In India, approximately 450 million people -- or 37.5 percent of the country’s population -- have streamed from the rural countryside into major cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata in recent years. Most of these “internal migrants” are between the ages of 16 and 40, searching for better economic opportunities and brighter futures. Yet, their quest is too often filled with unforeseen obstacles. An innovative new program led by Salesian missionaries in Delhi is helping youth navigate the pathway to success.
Known as BEST -- “Bosco Enhancement Services for Tribals” -- the program leverages India’s unofficial national pastime, field hockey, in order to reach out to, connect with and ultimately train migrant youth in marketable skills.
“In such a richly diverse country, internal migrants face a variety of challenges that aren’t simple or easy to address on their own,” explains Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “Often, language and cultural barriers prevent newcomers from connecting with the people and services they need to fully integrate into their adopted communities. And this isolation can mean they end up worse off than where they started.”
“One thing they all have in common -- and something that most youth have grown up playing, or cheering for -- is field hockey,” adds Father Norbert Xalxo, director of BEST. “And so we use this game as common ground: a way to engage newcomers from various backgrounds in the collaborative pursuit of sports while at the same time identifying youth who may need the workforce development services we can offer.”
To take advantage of the love of sports among youth, Fr. Norbert recently organized the second annual BEST field hockey tournament among 32 teams. Each Sunday during July and August, these teams (comprised exclusively of migrant youth from different backgrounds) participated in competitive matches before thousands of spectators at Shivaji Stadium in New Delhi.
“The tournament has also proven an effective way to raise awareness of our programs and services among the greater Delhi population,” Fr. Norbert says.
Teams learn about the tournament through tribal leaders, whom Fr. Norbert contacted via social media and direct outreach.
“We have been playing field hockey since our childhood,” says Dileep Barla, a member of the indigenous, minority Adivasi tribe who migrated from the impoverished eastern state of Jharkhand. “We looked forward to playing each week in the tournament, and practiced in the playgrounds and parks.” That preparation paid off, as Dileep’s Team Milizuli emerged the ultimate winners.
So, too, did the 30 players identified by Fr. Norbert for vocational training following the conclusion of the tournament. “After completing their training at Don Bosco Technical Institute in Delhi, we will assist them in finding jobs so that they may support themselves and fully integrate into society.”
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