Finding Heart on a Basketball Court in MumbaiBy: Suhail Sheikh & Tyler Condit
A few months prior I was doing my ‘dream job’ in New York City. The phrase “Show up with your whole self” gets thrown around in regards to office culture, and I was convinced I was doing that. However, in two months with Hi 5, coaching brilliant, strong, charming young people living in slums and orphanages around India, I was taught what it really meant to show up with your whole self, by leading with the heart (and not just my head).
I started seeking volunteering opportunities abroad because I came to a boiling point with the selfish impact of the work I was doing (selfishly benefitting already successful companies, that is). To be fair, that ought not to have disillusioned me. I work in marketing and branding, not pediatric surgery. But I realized, if I am putting ‘my whole self’ into my work, shouldn’t it be towards something that I believe in? Through a chance connection, I was introduced to Hi 5 Youth Foundation. As an Indian-American and lifelong basketball player/fan, it felt like a clear sign from the universe. Fast Forward to January 2019, my friend Tyler (who similarly was itching for something different) and I were en route to the Hi 5’s guest house in Mumbai where we’d spend the next 5 months.
them to be more disciplined at home – washing clothes and watching what they eat. Most impressively, they told us that when they encounter a challenge or a difficult subject, they think back to when they were beginning basketball and couldn’t dribble, and that through hard work they learned to dribble well, and how that fills them with the confidence to succeed.
We were also able to glimpse into the student’s lives off the court. Walking through the dark gullies (walkways) of the slums, we meet large families sharing small spaces and communal bathrooms. We saw the state of their educational materials, the absence of opportunities and the limiting messages society sent them. We were humbled to see how unfazed these young people were by all the hurdles in their way.
In our last weeks, Hi 5 ran its weeklong residential camp in Vajreshwari, a rural village about two hours north of Mumbai. After four months in the city, escaping to the calm, quiet village felt like a spa trip. The camp brought in the more experienced students from all over Mumbai. We woke up early to make the most of the time where the summer heat was bearable and jumped right into drills. We took breaks in the afternoon where the students rested and participated in character building activities with coordinators. The coaches took this opportunity to enjoy a delicious cup of fresh sugarcane juice. In the eventing as we all shared meals together, the students created bonds and truly started to feel like one giant family. After dinner we scrimmaged into the night, as if tomorrow morning was too far away. Each camp (one for girls and one for boys) closed with a talent show where students showed off their incredible singing voices and dance moves. It was moving to see so many aspects of their vibrant personalities.
In the meantime, here is how you can support Hi 5 during the pandemic. With basketball (hopefully) just beginning to safely and gradually re-open, Hi 5 is focusing on providing food, education, and device support for its children in need.
Suhail Shaikh is a freelance brand strategist who focuses on social impact work and is (mostly) based out of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Tyler Condit is finishing his Masters of Education to be a teacher and coach in San Francisco