On a Saturday in 1999, a group of children in Mumbai climbed onto a bus. Their destination was the beaches and hills outside Mumbai. It would be a day away from the harshness of life in the slums, a day when they could be free and part of a team. For the children it was more than just a day out; it was an opportunity for change. It was a ride on the ‘Magic Bus’.
With them was Matthew Spacie, at the time the COO of Cox and Kings in Mumbai. Months before, he had been playing with a rugby ball outside his office when he noticed a group of boys living at the bus stop across the street. He called them over to hop the fence and play some rugby. Their games quickly became a routine and over the next few months, Matthew began coaching them as a team.
The effect on the boys was remarkable. Being part of a team inspired them to aim higher. They went back to school, enrolled in vocational courses and became mentors for younger children in their community.
“A couple of things really struck me early on,” Matthew explains. “Firstly, there were a tremendous amount of infrastructure and services focused on education, but schools sat empty. Secondly, there was a great deficit of organisations focusing on sustainable livelihoods. I also found there wasn’t much being done to develop the social and emotional skills of marginalised children.”
Noticing a gap in the service that NGOs were providing, Matthew appointed the boys from his rugby training to gather other boys and girls from their communities for weekend activity camps.
Magic Bus was born. The phenomenal value it created in the lives of children inspired Matthew to give up his job and devote all his time to expanding its reach. The organisation quickly changed to include a variety of sports, including football, cricket and kabbadi.
Over the past 19 years, Magic Bus has expanded, first to 3,000 children in Mumbai and then over 350,000 across India. The charity has grown substantially but its essence remains the same as it did on that first Saturday in 1999. Now, instead of an actual bus trip, children are taken on a wider journey of development that affects every part of their childhood and the lives of whole communities.
In recognition of his work, Matthew was awarded an MBE in 2007.