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. This was an important phase in my life.

I realised fairly early in my life, encouraging and facilitating children and youth to play gave me the thrill of playing a sport. I was barely twenty when I started earning, 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 to make it suitable to play.

This passion galvanised into a vision and STAIRS was born, some fifteen years ago, 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 residing in shanties and slums in subhuman conditions—to allow their children, including girls, and youth, to play for some time every day. Playing is a luxury not many in India can afford.

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

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

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

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

Not just India, 7 billion humanity on this planet, most of them living under distressed conditions in the various less developed parts, 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, is due to lack of a larger, holistic and sensitive approach to engage with the masses, at the grassroots, with a humanistic touch.

Many of us live in denial and feign helplessness. I don’t. I have great faith in the genius 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.