Siddhartha Upadhyay

A Change Agent

Sportsman. That’s the best way to describe me. I love to play and engage with people according to the rules of the game. To play gives me a great thrill. I grew up thinking, perhaps, sports is the best way to interact with fellow humans.

I couldn’t pursue a career of a cricketer due to a debilitating injury. That was an important phase in my life.

I realised fairly early in my life that encouraging and facilitating children and youth to play gave me the thrill of playing a sport. I was barely 20 when I started working and from the day one, a part of my income would go towards buying teenagers in the neighbourhood, cricket kits. I helped them level a barren patch of land and convert it into a homegrown playing ground.

This passion eventually galvanised into a vision and STAIRS was born, in the year 2000, to encourage and support poor children and youth , in India’s urban landscape, to come out and play.

The idea was to persuade poverty-stricken families — those living in shanties and slums in subhuman conditions — to allow their children, including girls, and youth, to play for some time every day. Sadly, play time is a luxury not many in India can afford.

A small beginning was made with an initiative started near Majnu-ka-Tila in North Delhi. Youth, children and even the elderly, came out in large numbers, cleared and levelled a barren patch of land -- otherwise the venue for gambling and such activities -- next to a busy highway, and started to play. In a couple of years, there were more than a hundred such centres running in Delhi, engaging thousands of urban poor, hidden away from the affluent gated communities, by way of sports. The small initiative transformed into a movement.

If charity begins at home, so does transformation. Guided by Mahatma Gandhi immortal words, ‘My life is my message’, I believe my actions are my philosophy. In some measure, we are all potential change agents. I’m part of an endeavour that paved the way for hundreds of thousands of children and youth to come out and play. They played hard and changed their reality—achieved success, were recognised and rewarded, and, most importantly, they could reclaim their lives.

Sports, didn’t just provide them with a positive outlook to life, it became a vent for their pent-up frustrations. Sports helped them realise their inherent talent and gave them an opportunity to hone it. Their outlook to life has changed by engaging with themselves while competing with others in sports.

Sports is a tool for social transformation — the basis of a healthy society with sense of fair play and optimism in face of the challenges that life many have to offer. It is an essential part of education and the most cost-effective way of tapping into the huge demographic potential of India — an ancient country of a billion young people.

Not just India, the seven billion humans on this planet, most of them living under distressed conditions in the various less developed parts of the world, are waiting for positive interventions in their life. Sports is the answer.

My tryst with humanity has given me some insights. Many of the problem that plague the world, are due to the lack of a larger, holistic and sensitive approach to engaging with the masses, at the grassroots, with a human touch.

Many of us live in denial and feign helplessness. I do not. I have great faith in the genius and power of humanity. It can also lead to disastrous consequences if not tempered with positive reinforcements. I’m committed to contribute my bit to help people attain self-actualisation. I will focus on certain critical areas, work with people, to contribute secure a healthy life and sustainable livelihood to all.