Treating the symptoms is easy, while tackling the problem at its root can be a long fight. Tired of gender-based violence and discrimination, the Community Table Tennis (CTT) project aims to empower at least 240 youngsters to recognise and resist gender inequality in the slums in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, India. Together with his team at Pro Sport Development Media, project leader Suheil Tandon utilises a structured curriculum to inspire both social and table tennis skills, as well as building gender understandings among the underprivileged population.
Tip of the iceberg
“There is a high prevalence of gender-based disparity and violence in the slum communities in Bhubaneswar; this disproportionately impacts girls and women in terms of their health and well‑being and the opportunities they can access. Underprivileged young people, especially girls, living in the slums of Bhubaneswar lack the social and emotional development due to inadequacies in their education.” Suheil Tandon
The problems combined create greater hurdles for those young girls in Bhubaneswar, Odisha, to effectively deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life and decrease their opportunities for a better future, including enrolling in higher education and gaining meaningful employment.
Seeing the problem, Tandon knows something must change, and he gladly takes on the responsibility.
“What we see is only the tip of the iceberg. Early intervention to gender biases must be done within educational institutions and communities. One can always try and remove the hurdles, but all these won’t be necessary if we pave the road well.” Suheil Tandon
Bumpy road for the project
Dedicated to paving a smooth path for the underprivileged youngsters in Bhubaneswar, the journey has been bumpy for Tandon and his team so far.
“The CTT project hasn’t been able to really take off due to Covid-19. We planned to access the youngsters through schools, but schools have been closed for the past 15 months.” Suheil Tandon
Having worked in the sport for the development sector over the past decade, Tandon is no stranger to challenges and inconvenience.
“If Covid-19 hadn’t existed, we would have already gotten 240 young people participating in table tennis and associated activities for over a year, held a few events and tournaments, and been able to set up table tennis centres in four schools. Changes and uncertainties are always part of the job, and we adapt without compromising our end goals.” Suheil Tandon
Despite the inability to launch the project according to its original schedule, Tandon and his team have not planned to fail and disappoint the youngsters in the slum.
“We’ve turned our attention to the immediate needs of those young people and communities we work with. Instead of offering a table tennis focused curriculum, we provided them with hygiene kits.” Suheil Tandon
In addition to focusing on solving the most pressing needs, Tandon and his team have also pivoted some of the programmes to digital channels. During the lockdown, the youngsters were offered physical activity videos, as well as online sessions on gender equality and leadership.
A long way ahead
Tandon is a pragmatic problem-solver, but when he dreams, he dreams big.
“We’re not only looking to improve gender relations between young girls and boys within educational institutions in slum communities of Bhubaneswar. As the young participants of the project gain leadership and other soft skills, they become empowered and gender‑aware individuals. This could lead to a lower dropout rate of girls in schools, and a higher enrolment in post-secondary and vocational education institutes.” Suheil Tandon
The road is long, but Tandon is motivated.
“Knowing that the work we do helps bring about a change in the lives of young people and the communities they live in is what motivates me. The knowledge and understanding of the role that sport has played in my own life and on various aspects of my own development motivates me to offer the same opportunities to other young people, especially girls and those from underserved communities who lack access.” Suheil Tandon
Introducing proper guidance and early education, Tandon is confident that the future he dreams of will eventually come.
“I hope that the CTT project really inspires the children, their parents and schools to break barriers, and progress in life. I hope the project shines as an example to key stakeholders in understanding how leveraging sport can bring about change in the lives of individuals and communities. I would like to see the young people that the project works with become empowered and motivated to achieve their goals and dreams, without the fear of being discriminated against, especially based on their gender and socio-economic status. I would like to see the schools and communities we work in to support young people in their journey and provide better opportunities for many other young people in the future. I would like to see young people in these communities being able to access and play table tennis long into the future, and for the sport to really flourish in these communities.” Suheil Tandon
Discover more about the Community Table Tennis (CTT) project in Bhubaneswar, Odisha.
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