“We’re building a culture of accountability, trust, and togetherness. Entitlement will not be tolerated” – Brad Stevens

Underprovided, unnoticed, these gems lay in the depths of impoverished segments of population. With the passionate and tireless effort by some and a stroke of luck, they came upon an opportunity to soar high and are defining new boundaries and achieving phenomenal success in the process.

Underprovided, unnoticed, these gems lay in the depths of impoverished segments of population. With the passionate and tireless effort by some and a stroke of luck, they came upon an opportunity to soar high and are defining new boundaries and achieving phenomenal success in the process.

These are the children of Hi5YouthFoundation. They are sent by parents to municipal schools where they get free lunch, uniform and are kept off the streets for at least half a day. They often come from extreme conditions in life; have absolutely no opportunity to engage or participate in sports; whose role models are often the street bullies or the local thugs; their after school activities often involve pelting stones at street lamps, extortion and bullying; - in summary, low expectations and aspirations in life.

With the advent of Hi 5, the kids in these schools get free professional basketball coaching, along with balls, jerseys and shoes (they return their shoes when they leave everyday, to ensure they are not sold). They learn discipline, work on fitness, train to play basketball; receive daily snack and ongoing lessons on hygiene and cleanliness and inculcate life skills. These trainings can be availed only by students whose family income is below poverty line. They even offer residential summer program for the kids. And what a transformation this has created in the youth basketball scene in Mumbai.

In a matter of 18 months, there are 1400 students (girls and boys) getting coached; 15 municipal schools have signed up, including a tribal school and Chembur Children’s home for abandoned children. Hi5YF employs 20 coaches, and 6 co-ordinators/social workers. The kids have improved dramatically and Hi5YF teams have begun participating and winning open tournaments around Mumbai! A couple of them have been selected for their district teams and state teams as well as national trials! And these are kids who had not touched a basketball in their lives previously!

The schools are recognizing that with very little investment, they are able to provide an unimaginable opportunity to their students. With the drive that comes out of a life of limited opportunities, the kids are working hard, learning the skills and executing to perfection. Watching them perform at tournaments is a heartwarming experience. The pipeline of schools and organizations waiting to receive training with Hi5YF is now at 27.

I spent 3 days traveling around Mumbai and spending time with Hi5YF kids during practice and team selections. The kids were competitive, courteous, passionate, grateful and happy to share their life changing stories. Here are some snippets and stories I heard during the 3 days with Hi5YF teams – it shows their hunger, aspirations and willingness to seize the opportunity with both hands and aim high!

‘RG, 10 years old, boy’: family consists of a single mom with 2 older brothers. Mom takes care of the family by selling flowers in front of temple. RG has taken to basketball and shows up for every practice. His mother drags him from practice regularly to help her tie the flowers for sale, while the 2 older brothers manage to evade her. Yet RG has never missed a practice and is now representing Hi 5 teams in open tournaments.

‘N, 14-year old, girl’: from tribal school outside of Mumbai. N is exceptionally talented, a prodigy. She thinks and executes to perfection – and has never played any sport before! N got selected for National tryouts, 8 months after being introduced to basketball. She did not have a birth certificate – her mom could only give a guesstimate –‘was born before the monsoons’. N did not want the Hi5YF coordinator to visit her village to help with the BC – she was embarrassed- her hut had no roof or a place to sit.

‘S, 12-year old, girl’: S is another stellar player whose dad, an auto driver, refused to let her join the coaching because girls were meant for household work, and sports spoiled them. Hi5YF’s Usha went to her house, showed her dad a few videos of S’s moves on the court and convinced him that S has his genes (he claimed to be a wrestler). She said with training S could turn out like Dangal-Babita! Surprise! – he wanted S and her younger sister to train together like the Dangal-girls and he shows up to watch them play!

‘AS, 10 year old, boy’: delivers paper to support the family, consisting of single mom and a sibling. He delivers papers in the mornings, goes to school and shows up religiously for practice in the evenings.

‘AM, 10-year old, boy’: AM cannot be separated from the court; walks around hugging a ball; plays night and day. He is there on court - dribbling, shooting, watching, cleaning up, all the time.

‘S and P, 11-year old, boys’: amazing strategic thinking and team play; cannot play without the other on-court!

‘Kattapa, 12-year old, boy’: rechristened after Bahubali! I had distributed Cadbury’s chocolate bars to all the kids. He found my husband standing next to them, and asked if he’d like to share. This from a kid who hardly gets these treats. He touched our hearts with his beautiful gesture! Deonar- -- a religious Municipal school where Hi5YF was informed that the parents did not want the girls (8-10) to get coached, while it was ok for boys. The girls wanted to learn the sports and sent their moms to speak on their behalf. Moms argued that they wanted a different life for their daughters – not just produce and take care of a stream of children. “Mujhe meri beti ko kuch banke dikana hai’”.

- Next, the school would not permit the girls to play because they had to wear jersey and shorts while playing. The girls reached a compromise with the school administrators – they would wear the jersey and shorts over their salwar-pants. The girls team is now doing extremely well! In fact, recently 11 moms have registered to learn basketball!

- A few girls from Devnar school were so passionate –“we are not doing too well now because we recently had holidays. Can you come back in one month and we’ll show you how much we’ve improved.”

Mulund school: Playing basketball and traveling for tournaments gives the girls an opportunity to get out of their neighborhoods. They don’t mind losing, but will ensure they play well enough to qualify for tournaments. ‘SS, 13-year old, boy’: SS was a school dropout, at-risk youth. SS would stand outside the court ridiculing the kids getting trained. He was missing his friends – they had turned to basketball. He then resorted to taunting the coach Kevin. Coach Kevin issued him a challenge – if you are that smart, try a few baskets. He came in and proved he was actually quite good. Kevin asked him to join the team, but only if he registered through the school. SS is now a 6-th grader and shows up for practice and tournaments without fail. He is also off the streets!

The coaches – most amazing, committed group of basketball professionals.

Coach Kevin – with an engineering degree, chose to find fulfillment coaching basketball to under privileged children.

Coach Naru – who gave up a lucrative job as coach in International school, so he can work with kids for whom this is the only opportunity in life.

Coach Arun – 4th year engineering student; produces excellent players; parents opposed to him playing basketball – he coaches 4 days a week without their knowledge.

Coaches Zoheb and Arafat: grew up in a segregated neighborhood – work best for schools in that neighborhood because they understand and are sensitive to the culture.

Coach Vignesh – an MCom graduate who finds fulfillment in coaching tribal schools than the city schools – he believes that they are inherently more talented, receptive and follow instructions better.

The discipline: At an open tournament organized by private club, when Hi5YF kids showed up in their jerseys printed with the school names, the guards were visibly upset. “Now we have these kids from the slums messing up our campus, courts, etc. We have to clean up after them.” They were not aware of the discipline and hygiene habits inculcated among the Hi5YF kids. The kids walk in with a large trash bag wherever they go and pick up any trash, before and after their games. Upon seeing the kids in action on and off the court, the guards came over and apologized to the coaches and the kids. Boy, did it make the kids glow?

Hi5YouthFoundation was pioneered by Usha and Sundar Radhakrishnan, a Silicon Valley executive, who relocated to Mumbai for business and personal reasons. Combined with the drive to work with the local community children and their love for sports, they researched the landscape for one year before they formed Hi5YouthFoundation. The organization has been providing free professional basketball coaching along with equipment, snacks and kit to the players. The school provides the space for coaching – Hi5YF prepares the court for the training. They hire coaches and coordinators who travel to various schools to train the students and accompany them to various tournaments.

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Radhika Padmanabhan
Volunteer at Hi 5 Youth Foundation
Saratoga, CA (enclosed now)

Basketball teaches one how to be a team player— it is a social sport. We know that there is a relatively large population of India that does not have access to resources that allows them to play basketball when they please. However, what most people do not know is that the kids that are given the opportunity to play with Hi5 Youth Foundation in India, are also required to go to school. Why does that matter? In my opinion, this encourages kids not only to play basketball, but to do well in school as well. Being someone that goes to one of the high-end international schools in Mumbai, I can say that I deeply care about Hi5’s goals. One of their philosophies that stood out to me was: ‘Helping children learning important life-skills through the game’.

A while ago, I was watching the final game of the SAISA Boys Basketball League. I will never be able to forget my peers sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping that our team would score. I will never forget how much I wanted our team to score. Watching the sport too, is a whole different experience. Seeing the way that the ASB Eagles played that night (as if it were a life or death situation), I felt a part of something big! The look on their faces when our team won that game amazed me; before that, I had never realised how important basketball was to them. I had never realised how important teamwork was. That night passed by, but the feeling it inspired never went away. I, myself, began taking an interest in the sport, and reaching out to my coaches and mentors for support and guidance. I was eager to learn the game, and to try out for my school team. Not too long ago, I tried out for The South Asian Interscholastic Association Girls Basketball League. For me, being chosen to be 1 out of the 10 girls that were chosen from a try-out pool of 30 seemed near impossible.
Through the American School of Bombay, I have been fortunate enough to be given countless opportunities to play and travel for a number of sports. These are opportunities that, sadly, a large number of children in India do not get. When I was told that I was chosen to be on the travel team, it meant the world to me. I can only imagine what the underprivileged kids feel when they step onto the court every day. I felt honoured to play with the girls on my team, and to build new relationships with my teammates and coaches. That sports season was extremely rewarding. I can now say that basketball is hope, and determination. It is home.
Now — after working with Hi5 Youth Foundation India — I’m able to realise how fortunate I was to even be on that court. The 2100 kids at Hi5 Youth Foundation work extremely hard to be where they are; juggling school work and basketball practice simultaneously. They are hardworking, determined, and willing to do it all. The training that they undergo is draining, and difficult, but the sport itself gives them tremendous joy.
Managing the communications side of the organisation in the social impact sector, my mentor here - Gurpreet Somal - is committed to highlighting the best of Hi5 Youth Foundation and letting the world know that the work being done for underprivileged children is significant. Not only that, there is much more that happens behind the scenes that most people aren’t aware of. Seeing the hard work that goes into ensuring the successful execution of events and obtaining more exposure for the foundation is an eye opener. Hi5 Youth Foundation believes in revolutionizing the state of basketball in India at a grassroots level. They aim to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged by providing necessary infrastructure to teach them how to play and excel at basketball. However, I’ve realised that the Hi5 program isn’t just about teaching them basketball - it’s about helping these children improve their life-skills throughout the sport, developing determination and grit, and respecting one another — despite their gender or religion.
Another fact I’ve realised in my two weeks here at the Hi5 Youth Foundation office, is that everyone here truly cares about what they are doing. Each and every person’s drive here seems to be that they genuinely care about the foundation’s cause and achieving its goals. It is the reason that more teenagers like myself should care about bringing basketball to underprivileged kids in India. Before working with this non-profit organization, I never would have understood why bringing basketball to underprivileged kids in India is so significant.
After conversing with my supervisor and doing my own research, I’ve realised that basketball is the ideal sport for India. With our large youth population, and a burning desire to learn and grow, this team sport is perfect. It encourages the idea of working together towards a common goal, which in turn raises morale.
Basketball offers much more than people know; increasing the amount of young underprivileged players should always remain a goal for India. That is the only way the face of basketball in India can change. Sports— in general— is a way that children can communicate, and interact with one another outside of academics. It helps students feel determined in another area of their lives. Additionally, basketball teaches young children how to communicate strongly with one another. If they are given the opportunity to be part of a team and if they all have the common goal to win, it allows for the development of respect, team building, trust, and the determination to thrive. I say this because I have experienced the effect of sports, and I can confirm that playing a sport seriously is a life-changing experience. In my view, Hi5 Youth Foundation is definitely making a difference in young children’s lives and working towards bettering the face of basketball in India.

Sneha Galani
Student, ASB (American School of Bombay)

My experience in Hi 5 was something I never thought I would see. I have been involved in Indian basketball for 6+ years and have become accustomed to the Indian style of play being one-on-one heavy with no defense.

I was very happy and surprised to see the selfless type of basketball that was being played and the fun each and every kid was having. The looks on their faces during the practice came was of self-fulfillment and joy and for many of them, that is not possible without the outlet that Hi 5 Youth Foundation provides them. I cannot thank the Hi 5 team enough for allowing me to be a small part of their efforts and hope to help them in their continued efforts of providing underprivileged children an opportunity to build themselves through basketball.

Himamshu Dabir
(Syracuse, New York)

It is easy to see why many leaders of communities, companies, and countries have had experience playing on a team. Team sports, like basketball, provides youth the opportunity to build valuable life skills such as grit, compromise, teamwork and leadership. I had the privilege of seeing all of this in action during a visit to a Mumbai-area school with the Hi 5 Youth Foundation’s basketball program.

During my visit,

I saw kids working together to learn new skills and techniques with the help of passionate coaches. I saw kids challenging each other and pushing each other to improve. And I saw kids encouraging and helping each other when they lost possession or were defeated.
It was amazing to see the community that existed among the participants and coaches, and I have no doubt that the lessons and skills learned by the kids will do them very well not only in their sporting and academic lives but also their lives as members of their communities.

Ian Bosiak
Ontario, Canada
A young High School volunteer from San Francisco bay area spent 3 weeks at Hi 5 Youth Foundation in Mumbai. Hear her experience doing fitness training and her learnings from Hi 5 children.

She took back lots of life experiences with her! At the moment, Jayshree is part of the Hi 5 USA team who is the spokesperson for Hi 5 in bay area.

Jayshree Viswanathan
Fremont, CA

The Hi 5 Youth Foundation creates a unique opportunity for FREE basketball program for underprivileged children in India who otherwise will not have access to play and rise in this sport. My utmost respect goes out to the organization for its commitment to improving social and educational opportunities,

building bridges between communities, and spreading hope through hoops. Keep your eyes on the Hi 5 Youth Foundation for the next all-star player!

Nicole Michelle Porter
Long Beach, CA

Volunteering under Hi 5 Youth Foundation has been an eye opening experience for me. I had the great opportunity to coach alongside with one of the main coaches, Kevin at mainly two of the centres.

Not only was I able to coach and train the extremely hardworking and talented children, but also create meaningful relationships with the kids which prompted me to do more than just on the court. We bonded over our mutual respect for each other and our will and dedication to our sport. There were days where there would be tears and sweat and days where we would dance and banter around. These kids taught me so much more than I could ever teach them through some guide or formatted training session. They taught me to celebrate the little wins and to fully enjoy the present, whether it was to spontaneously break into a dance or sing Marathi rain songs in hopes to cancel cardio days. All together Hi 5 is a family driven to spread positivity, knowledge and life skills through Basketball. I am deeply proud to have been able to get the opportunity to coach these children and work under the amazing Hi 5 team.

Simar Bhatia
Volunteer at Hi 5 Youth Foundation
Alumni-IMG Academy, Florida
A young volunteer who completed college from Boston was with Hi 5 Youth Foundation for few weeks.

A basketball player himself who was awe struck with the talent and energy of Hi 5 children in India has promised to continue helping the children in many ways. Sandeep is part of Hi 5 USA team who wants to continue strategize plans for Hi 5 India and visit the children every year.

Sandeep Chandrasekar
Saratoga, CA
Shaan, a 16 year old American School of Bombay (ASB) kid, interned with us in the summer of '18. His first assignment was to coach the Deonar center, besides visiting other centers. His rapport with the children was so good - he instantly enjoyed teaching our children and immediately wanted to do something for the Hi5 kids. Shaan wanted to give back to the community and then realized that for these children, happiness meant playing on indoor courts. After the summer of '18, he organized weekly basketball coaching in the ASB. Today, the children at Hi5 love to play at ASB's indoor courts. Because of Shaan, more children from ASB are coming forward to play and teach drills to the Hi5 children.

Shaan Navani
Student, ASB (American School of Bombay)