Project KHEL: Sports for development

In our efforts to promote volunteerism we have written about voluntary initiatives such as Birds of Hope, Jazbaa, and Go Sports Foundation. These initiatives are by people like you and we hope that writing about them will provide inspiration and motivation to many to go beyond the question “What can I do?”

Project KHEL lucknow, sports for development, youth welfare

Project K.H.E.L. (Kids Holistic Education and Life-skills) is among the few initiatives in India that use sports for development. We caught up with Akshai Abraham, the Founder and Volunteer CEO of Project KHEL to know more about his idea, the model and vision for Project KHEL and volunteering with the organisation.

Project KHEL: The idea

In 2001-2002, I worked in Austria for a year as an AIESEC trainee. It was this experience of living and working in a highly developed country that motivated me to rethink my career plans from IT to the social sector.

Project KHEL Lucknow, sports for dvelopment, social enterprenuer Akshai Abraham, volunteer in India
Akshai teaching volleyball ‘underhand’ position

My school education had a lot of focus on sports and extra-curricular activities. Sports played a big role in shaping my character and help me deal with many problems and difficulties including the early demise of my father. Sports has stayed with me throughout my life. Though never a real competitive sportsman, I played all sports whenever there was a chance and it helped me make friends, relieve stress, connect to colleagues and peers in a unique manner.

Thus while the idea of starting a sports related program for children had been lingering for years, the idea of implementing Project KHEL was probably planted sometime in 2009-10. In 2012, after having worked in the development sector for 6-7 years, I felt the time was right to start my own initiative and Project KHEL came into being.

Project KHEL: The model

KHEL is a synergistic mix of “Sports for Development” and “Life-skills Education” approaches. A unique program which helps children from disadvantaged backgrounds grow into responsible and contributing members of society.

We partner with organisations working with orphans, street children, slum children, village children, children in shelters and children of migrant and domestic labour. Working with these children does not mean a one-time or short duration interaction. We ensure that it is a bi-weekly interaction, over at least a 4 month period so that children get the full benefit of the programme.

The sessions are based on experiential and activity-based learning models where the children are encouraged to discover and express the learning from the session on their own through a discussion at the end of each session.

Project KHEL lucknow, volunteer in India, volunteering in India, sports for development
Every session ends with a discussion on the days learning

The sessions help children develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, build their sense of personal worth and agency, and teach them to interact with others constructively and effectively. In addition, we also conduct special thematic sessions on issues such as health, sanitation, substance abuse, personal hygiene, civic sense, and sexual abuse.

Project KHEL: The vision

Since July 2012, we have worked with over 400 children with 6 partner organisations in Lucknow and nearby villages. The vision is to expand operations across Uttar Pradesh (initially) moving into rural areas and then across India. This would give us a huge network of beneficiaries and KHEL can then become a platform for various development messages targeted for children and youth.
I believe in the power of collaboration and working with the strengths of others. Already, Project KHEL works with partners for its programme instead of duplicating efforts. After scaling the programme we would have a huge number of children enrolled and interacting with us regularly so if, for example, an organization wants to reach out to adolescent girls for awareness on personal hygiene – we would be able to provide that platform of target beneficiaries.

Project KHEL thus goes beyond sports to achieve goals in health, education, gender equality, child protection, vocational training and life skills.

All of the above is a lot dependent on funding. At present, Project KHEL is a totally non-profit model, we do not charge for our programme anywhere and no one in the leadership team (including myself, working full-time) is drawing any kind of remuneration from the funds raised. We are still in a very nascent stage and in order to make the above vision a reality, we need to pursue aggressive fund raising strategies while growing steadily and consolidating and stabilizing at each expansion phase.

Volunteering at Project KHEL

I have been a volunteer for varied causes and believe that it really adds value to one’s growth and life experiences. At KHEL, we have only 2 full time employees but several part-time and volunteer coordinators, coaches and founder members.

For a young organisation, we get quite a few requests for volunteering. An important part of KHEL is establishing a relationship between coordinators and children. Our volunteers are part of the KHEL family – their names are on our website, we do events together, we go out for movies, meals etc.

As Franziska Litwinski (or Franky didi as she is fondly called by the children), a German student who volunteered with us for 5 months during her visit to India, says

“we shared moments of uncontrolled laughter, of long conversations, of comfortable silences, but also faced difficulties, misunderstandings, bad moods, uncertainty – only to make up again. I learnt a lot, especially crucial things about myself, mostly things I am yet to implement and work on.”

You can read our volunteer’s blog posts at

Project KHEL lucknow, sports for development, volunteer in India, youth development, sports non-profits
The Team at Project KHEL

Though we don’t have much, we ensure that even volunteers are remunerated to cover their petrol/ incidental costs. It could be as low as just Rs.1000 or Rs. 2000 per month depending on the amount of work done but it ensures they don’t lose anything financially and also that there is some amount of accountability.

We are, therefore, a bit averse to short-term volunteers. People are welcome to visit our sessions at any time and play with the children as a one-off thing – but in our book they are not volunteers if they just come for a day or two. A big part of our programme’s success depends on the relationship coordinators are able to build with the beneficiaries (the children). Thus, we prefer to engage with volunteers as well over a longer time-frame so that the children in our programme don’t see new faces each time.

Anyone looking for an extremely fun and fulfilling volunteering opportunity (just a few hours per week but long term commitment – at least 4-6 months) is most welcome. Our volunteers learn a lot about themselves while interacting with children in a totally fun manner.

-Akshai Abraham in conversation with Ashima Goyal Siraj

If you are in Lucknow, U.P., India, we recommend you visit Project KHEL and the amazing work they are doing to explore hands-on volunteering opportunities; but remotely you can also help by spreading awareness about their work; engaging on their facebook page and raising funds through their crowd-funding campaign at Wishberry. 

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