Located about three kilometers away from the famous Handiya block of Harda district, Changeloomer Raviraj’s native village, Baghrul is home to a diverse population of Rajputs, adivasi and muslim communities. However, what holds the same for all these groups are the poor opportunities for the children and youth of the village. Large number of children, especially from the underprivileged communities dropout after 8th standard to work in their family farms or as labourers.
Raviraj believes that many of these underprivileged students (especially from adivasi, dalit and muslim communities) are capable of obtaining government jobs as many vacancies only require 8th or 10th standards as qualifications, but lack of proper knowledge and guidance as well as scarcity of resources for these children and youth hinder them from accessing these opportunities.
Relating the issue to his personal life, Raviraj, a second-year college drop out from Harda, confesses that he had applied for the Indian Army twice and cleared the physical examination but was unable to clear the written test both the times. Hence, when he joined the changelooms fellowship, he aspired to create a space in his village where more and more children and youth can prepare for their written tests and physical examinations so that can access different employment opportunities by the Government.
Currently, with a team of 10-15 youth, Raviraj runs a center in the ground of a school in a nearby village, called Kusiya, where 30-35 children from that village and his village come regularly for improving their physical education.
“I was already a leader. But only for the community. I talked to the people about their issues and helped them by accompanying them to the Zila Panchayat office or Collectorate which actually strengthened my networks in the city. But this journey was essential in honing my communication skills especially with the people in power. During the child rights week campaign, I went to the colleges for taking permissions for wall painting, talked to people from media, and did a lot of coordination work, which was actually empowering. I feel confident about expressing myself in front of the authorities”, says Raviraj with a twinkle in his eye.
His idea had developed over the period of time as after exploring the humongous talents of children in the two villages, he refined his project idea to also promote sports as a career for youth and children.
However, he shares that starting a center wasn’t an easy task. He struggled with getting a space for opening up his center. He presented his idea in front of the panchayat and demanded a space where children can regularly meet and learn different sports. He also demanded a gym for youth as some money is allotted to the panchayat for the same. All of these efforts finally resulted in positive results. Some of the children from his center had also gone out to compete for ‘Chief Minister’s Cup’ and are very excited to work on their talents and show them to the public. “When my mentor (Mana Mandlekar, an International karate player from Harda) visited my center, she said that she will adopt some children from here as they are so good!”, shares Raviraj enthusiastically.
In addition to this, Raviraj admits, “I have been very shy with the opposite gender from an early age. And so, girls weren’t associated with the project in the first few months of my initiative and I didn’t even make efforts to ensure that they come. However, when questions were raised in the meetings about the gender gap, I realized that I should not leave them behind. But it was very difficult and took a lot of time and conscious efforts to ensure that girls are able to equally benefit from my project. And during one of our events, I was shocked to see how well they did at long jumps. One girl’s long jump was as far as ten feet which even we weren’t able to do for a long time.”
He adds that personal transformation in this regard was huge and also acted as a fuel for his endeavour, “The workshops during the course of one year were extremely helpful in building friendships with girls and open up with them.” His mother, the sole female in a house of three men (Raviraj’s father, brother and him), is sitting right next to him and couldn’t be more excited to talk about his change story, “Recently, I went through a huge operation and was on bed rest for a few days. Even though some female relatives had come for help, Raviraj contributed in the household work, cooked for everyone and even washed my clothes with his own hands. He wasn’t that thoughtful before.”