That phrase, or something similar, is what Shaun Jayachandran heard constantly from the moment he created the idea of Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy – India in the summer of 2010 through 2013. And what drives that idea? Jayachandran speaks to a combination of his work in education, coaching, and the incredible odds that his mother overcame to go from being an orphan girl born in the 1950’s to earning both a high school and college degree while facing social stigma for not having parents.

“I’m not trying to find the Indian version of Michael Jordan or LeBron James. This isn’t a game show to see which kid “wins” their way out of the cycle of poverty,” said Jayachandran. “But I believe we have found a way to help marginalized students in India complete their education without the burden of needing to feel grateful.”

As of 2014, 58% of the total population (758 Million) were living on less than $3.10 per day. India continues to be in the midst of a dichotomy of rapid economic growth and those left behind with little chance to catch up. Almost 30% of girls are still married before they are 18, there are 12 million teenage pregnancies, and less than 50% graduate school. The odds for so many marginalized children in India to “make it out” isn’t one that is done with easy calculations. And at Crossover Academy, 80% of participants in 2017 were girls and 99% of participants families live on under $3.10 US/day.

Crossover started with the straightforward idea that teaching kids through play would allow them to apply lessons throughout each facet of their life. What started as a three person pilot program/expedition in 2012 to work with 45 students at St. Patrick’s School in Chennai has turned into six consecutive sessions with over 400 students participating with over a dozen volunteers each summer.

The mission of Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy is to increase gender equity and education rates in India through the use basketball as a vehicle of change (which also include classroom breakdown, conditioning, and yoga sessions) in marginalized communities. Using a sport that isn’t widely popular, especially among the marginalized population, allows Crossover to start the girls and boys on equal footing – a rarity in any country. And with 85% of Crossover scholars remaining in school (compared to the national average of 38%) – the success is evident in each summer session.

The biggest challenge – “You would be wrong in thinking it was impacting the kids – but it’s the struggle of funding Crossover year after year without a major influencer campaign, wealthy benefactor, or corporation jumping in to ensure its future.”

To learn more about Crossover –

All Photos taken by Rob Hammer @Robhammerphoto