A Step in the Right Direction – Just For Kicks

Knowledge is power; however it does not substitute skill. Just For Kicks was started with the idea to develop skills in children which they probably will not be able to build in a classroom. Just For Kicks revitalizes the relationship between parents, teachers, and students in low income schools using football as a medium. It has served as a medium to allow our children to educate themselves outside of books.  It has helped them build valuable skills like team work, self-esteem etc and has ignited in them a passion which stimulates them to dream and to fulfill those dream. It has allowed them to dream and make those dreams come true.

Let’s see what Teach For India Alums – Rishi Nandwani and Ajay Jojo, an essential part of the Just For Kicks team in Pune, have to say about their journey and  their experiences.

Can you give us a little information about yourself?

Rishi: I was born and brought up in Nigeria, and moved to India after my 10th grade exams. I shifted from an IGCSE curriculum to a CBSE one, so education has always been a defining factor in my experiences. I joined the Fellowship immediately after graduation – I realised that I needed to be directly responsible for some impact and I felt my background would enable me to change things that just weren’t right. I am a big dreamer, and I have an undying sense of hope for this world we love to hate.

Ajay: I was born to Malyali parents in Assam so always had conflicting notions of where I am from, but boarding school settled it all and I have been a montfortian ever since ( Montfort School Yeracaud being the school). Huge Barcelona fan and ironically a Chelsea fan too… and yeah football, music, dogs and George Carlin are my “favoritest” things. I did my Bachelors in Economics from Loyola College Chennai after which I joined Teach For India in 2013.


What are you currently doing at Just For Kicks?

Rishi: I am currently the City Lead for Just For Kicks, Pune. Essentially that means managing everything from operations to program to impact to development to communications. This year we’re running the program in 24 schools, for 800 kids – working to deliver life skills through the medium of football, at the same time creating a career path for all our budding superstars.

Ajay: I am currently the Program Manager at Just For Kicks. My role is to run the program in Pune. I basically run the football aspect of Just for Kicks and I will be having around 19 coaches working under me delivering the program to schools.

Why did you decide to take this up?

Rishi: It was quite simple for me actually. I knew I did not want to continue teaching. However, I did want to continue impacting classrooms and children. I wanted to take a shot at defining a new kind of education. I had worked with Just For Kicks over the 2 years of my Fellowship. I was convinced that this was a powerful idea. I have always wanted responsibility. Here I am today.

Ajay: I decided to take up the role after my kids, the Kothrud Wolves won the SFC National Championships this year. I was doing my Masters in Economics at the time and I decided to quit the same and follow what I love immediately and that is help change the football scene in India and what I most like to do is be involved with kids in the sport which I believe are our only chance and doing it.

Can you give us a little context about the sporting scene in our schools?

Rishi: The schools we work in do not have adequate space for that many children to engage in organised sport. That is a problem we have to constantly work around with almost all our schools. At the same time, sport is not looked at as a real medium of teaching. It’s more about having fun and giving the kids a break. The government does have tournaments running through the year but there is no mechanism for a child to learn a sport and develop through it. Every single child wants to play. There is no question there. Some take that effort and make it happen; but we need to enable this for all our kids. The problem is mainly how we look at sports or games. The second we start giving it its due importance, we will see a drastic change in our schools.

Ajay: I honestly believe the kids in our schools are massively talented and that is mostly due to the fact that they are super motivated. I have never come across such dedication in all the schools i have studied in and they were really good at sports and were at it since forever. What we suffer from is chronic mismanagement and just pure apathy and a lack of facilities and vision. In fact, the challenges we have in our country when it comes to education are the same for sports just a lot worse.


What do you believe that is in need of the hour for our students in Pune?

Rishi: I believe our students need to start learning beyond the classroom. Knowledge is power, but in the world beyond 10th grade, you need a wide variety of skills coming together to alter your life path. There is a severe lack of exposure in these classrooms. Our students need to be prepared to match up to their peers in every aspect – not just with percentages. I believe that for that to happen, we need to alter our definition of an education. We will need to ask ourselves if we are sending these students down a path that we do not believe in? Or are we determined to alter the system and deliver what’s important for the child?

Ajay: Our students in Pune and for that matter across the country are subject to major apathy especially when it comes to the basic needs for their overall development. I believe there are three main aspects to a child’s development and they academic, mental health and physical education while we all are aware of the need of academics and while that is a struggle in itself the rest are in an even worse state. Our kids should have a wholesome education and physical activity and taking care of their mental well- being is extremely important for the same.


What is something you hope to achieve through your role?

Rishi: I hope to prove that football is much more than just a game. I am determined to define a new version of our current education system – one that is truly holistic, one that extends beyond the boundaries of our schools. I also hope to give 800 students a concrete passion. Whether they become professional footballers or not, I hope that through JFK, football and its many lessons will be an integral part of their lives.

Ajay: I quit further studies and faced all kids of issues because of that as you can guess. I did it because I believe I can make a real change in all the schools we are currently in. It would basically translate to coaches accountability, parent involvement and student fellow and school participation. Combining all the three and translating that into data which can be replicated is what I aim to do. I am currently developing a curriculum for delivering the program. So all in all there’s plenty to do and I am super excited that I can make this well worth it. Also in Rishi I have someone who is equally passionate about the same and that’s wonderful.

What do you see are your potential challenges that might come in your way?

Rishi: The primary challenge is the number of kids we are trying to impact. To ensure that the program is delivered in the right way at every school is not going to be easy. Another potential problem will definitely be investing stakeholders in the idea. Sport and football in India is still an abstract idea. We will have to show them that it’s not – and hopefully our impact on the development of these kids will speak for that. But the challenge I am most wary of is the eventual clash of academics and sport. We’ve seen it before and we have to mentor the kids in the right way so that that is not a choice but rather a blend of both.

Ajay: It is always a challenge to deal with ignorance when it comes to the needs of children and extremely frustrating. The challenges range from making the program relevant to our kids and managing coaches who aren’t used to supervision. Schools, fellows and parents also pose considerable challenges of their own, however having dealt with the same situation with my kids I am confident of delivering on what is expected of me and more.

What is something you are excited about your new role?

Rishi: I am extremely excited about our assessments and curriculum this year. We’re going to be tracking the kids progress in Football Skills, Life Skills & Fitness. Our curriculum has been developed into a strong definition of our philosophy and values, and it’s going to be amazing to see it transpire on the field.

Besides this, I am just excited about meeting 800 kids from 24 schools, and talking to them about football and our common love for the beautiful game.

Ajay: There is nothing that does not excite me about my new role. I want to actively be a part of changing the lives of almost 800 children in Pune and their families directly and change mindsets through them of those around them.


You are both Teach For India Alums. How do you feel the Teach For India Fellowship made you ready for this role?

Rishi: In so many ways. The Fellowship helped me understand the context of the kids we serve. It gave me the space to experiment and learn about my own strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, the small nuances of planning, execution, and reflection are things I require on an everyday basis. The Fellowship enabled me to explore the space of education and define what my impact would be, once I became an alum. The people, the children, the schools. It was an enthralling experience that has taught me in many ways. I wouldn’t have had the courage to take up something like this without those 2 years.

Ajay: The Fellowship gave me the opportunity to act on my love for the game and impart that to my kids. Take my Fellowship out of the equation then I can assure you I would not have been doing this. As for how much it has changed me as a person, I don’t know where to begin, but most of all I am confident that the skills I learnt through the Fellowship will hold me in good stead in my new role.


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