Within hours of arriving in Lucknow, I took off on a scooter with a colleague to a nearby slum area. We were going into the field. Upon arriving at the session site, the kids were called and the facilitator introduced the session. Then the children, in unison, asked “Bhaiyya, may we please know your name?” “My name is Jackson,” I replied Urdu. This is going well so far, I thought to myself. I understood today’s activity would be football (soccer) and that there would be two groups for the drills.
From there, however, the session seemed to become controlled chaos. Kids ran everywhere, doing drills and kicking the balls in all directions. This continued for almost the entire hour, until we regrouped and discussed how the drills went. The session I observed, a part of Project KHEL’s Made in Maidaan life skills-education program for kids aged 7-16, was a jarring and enlightening experience all at once. It was the first of almost 30 sessions I would observe or help facilitate over the next two weeks.
While Project KHEL has other programs, ranging from Ultimate Frisbee to activity-based literacy programs, our main program utilises a Sports For Development method to deliver a self-designed Life Skills Education program for the benefit of underprivileged youth in Lucknow through sessions, hour-long “classes” delivered twice per week . Life skills are defined as psychosocial abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life .
Sports for Development programs and Life Skills Education programs are both widely popular both in India and globally as development methods. Their use also has significant institutional backing, as the United Nations see sport as a crucial method by which to achieve the newest Sustainable Development Goals , while the concept of Life Skills Education is itself a product of the World Health Organisation . However, Project KHEL’s combination of these philosophies is unique because of the way that sports and games are vehicles to teach life skills.
Rather than discussing life skills and drawing out messages through, Project KHEL has kids playing, working together, and experiencing these life skills as they learn and understand them. Each session has a specific plan of activities aimed at achieving a life skills-oriented outcome through a mix of sports and games.
Despite summers of experience as a summer camp counsellor during high school and college, it was the concept of fieldwork which worried me most about coming to Lucknow to begin work with Project KHEL. At Project KHEL, fieldwork involves working directly with these children, facilitating sessions of sports, games and activities to teach life skills. What if I don’t understand their Hindi, or if they don’t understand me? What if I don’t have the presence to be a facilitator?
I collided with all these concerns in my very first session, meeting fifty children and learning the ropes as the session happened. I spent the entire hour trying to figure out what was happening around me and to understand what the other facilitators and all the children, everyone except me, seemed to understand. By the end of the session, I had realised how the games had been played, what lessons facilitators aimed to draw from them, and what facilitators needed to pay most attention to during the session. Like many things at Project KHEL, learning through participation is the best way to understand both the work itself but also the motivations and intentions of every choice made regarding sessions.
The nature of Project KHEL’s programming requires staff to be actively in the field almost every day in some capacity, Being in the field has been an eye-opening experience, as well as a complicated one. Witnessing Project KHEL’s programs firsthand, seeing the activities, getting to know the children, understanding the planning process for each session, figuring out how to manage large groups of children, dealing within-session complications like sudden rain or injuries, making sure to deliver effective and meaningful briefings and debriefings for children and staff, all of this is necessary to fully understand both the programs and mission of Project KHEL.
Relying on extensive communication and feedback to critique their own work and methods, I have been deeply impressed by their commitment to self-reflection and taking meaningful action based on this. It is this systematic commitment to organisational improvement that made it so easy to share the passion that all of the staff brings to each and every session and every project.
Everyone in the office has helped me feel at home, and our guiding principle, putting our kids first always, is a unifying idea that I connected to immediately. Sharing this is something I have drawn strength from while working in the field.
Six weeks in, I love facilitating sessions. I still make mistakes, all the time in fact, but my colleagues will always help me to do better, knowing that improvement is the aim. Having now facilitated or observed almost 50 sessions across Project KHEL’s seven programs, fieldwork has become the highlight of each and every day, and knowing that I have my colleagues and a child-centred methodology for monitoring and evaluation behind me means that no mistake will be in vain.
This is what the kids do as well – they learn from each others’ successes and shortcomings as they play collectively. In that sense, a commitment to collective learning could be the unifying principle of Project KHEL’s mission.
 “Made in Maidaan.” Project KHEL. 2017.
 “Definition of Terms.” UNICEF. June 13, 2003.
 “Sport and Sustainable Development Goals.” United Nations Office of Sport and Development. 2014.
 Partners in Life Skills Education. Report. Geneva: World Health Organisation, 1999.
Born in Kolkata & raised in US, Walker completed his undergraduate studies at Northwestern University (NU) in June 2017. He is associated with an NGO and is working in Lucknow as AIF Clinton Fellow to teach children life skills through play.