Photo Credit: ECB
Shilly Pancholi, the England & Wales Cricket Board’s (ECB) City Programme executive, reflects on a lifechanging volunteering experience at the 2023 Street Child Cricket World Cup in India.
A few days before I flew to Chennai for the Street Child Cricket World Cup (SCCWC), I was talking about kindness with my 15-year-old son, Shay. It wasn’t long until I’d be leaving him for the first time for such a long period. I was trying to explain that by giving up my time to work on of the event, I was doing something selfless. “No,” he said, “it’s not selfless. It’s selfish.”
For a while, I was taken aback. Then, in a feeling all parents will recognise, I reluctantly realised he was right – well, at least a little bit. Going to the SCCWC was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done in my life. It made me feel good, it made me feel energised and recharged, like I’ve contributed to the good of something so much bigger, and it gave me an opportunity to reflect and reconnect to the things I held as important but get lost in day to day life.
To be clear, those weren’t the reasons I went. But the power and impact of volunteering for something you passionately believe in can’t be ignored.
Now as I settle back into ‘normal’ life and acclimatise, I just can’t put into words how good it was to connect with all those young people. For them, cricket is something utterly life changing. This event was far bigger than anyone can imagine because it’s literally altering the direction of their life and in doing so changing perceptions of street children.
Over the course of the two-week tournament, 152 street-related children (homeless or living in slums) competed in 19 mixed-gender teams from across 14 different countries. For many of them, it was the first real travel of their life. And I saw first-hand the unbelievable way cricket is used as a beacon of hope. In this setting, cricket gives everyone an equal base. It gives the participants a voice and to be heard for first time.
It didn’t matter what they knew, what they had, where they came from or what their living environment was like, they were all there to simply enjoy playing sport, together. It was just a wonderful and unforgettable event.
There are three main aspects to the SCCWC: cricket, art and advocacy. On non-match days, the players are either making art or sharing their experiences and the things they’ve been through. My role, as one of the management team, was focused on the cricket. I was there to help organise the teams, the tournament, the training schedules, and other logistical challenges. They were long days in the sun and most nights I was completely shattered, but it was such a rewarding experience. You know that every single player and volunteer selected for the SCCWC is going to carry those memories with them forever and I feel proud to have contributed towards that and to be part of the SCWCC group 2023.
On a personal level there were so many highlights:
- I was asked to be one of the people conducting the tournament draw. We did that on stage in front of everyone involved in the competition, and it was such a huge honour to be given that responsibility. A memory that I will carry forever
- I was given the privilege of being part of the ceremony which adopted the Lord’s tradition, which observed ringing the bell before the start of every game at the Amir Mahal Ground in Chennai – it was a very emotional and moving moment
- We ran cricket programmes in rural schools in India, delivering £400 of equipment donated by the ECB
- I was invited to visit the children in their homes in the slums of Mumbai, and their resilience was so humbling
- I helped lead training sessions with some of the teams where cricket might not be the leading sport. With Netherlands and Mexico, for example, we ran a full training day. I introduced Head, Shoulders, Knees and Ball to them, which is a warmup game we use as part of our All Stars Cricket programme. At one stage, we had all competing countries out on a field doing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Ball, which was just so joyous to see. To think that there are now kids all over the world spreading that game with their friends is just phenomenal. Team Mexico approached me and asked if I had any other games like this. It was so good to see the children having fun and engaging in what was to them an untraditional cricket training session.
Right from the very beginning, when this was only a germ of an idea, the ECB was incredibly supportive about my volunteering dream at the SCCWC. My family and friends were encouraging but having the backup of my cricketing family really spurred me to make it happen. My managers were brilliant and I’m so grateful they were, because there’s such a huge power in volunteering and I can’t wait to share this experience with my colleagues. You feel like you’ve made a genuine difference, you view the world in a different light, and that you’re growing as a person, I feel more positive – and that’s contagious.
Instead of seeing challenges, you start being more creative, more innovative, and more determined than ever. In the words of my son, it’s both the most selfless and selfish thing I’ve ever done – I would not hesitate to do it again and I’d recommend it to anyone.