25 Oct

Creating a Safe Place for Girls to Play Sports - Part 1: The Landscape

I had the pleasure of leading a sport activity day in Vizag, India on the Bay of Bengal,  for a group of 40 girls aged 11 - 15 years old.  This sports day was one of hundreds that took place throughout India this year as part of "The Nanhi Kali Sports Project”, a partnership between Global Nomad’s World (GNW), and The Naandi Foundation.  The project includes 37,000 female participants and 1800 female officials and is continuing to evolve to create a sports curriculum for over 150 000 girls throughout the country.

As I arrived to the grounds of one of the local schools in the early morning,  I was thrilled to see hundreds and hundreds of active children joyfully playing numerous sports including volleyball, cricket, and badminton.   The only thing missing in this picture was: Girls. Every single participant was a boy!

So, as the 40 eager girls looked on from their seated area for our event to begin, I went and joined the boys’ volleyball game!   The boys were both thrilled and shocked to have me join and I took advantage of their momentary bewilderment to serve two aces!!  Only once the school bell rang and all the space was cleared, would the girls take to the field to participate in their first ever Nanhi Kali Sports Day.

The Landscape

One major challenge in organising sports for girls in India is creating a safe place for them to play.  One of the most basic elements of this challenge is offering an actual physical safe landscape for them to play on.   In my experience with organising sports in North America or Europe, this was more of a simple question of contacting a school or sports venue and reserving the space to play.   Not only will your reservation include your exclusive use of the facility but also guaranteed a safe facility with all amenities. But, in India this process is much more complicated.


As was the case of Vizag, school grounds have, often times, been used for the Nanhi Kali sports events.  But contrary to my experience elsewhere, one can not assume that the landscape is “safe” for the girls to start their activity.   These open spaces are usually filled with not only people but also debris.  Time is spent removing obstacles such as large rocks and some garbage from the area.  Also, don’t be surprised to have the occasional wild dogs, goats or even cows cross your path during your sporting activity!

Reserving a space, exclusively for the girls to play, is another big challenge.  In an extremely densely populated country such as India, space is an incredible valued commodity.   One can not simply make a phone call and reserve a space.  This is where the expertise and experience of The Naandi Foundation is crucial in this sports journey.  Through thousands of female community educators, the Naandi Foundation has worked closely, for decades, with the community; developing the trust of families, government, authorities and school officials.   Oftentimes, these ladies work tirelessly going door to door, speaking to the families and authorities.  It is through this stealth network, built up from years of development, that the Nanhi Kali Sports Program can reserve an exclusive place for the girls to play.  As the Vizag experience clearly demonstrates, the exclusivity of the venue, adds a critical sense of “safety” for the girls to play.

Community Educators in Vizag

But, with many interested and curious observers, the temptation for others to slowly return to reclaim the space is always a risk. To help maintain the exclusivity of the space for the duration of the activity, the Naandi network depends on their relationship with the authorities, and at times security personnel are employed to keep a caring watchful eye on the girls’ sporting activities.


Preparing the physical landscape for girls to play sports is just one key element that this Nanhi Kali project applies to help ensure a safe space for tens of thousands of girls to play sports in India.  The Naandi Foundations lengthy experience and understanding of the safety needs of the girls, is an incredibly invaluable tool in this sport project journey

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this posting where we look at another element of the Nanhi Kali Sport Project that helps to create a safe place for girls to play sports: A Space Free from Cultural Judgement.

The Naandi Foundation should be an example to NGOs who have similar development expertise and thus, a wonderful potential to build a sport for life journey for their population.  GNW would like to invite you to the conversation and encourage you to unleash this wonderful sport potential.  Let the sport journey begin! Contact lisa@globalnomadsworld.com  #GNW

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