Akshaya Patra-Popularising gymnastics among underprivileged children
Set in isolation to the main city, Saankh Shyopuri village is located about thirty kilometers from Jaipur. Studying in an Akshaya Patra beneficiary school is Sanju Kanwar Sisodiya. She is currently in 8th grade and is completing her second year in this school. She lives close to her school, with her parents, four siblings, and uncles and aunts. Her father is a driver and mother, a homemaker.
Sanju is very fond of her school. It is after joining this school that she began participating in sports, and is now well-known as a State level gymnast.
Recalling her initial days in this school, Sanju says, “when I joined school in 7th grade, Seema ma’am used to teach gymnastics to all children. I started doing cartwheel and handspring first. Ma’am saw this and made me do them more.”
Seema Gupta, the Physical Education (PE)teacher, joined this school around the same time as Sanju. She frankly shares, “when I had joined in 2016, there was no atmosphere of sports.”Sanju, like other children of her school, was not introduced to gymnastics until Seema joined as the PE teacher. She admits, “we didn’t know that what we were doing is called gymnastics. We used to call it fighting. Ma’am then corrected us saying it’s called Gymnastics and not fighting.”
Gymnastics is a very important part of Sanju’s life. In fact, her day begins at 4 a.m., when she goes for an hour long run. She shares, “in the evening, I take out some time after studying for practice and do some floor exercises as well.” She proudly claims, “in my two years in this school, I have played State level twice. When we went for State level the first time, we used to get the last slot every day for practice. We would practice front roll, back roll, handspring and cartwheels.”
She goes on to reveal the issues they face in practicing gymnastics at school— “we don’t have a mat to train on. Ma’am has trained us on the floor itself, which is risky. Because of our circumstances, we can’t join any academy. With stunts such as beam balance and vaults, we saw the apparatuses for the first time when we went for District level, and tried it for the first time there.”
Sanju cherishes the training and support she receives from Seema. She expresses, “ma’am supports us a lot. She trains us in gymnastics for 30 minutes to one hour every day. We started to do good at practice and first took part in the (2017) competition and our team achieved 3rdposition. I went ahead to play District level at Ramdevra, Jaisalmer; however, I didn’t win there. We practiced thoroughly the following year. Ma’am took us to our competition this year (2018), where our team won the 1st position and three of us girls were selected. We went and played at Nagaur District.”
Seema also makes a lot of effort to convince the parents of these capable children. She elaborates, “Many parents had denied permission for their children. I made them (parents) understand that you can’t achieve much if you keep your children at home. If your child is talented, let them go out. They eventually understood and all parents now give permission whenever I ask, for their children to take part in various competitions.”
Sanju receives significant encouragement from her parents as well. Her mother, Kiran, plays a major role in her life as her supporter. Kiran admits, “living in a village, even as parents we may not notice what our children are interested in, despite paying attention to them. Seema ma’am observed that Sanju is good at sports and advised that she join gymnastics. Ma’am has supported her and trained her as well.”
Kiran is very appreciative of Sanju’s teachers. With a tone of gratitude, she says, “Madam and Sir are extremely supportive and that makes me very happy. Many (teachers) don’t pay attention to children, but Madam and Sir do.”
This otherwise modest school in Saankh has received many laurels in sports over the past two years. Seema (PE teacher) tells us, “in 2017, I enrolled my students for the first time in the competitions. I saw good success in that. Sanju even got selected for State. I worked harder to make her better. This way, in 2018, the girls team came first in Zilla level. At Block level, even boys team achieved first position. Girls who got selected for State, played at Maulasar.”
Seema has great aspirations for Sanju. She ponders, “My dream for Sanju is that she plays at National level. I can see a dedication in Sanju. She has capability and if she gets a little support and guidance, she will be able to achieve great heights.”
Kiran, Sanju’s mother, feels extremely glad and proud about her achievements. She says thoughtfully, “When she goes and takes part in such levels and tries hard, she will learn better and grow. We are making all efforts to see to it that she goes ahead.”
With the enthusiasm of a child and resoluteness of a sportsperson, Sanju declares, “I’d like to continue doing gymnastics when I grow up.” Sanju is not only a name to reckon with among her peers, she is also an illustration of the opportunities that children from such schools can have. Despite trying circumstances, she is determined to keep striving toward greater learning and success in gymnastics and bring glory to her parents, teachers, school, and the little village that she calls home.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation headquartered in Bengaluru, India. Their organisation strives to eliminate classroom hunger by implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in the government schools and government-aided schools.
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