to create lives out of sport and we are committed to doing just that,” says Negi.
The foundation’s chief of operations Amin Shaikh says that the response has been tremendous. “We went around town finding children who needed guidance. We also identified coaches who could dedicate their time to training the children and are present when needed,” says Shaikh, who mentors kids at the Mahul Village.
The Mahul arm of the project is one of the foundation’s favourites. “The children here belong to the fishermen community. There was a huge ground at the disposal, but it was filled with garbage. The foundation’s staff members and children got together to turn it into a more useable space.
Today, over 250 children attend the weekly camp. The numbers climb up considerably during vacations,” explains Shaikh.
Negi explains that while children from private educational institutions are exposed to sports early on, children from BMC schools and the streets miss out on similar activities.
“BMC schools have all the facilities. They have empty spaces, network and children who are excited about sports. The only thing they miss is guidance. If BMC schools channelise their resources and facilities in the right way, I am sure they will produce a number of sportsmen which this city needs.”
The foundation does not coach students in hockey alone — children are coached in football and athletics as well. “We feel this is just the beginning. As we grow, we would love to provide coaching in various sporting disciplines across the city,” Negi adds.
The effort has had its fair share of success. Abhi Foundation tasted some fame when one of its students, Suraj Karkera, made it to the Indian junior hockey team as a goalkeeper early this year. “The hard work paid off. Suraj’s inclusion in the junior India team inspired the others. When he got back, he shared his experience with the members of the foundation,” Shaikh recalls.
To the foundation’s members, success is not merely restricted to making it to the India team. Two of its children who reside in the streets — Imran Shaikh and Venkatesh — have now graduated and started coaching other children at the foundation. “Imran and Venkatesh have only endorsed our motto, ‘We revive life through sports’. The underprivileged children tend to get distracted faster. What we do is lure them into sports,” Negi adds.
Shaikh is all praise for the coaches of the foundation — Ibrahim Mulla, Tahir Khan, Sharmin Pasha and Sharminder — who he calls the ‘the backbone of the foundation’. The team now hopes that the government will take notice of their efforts and help them make Mumbai fitter.
“We are not seeking financial help from the government. We only want the government to look at our efforts and realise what we are capable of. If they help us to get more BMC schools to join our mission, we promise to make Mumbai fitter,” Negi says.