Learning about gender and equality through table tennis
In April 2021, Pro Sport Development (PSD) began its Community Table Tennis (CTT) program in collaboration with the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) Foundation’s Dream Building Fund. Through this program, PSD uses table tennis as a vehicle for development through a structured, goal-oriented and gender-sensitive curriculum. Partnering with four community-based schools in Bhubaneswar, the CTT has reached out to 252 students thus far, 135 of which are girls.
The CTT aims to empower girls and boys between the ages of 10-15 years to become gender-sensitive, encouraging them to take on leadership within their schools and communities to confront rigid gender norms. The students come from marginalized communities in Bhubaneswar, where the program is being implemented through a structured and goal-oriented table tennis curriculum.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, the first year of the two-year program was executed in a hybrid fashion, with sessions going online when schools were closed, and taking place on the ground when they reopened. 156 program sessions were organised, out of which 33 were done virtually and 123 were done on the ground.
With things beginning to open, PSD organised an official launch event for the CTT program in July 2022. On 16 July, we held a final event at one of our partner schools, Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir, prior to which three mini events were also organised at other partner schools, Vivekananda Sikshya Kendra, Vivekananda School of Integral Education, Beena Bharati Vidya Mandir. Table tennis rooms were inaugurated in these schools during the launch events. These rooms have all the required table tennis equipment for children to learn and practise the sport. As part of the launch events, PSD also organised a table tennis tournament for participants of the CTT. 43 boys and 43 girls participated in the tournament. Qualifier matches were organised in each school, and the semi-final and final matches were held on 16 July at Saraswati Sishu Vidya Mandir.
Guests from various organizations also joined the festivities, including Mr. Jagadananda, Co-Founder of Center for Youth and Social Development (CYSD); Ms. Rukmini Panda, Breakthrough India; Mr. Deepak Trama, Signify Innovations; Mr. Anuj Kumar, Kanak news; Mr. Tousif Haque, Founder of Spin and Smash TT Club in Cuttack; Mr. Shahid Hussain, former coach Odisha state table tennis team; Mr. Jitendra Kumar Rath, Azim Premji Philanthropist Initiative (APPI); Mr. Rajendra Meher, Founder of Youth Council for Development Alternatives (YCDA); Mr. Ambika Prasad from Gram Vikas; and Ms. Jessica Lehmann, a sports management professional from Germany. Suheil F. Tandon, Founder-Director of PSD, was also present at the events.
Students voiced their enthusiasm about attending the CTT sessions in person. Arifa Jami, a Class 7 student from Vivekananda Sikshya Kendra in Dum Duma and participant of the CTT program, noted how much she enjoyed being a part of it: “We learnt a lot during the program, but due to limited time in school we were unable to further practice our skills. The TT summer camp presented us with the opportunity to practise our skills as well as learn new things. I qualified for the TT tournament this year and went to play with students from other schools. I really hope I keep getting more exposure like this.”
The tournament was a big success, and the children were excited to participate in it. The winner of the tournament, Deepraj Das, a Class 8 student from Beena Bharati Vidya Mandir in Bharatpur, expressed how it felt to win the tournament: “I felt so good today, because today I was the winner in the table tennis tournament. I was not sure whether I would win the match. I had practiced a lot earlier, but was a bit nervous. But after winning a match here my energy increased even more to play.”
Suheil F. Tandon, Director-Founder of PSD, pointed out the importance of playing and learning through sport, stating: “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”.
Mr. Jagdananda, Co-Founder of CYSD, who attended the launch event on 16 July, was impressed by the program, commenting, “This is a great program that uses table tennis as a medium for physical health and mental wellbeing, along with learning various skills.”
Moving forward in 2022-23, the CTT plans on training 252 more students from four new partner schools. More interactive sessions, activities, and initiatives will further enhance participants’ table tennis as well as life skills. PSD plans on organizing more friendly competitions to keep the participants engaged and to test their table tennis skills. Our goal remains the same - using table tennis to empower marginalized students with a better understanding of gender and enabling them to tackle gender-based discrimination.