Unbound Athletes: Sports Day Helps Kids In India Forget Poverty

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Unbound gives kids living in poverty the opportunity to forget about poverty for a day and practice teamwork and leadership skills during a sports day in Hyderabad, India.

Unbound Board Member David Herbison flips a coin to start the games.

Many sponsored children have limited opportunity to express their athletic talents in organized competition, so it is great to see them expressing their gifts and having a good time.

Kids who often worry about finding food for the day rarely get the chance to participate in organized sports. So when the opportunity arose, more than 1,500 kids sponsored through Unbound in India showed up for the big event – The Bob Hentzen Memorial Sports Day in Hyderabad.

“Many sponsored children have limited opportunity to express their athletic talents in organized competition, so it is great to see them expressing their gifts and having a good time,” said Dan Pearson, director of international programs at Unbound.

The day consisted of 15 track and field events such as tug of war, sack races, the traditional Indian game kho kho , shot put, discus throw and 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter dashes. Unbound staff had help from scholarship students and the participants' mothers, and sports professionals were on hand to referee.

Some girls dressed in the traditional Indian sari, other teens wore matching jerseys. All experienced the joy of testing their physical skills and being part of a team.

Bob Hentzen, co-founder of Unbound who died in 2013, had a passion for helping the world’s marginalized and he had a passion for athletics. In 1996, Hentzen walked the 4,000 miles from Kansas City, Kan., to Guatemala. Then, in 2011, he completed an 18-month walk that spanned 8,000 miles, from Guatemala City, Guatemala, to Valparaiso, Chile. Hentzen’s walks were not so much about exercise but the idea that the poor have support.

“We are walking with you,” Hentzen once said. “You are not alone.”

“I believe the Bob Hentzen Memorial Sports Day [showcased] all the qualities of Bob himself," said Sarita Mendanha, project coordinator for Unbound in Hyderabad. "Cheerful, friendly, agile, win-them-all attitude, sportive, and all this happened with a very humble spirit."

For Mendanha, the sports day is "extremely important to the India program because it builds team spirit … [a] winning attitude [and] pride to carry away specially designed awards."

She also views the sports day as a way to build rapport between Unbound staff and the families they serve.

Many of the children had never attended or participated in an organized sporting event prior to the sports day.

Unbound board member David Herbison, of Tigard, Ore., was visiting India at the time and had the honor of kicking off the festivities.

"In [the] Unbound sports day, we have no such restrictions on dress code, footwear, equipment, etc.," Mendanha said. "We provided the [team] T-shirts so [the children] all feel equal and organized all accessories required for the games.

“… I am sure we made Bob very proud that his dear sponsored children and teams were playing so well in the same spirit that he himself would have shown in such an event. … There was dancing, singing and smiles everywhere, even amongst those who did not win. This is something to look forward to in the coming year!”

Unbound is the largest nonprofit in Kansas with more than $120 million in annual revenue. Unbound works side by side with people of diverse faith traditions in 21 countries, bringing people together to challenge poverty in new and innovative ways.

Unbound distributes direct aid as quickly and efficiently as possible to people who need it. More than 93 percent of Unbound's expenses go toward program support.

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