By Shilpa Tummala

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After completing an entire week of coaching at Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, I’m not sure what words could capture the cultural and emotional experience I have gone through with this group of volunteers. So rather than trying to explain all the nitty gritty details of India, I’m going to share snapshots from the program that changed my perspective of what we are doing here and why the children we serve are so special.

Coming into my first week, I seriously underestimated the amount of energy I would be expending on our students. I had just worked an entire weekend of basketball camps at Harvard University, a 3-day affair with high school kids, coaching them in games and drills. Afterwards, I was sure I had mastered the art of working a camp (even if it was halfway across the world in a country that I hadn’t visited in over 14 years), but I was seriously mistaken.

For starters, this is not a basketball camp–it’s not even close to a basketball camp. Yes, we are letting children play with basketball, and in that respect, it may look like we are running a basketball camp.

In reality, we’re teaching them skills like leadership and teamwork using the sport we all love as a tool. 

Crossover is a program that teaches children that they are capable of doing whatever they want in their lives, regardless of where they come from. Most people might question how that could even be possible, considering we are only here for two weeks. How could we change a kid’s life in such a short period of time? The answer is simple.

We can’t.

Even if we stayed here for 30 years with the same child, we are not capable of changing them ourselves, because change comes from within a person. That’s why our motto isn’t “Changing lives, one child at a time” but instead is “Hoops CREATING Hope”. We conduct this program for 2 weeks for one reason:

Shine a light of hope into the hearts of 400 children, so they can continue to foster it in their lives as they grow older.

I found myself very frustrated my first couple of days–I felt like nothing I said got through to the kids on any level. They are energetic, chaotic even, and I wondered if they could follow what I was trying to teach them leadership. Many had never even heard the word before.

I felt useless. I had no idea how I could communicate with them on a deeper level for an entire 2 weeks when it felt like they weren’t even listening to me.

On our rides home from the school, I had been reading a book that had been assigned to my team as summer reading. The book was called the “Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon. In the book, two things stuck out to me, which ironically, were exactly what I needed to help me through the next two weeks:

The first was that this world is just a big ball of energy. Therefore, we as human beings communicate more by our energy than by our words. When you give honest positive energy to a group, it is contagious and it perpetuates into an extremely positive, upbeat and inviting environment. If you constantly give off negative energy, you are literally pulling energy from this world in a selfish way, taking away from the positive energy that surrounds you. Therefore, when I was standing there, feeling useless after failing to explain a lesson plan we had written up, the kids felt it. Even if I thought it could not possibly affect them, this is one form of communication that is understood deeply across every cultural and socioeconomic classes. Words are not necessary to communicate–my presence was the only thing that I needed to communicate everything and anything I wanted to tell them.

The second lesson was the most important and greatest gift I could give to these kids: My love.

In a camp with so many impoverished kids, there is a constant reminder that I am incapable of changing their financial state of living. I can’t buy everyone a new pair of shoes. I can’t give them a life with 3 consistent meals a day, or even provide them with access to clean water.

However, with a little bit of positive energy –  a handful of high fives and smiles, and a whole lot of love – I know I have the recipe to create a potentially life-changing amount of hope for the futures of these young kids.

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