Catapulting with 42 Boys – Yelagiri 2017

20170820_100346Pragadeesh wants to join the Indian Police Force once he moves out of the destitute home Chennai Challenge works with each year. Watching him smash a target with his stone was one of my highlights of the catapult competition I’d planned & facilitated this summer. I’d set up several targets which, in reality, would be difficult for the boys to hit (more pot luck than skill) the game getting each team to work together more than anything else. After a dozen or so missed attempts, the 16 year old was the first to score points for his team of eight; 100 points to be precise, from hitting a toilet roll tube hanging ten feet away. The silence beforehand, the eruption of cheers afterwards, made for a gripping and emotionally consuming round.

My other personal highlight, which became a running theme as a result of the nature of the competition, was watching the older boys genuinely try to support the younger kids when it was their go; you could almost see the penny drop with some once the first round ended – when they realise that every single person in their team has to achieve the highest possible score in order for their team to win. Before my eyes, I watched several strong leaders naturally arise over the course of the weekend – some of the best scored zero points themselves, but helped the younger children to score for their team (particularly heart-warming when it was the quieter children or those living with special educational needs)

The educational element behind the session was to help build confidence and team building skills, but also to help with geography. At the start of the session, I opened up a map of the world and asked the kids to work out / show me where Central America is. I then explained how in Central America men use catapults to hunt so they can feed their family; something several of the boys were impressed by.

It’s amazing to think that such a simple activity, using empty bottles, toilet rolls and a card board box could create so much of a buzz amongst a group of 4 – 16 year olds; they were all counting down the minutes / hours until they could have their go – and they were all eager to see where they were positioned on the leader board. I remember having my catapult taken off me as a child (after ruining a neighbour’s car door). Thankfully, no vehicles were damaged on the camp site during our time there (not that I’m aware of anyway?!) Furthermore, I think Catapulting is likely to become an annual feature in the Yelegiri Calendar now; if it’s what the boys want, how could we possibly say no?!

Andy Neale

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