Sailing to the Top: How a Hyderabad NGO is changing the face of the sport in the country
Telangana is fast becoming the hub for sailing in the country, and there is one man to thank for that fact. Suheim Sheikh and his Yacht Club of Hyderabad, has gradually, painstakingly enabled hundreds of impoverished kids take over and excel in what was once an elite sport. Juveria Tabassum finds out how.
Paddling around in a little red canoe at age 12 because he thought his older brother looked cool sailing, is a very innocuous start to a career that has shaped the lives of countless impoverished children in Hyderabad. A thorough watersports person at heart, Suheim Sheikh left his burgeoning software company in the financial services industry and set up the Yacht Club of Hyderabad, a not-for-profit organization, at the Hussainsagar Lake, in June 2009. “The goal we had in mind was to make sailing an inclusive sport, accessible to underprivileged kids. More importantly, we wanted to create an ecosystem where they were able to stand on their own two feet with a strong sense of dignity and confidence by providing them competition, and supporting their education,” says Suheim.
The YCH also conducts the annual National Monsoon Regatta at the Hussainsagar Lake, which is a prestigious event for the sport in the country. In 2019, YCH sailor Preethi Kongara created history by becoming the first girl to win the event.
Trainees from the YCH were always part of the junior fleets and youth categories, but they really started making a mark on the national level in 2014. Since then, there have been numerous transformative stories of victorious national and international regattas, and admission into the Indian Navy. “Just as we speak, eight of our kids have been selected for the Army and the Navy,” Suheim points out.
Among these kids is Gautam Kanpatla who missed the national selections because of his Class 10 boards, and couldn’t make it to the Navy School. However, he kept at it, became the national champion, and represented India at the World Championship in China. Such was his prowess at the sport, that he got directly selected to the Navy. Durgaprasad, who is also among the fleet of kids joining the Navy, has a similar story of hard word and resilience. Durga’s mom works as a cleaner, and his father is a xerox shop owner. He followed a school senior into the club, and has been working on his skill set ever since. Twice a national champion, he represented India at the World Championship in Thailand, and ended up claiming the top spot.
More recently, Jhansipriya Laveti(India No.1) and Vaishnavi Veeravamsham(India No.2) have been selected for the Under-16 World Championship in Italy this year, making it a first for the state to have two girls from the same batch selected at once. But this seems like an inevitable outcome once you consider the fact that there are barely 250 people in the country who play the sport professionally. And thanks to the work put in by the YCH, Telangana boasts of the largest fleet of boats and sailors across India.
Jhansipriya, whose mother works as a cleaner at a local hospital, and Vaishnavi, whose mother is employed as a domestic help, are products of Project Navika, which YCH undertook in collaboration with the Nandi Foundation in order to empower girls to flourish in the sport. The project was flagged off with 80 girls(or Navikas, as Suheim calls them) from government schools, who have now been all over the world, representing the country in various international competitions.
YCH’s expertise lies in the fact that it has taken kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, and made them leaders in what has traditionally been an elite sport. Suheim believes that this was done by replacing an uninspiring ecosystem which government schools unfortunately provide, to one of decent role models, good nutrition, and discipline. The organisation also works on ensuring the kids have stable jobs once they turn 18, so they are able to continue supporting themselves.
While Suheim credits government institutions and bureaucrats for their support in the recent years with infrastructure and facilities, it is undeniable that the establishment wouldn’t have been forced to sit up and take notice of these young kids, if the organization hadn’t been putting in relentless efforts to empower, train and uplift these young sailors. The small team at YCH consists of kids they’ve taken in, who learned the sport, and have stayed back as trainers.
Suheim, who has represented India himself, has cultivated his passion to grow into something far greater than himself. His quiet contribution might only have made a small blip on the radar of sports news in the country, which is run over by cricket, but it has made all the difference to lives of the kids living in this City of Nawabs.
- The Club exclusively takes in children from government schools, and trains them in the sport, whilst providing a holistic environment for them to develop into confident individuals.
- Members have gone on to represent India in World Championships and other international events, and earn laurels.
- Kids have been selected to the Army and the Navy, and are part of the Navy Sailing Team.
- The Club conducts the prestigious National Monsoon Regatta at the Hussainsagar Lake annually.