Happy Diwali – Khelo Sporting League

On Diwali Day we played rugby and shared messages around the Khelo Rugby theme of the month “Girl Power”.

by Shivanshu Singh

The last Sunday of every month we bring all our young Khelo Rugby coaches together as a part of our Khelo Sporting League (KSL). Each month can be organised in a different way, to suit the theme we are working on, to share ideas or just to meet up and play.

Our Khelo Rugby theme for October was ‘Girl Power’, we’d enjoyed a great day of rugby earlier in the month on the International Day of the Girl and this KSL was a chance to review the month of activity. We had about 50 of our coaches out on the morning, they’d all worked during the month to get more girls out playing, to hold charchas on the theme and to share ideas about why this initiative was important. The coaches come from all over Kolkata, and since they don’t always meet routinely, KSL also presents a good opportunity for a catch up.

Between games the coaches talked about slogan posters they’d worked on in their communities. This sharing of ideas in the group is an important activity – both in terms of discussing an important social issue but also in building up the confidence of the coaches by making an informal presentation. Developing such skills is an integral part of the Khelo Rugby journey and nothing beats skill development as practice.

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The posters highlighted some of the issues the girls themselves face, they were able to talk about how they have overcome some of these or share the challenges they still face with a supportive group. Although all living in the same city, the communities the children are from are often very diverse. The problems children face are many and can be quite different from one place to another. Having the chance to discuss these with their peers is an empowering experience. The essence of charcha.

This was also Diwali and the chance of meeting up with so many rugby crazy friends was not to be missed. Sharing Diwali greetings over rugby and breakfast was fun also!

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Living with the Jungle Crows

Thomas was with the Jungle Crows as a volunteer, teacher and mentor, here is more on his adventure in India, learning about how critical values are and that there is always hope.

by Thomas Pothet

The very first time I went to the Jungle Crows rugby field with my friend Pritam who I had met at University in Paris, something struck me. It wasn’t the fact that these children were playing rugby under intense heat and humidity like as if it was nothing… it was their discipline.

I was truly impressed by how disciplined the children were. As my 16-year-old brother plays rugby, I have often seen rugby training and how trainers can struggle to keep the discipline but it was different in Kolkata. Even though they had not seen Pritam, their role model, for a couple of months, none of them interrupted their practice to run toward us. They all stayed focus on their training and one by one, without disturbing the training, players came to greet us.

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Thomas and Pritam leading a class on leadership in Kolkata

It was my first touchpoint with Jungle Crows children and I already had learned something by watching their training.

Through Rugby, Paul Walsh and the Khelo Rugby trainers teach values to these youngsters. The values include discipline and respect, but it is also about being passionate, being committed to something, being a hardworking person and being able to take the lead, to become a leader. Knowing that some of these youngsters used to be thugs or street kids, growing up by their own on Kolkata’s streets, I couldn’t feel anything else than admiration toward Jungle Crows work.

What I saw with the Jungle Crows work was not only about rugby. They teach rugby rules, how to play, how to become a coach, but they mostly teach values and how to use these values outside the rugby field.

As I mentioned, Jungle Crows values are not only about discipline, respect, passion and commitment but I also saw them working hard on fighting gender inequalities in Kolkata and this is not the final step of Jungle Crows children’s journey.

Indeed they also expect the children to spread those values in their communities among the younger generation, to show leadership skills by initiating social projects (collecting trashes, planting trees…), and to become role models for their younger brothers and sisters.

To help them in their journey, Jungle Crows is providing leadership training, English classes and is also financing scholarships. It is through education and through these values that the boys and girls are empowering themselves and are becoming leaders in their community.

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Thomas with a group of young Khelo Rugby Coaches at the Crows Nest, Jungle Crows HQ in Kolkata

Coming from poor backgrounds, if it wasn’t for Jungle Crows, many of these young people would have dropped out of their studies and started working. As their family are not educated and struggle financially, mostly they see education as a cost, not as an investment.

Jungle Crows campaigns to show how valuable education is, how education can bring the change they need in their life and how education can make them become a better person.

Before travelling to Kolkata, I read the City of Joy written by Dominique Lapierre, the writer ends his book by saying that Kolkata is a true lesson of hope and humanity. While I volunteered for Jungle Crows, I learned many things about Kolkata and the Jungle Crows children, and I must say that I truly agree with Dominique Lapierre.

I have never felt like that before but, watching the children playing rugby barefoot, enjoying rugby to its fullest, giving their best both at school and on the rugby field, it made me realise that despite their often extreme poverty, these kids are more joyful and hungry for life than ever. I had never seen such poverty, but I had also never seen people with such big hearts and so eager to learn and live.

From my experience with Jungle Crows, whether it was in Kolkata or in Saraswatipur, I believe that everything these children and young leaders are doing is driven by their hope of having a better life tomorrow, their hope of being able to take care of their family and their hope of doing something that they can be proud of.

Somehow, when I was watching Jungle Crows boys and girls, regardless of their religion or differences, giving their best, an unstoppable flow of emotion overcame me. Every time they were playing, I could only be impressed by them and by their achievement.

These kids taught me many things, I believe that they made me more human, more compassionate and a more hard-working person but for and foremost, they taught me a lesson of hope. Thank you.

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If you’d be interested in volunteering with the Jungle Crows, please be in touch over email: info@junglecrows.org
www.junglecrows.net

Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable

For 2019 the theme of the International Day of the Girl was “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. Khelo Rugby is working to play it’s part creating opportunities for our unstoppable female athletes.

by Paul Walsh

It was absolutely brilliant once again being part of our girls rugby tournament on October 11th. Rightly this has become a big part of the Khelo Rugby calendar with our girls looking forward to playing in and organising the day.

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Kolkata

With more than 500 girls playing across four locations and I’d think another 100 organising, the tournament is a great way to mobilise and encourage our girls to take action. Khelo Rugby has always operated with the attitude of “let’s make it happen” and this is a good example of this. When we first came up with the initiative to have a girls only rugby event, the only question was why we hadn’t done it earlier. Each year I can see more and more benefits from the tournament and making the focus of October on our girls.

The tournament itself has become a focal point for everyone in Khelo Rugby, setting a clear target and getting everyone working together towards a common goal. Coaches need to get their teams organised, bring out the next generation of girls to play, brothers encourage sisters, sisters encourage sisters, each community wants to play well.

2019 was the first time we co-ordinated four tournaments on the same day, and seeing the photos ping in was special. It seems almost everyone now gets to see social media so we tried to quickly share images from each location so the girls could feel a sense of unity even if they were 100s of miles apart.

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Bengaluru

More than 45% of children in Khelo Rugby are girls and this tournament has been a catalyst to achieve this. As a team we always need to be focussed on ensuring we keep levels of participation from our girls up. In this we absolutely need to keep taking what is the tougher path.

India’s female rugby players are an incredibly strong and resilient community and should be celebrated at every opportunity. It was really special to see three of India’s rugby stars being showcased at the recent “We the Women” event in Kolkata, specially since it included Jungle Crows star Sangita. Our Khelo Rugby girls can feel proud to be a part of this.

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Saraswatipur

I promised myself I would keep this article short so I won’t go over all the reasons why girls are perhaps the single most important part of our planets future. You’d have to be sleeping under a rock not to have seen the impact Greta Thunberg is having across the world. It’s hard to believe it was four years ago I wrote my blog “Who Wants to Change the World?” – the messages of how 600 million girls will bring change are still valid. Our girls play rugby, but this is more than just a game, like 11 October was more than just a tournament. The impact belief and empowerment can have are very real. It’s “More Than Just a Try.”

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Haripur

We’ve still much work to do and we’ll keep a special focus for the rest of October, but our efforts shouldn’t rest. This is a full time commitment. We’ll have charchas in communities for the rest of the month, taking time to discuss and think about what we’re doing, how we can do more, achieve more. The girls want to share more messages through posters and slogans, so we’ll showcase those to more children at our end of month KSL (Khelo Sporting League) get together.

We enjoyed 11 October as the #DayoftheGirl but for real change to come we need to support girls everyday.

It’s about rugby, but it’s more about opportunity

The Jungle Crows are building a Youth Centre in the village of Saraswatipur where they have been playing rugby for five years now. While the rugby is really important to the Crows and all the 100s of children who play in the villages, education is more important.

by Thomas Pothet

The Jungle Crows Foundation promotes education through rugby in Kolkata but also in diverse places in West Bengal like Saraswastipur where there is a rugby ground surrounded by tea gardens and forest. On this field, rugby training and tournaments are organised under the management of Coach Roshan and the older players, Khelo Rugby’s Young Leaders.

In contrast to Kolkata where children do have access to some facilities, the children living in Baikunthapur Forest do not have much of an opportunity at all. No safe place to meet up or study other than clearings in the forest. Development is coming but it is slow.

In Kolkata the Jungle Crows have partnered with the American Centre for English and development training as a part of the ACCESS project, they can go and use the library. In the Crows HQ there is a small hostel where scholarship students can stay, the gym is well equipped and meeting rooms make this a focal centre for so many activities. The Crows also host a ‘Speak Fit’ centre which trains up young men and women keen to get into the fitness industry. During my time in Kolkata I enjoyed meeting and interacting with so many different groups of youngsters, all of them just like me, looking to continue their education, planning how to start a career, passionate about their sport, wanting to learn.

Such opportunities just don’t exist in Baikunthapur, where the forest and the Saraswatipur tea garden dominates life. The tea gardens look beautiful with views to Kangchenjunga, manicured tea bushes stretching as far as the eye can see and neatly surrounded by the amazing Sal trees of the Baikunthapur Forest. But there is poverty and danger as well, I was drawn recently to this description of life in the tea gardens by National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek, where he describes the gardens, “like strolling into a deer park” but one kept going on “poverty wages.”

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Kangchenjunga viewed from the Baikunthapur Forest

While rugby is at the heart and a fundamental part of what the Jungle Crows do while I was with them I could observe that their true DNA is about opportunity and a big part of that is education. And this is a struggle for young people growing up in Saraswatipur, where the draw of working in the tea garden is strong, where going to school can be harder work.

This is where the community centre is intended to make a difference. Construction is in full swing and is being well supported by the village and specially by the children who are excited to see it going up and looking forward to the change it can bring to their lives.

The construction of the centre is necessary for the Jungle Crows to pursue their mission within Baikunthapur Forest and to deliver the dreams and ambitions of the children. With such a centre, players will have access to a gym, proper toilets, rest rooms, and of course class rooms.

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Centre construction in full swing

All the children in the Jungle Crows learn about the values of the game – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. It is key to be able to translate these values into the children’s everyday lives. The centre in Saraswatipur will be a focus for this. Taking what is learnt on the field to support learning in the class room. I was lucky to see first hand the incredible passion the children have for their rugby. They have learned about how important it is to be passionate about something, about how discipline can win the game, commitment and hard work are keys for success. It is now time for them to use those principles outside the rugby field, for educational purposes and to develop the seeds that Jungle Crows planted in them through rugby.

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Passionate about their rugby

Besides their rugby one of the main issues in the villages is that the children don’t have any other activities available to them. They end up giving up on school and going to work in the tea gardens at a very young age. There is no support for education and even the transport provided by the tea gardens is stopped from class 8 when a child needs support most. In these circumstances youngsters often see taking up a job on less than two euros a day as a better option.

The Crows finance scholarships and provide cycles to make it easier for the kids to reach their schools and reach educational targets. It is important children don’t give up. The centre will be another part of this, an attempt to break the cycle that keeps swathes of the village in poor circumstances. The children themselves know that they want to have a different purpose in life, different from the one their parents had and to avoid the same social disadvantages. The aim is to enlighten their daily life and future.

The centre is still in construction but soon these passionate kids will be able to be diligent in their class rooms to improve themselves and work hard for their future.

Give them the right tools and the amazing children of Saraswatipur will move mountains.

You can support the building of the Saraswatipur Youth Centre by making a donation here!

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www.junglecrows.net

Tiger v Leopards – the Spirit of Rugby

Under dark monsoon skies in Kolkata the India Women’s rugby team demonstrate incredible sporting spirit.

By Paul Walsh

India’s rugby community has a pounding heart in Kolkata where senior Men’s and Women’s teams play for the Calcutta Cup, hundreds of children fly around the Maidan and the monsoon especially means rugby season. Sticky muddy fields may not be ideal for the game but it does mean cricket is off the agenda for a short time at least. 

As a sport rugby is said to have a unique spirit. Most players know there are a set of values by which rugby is played and governed. It is not always easy to separate one sport from another in terms of what can be a hard to define spirit. Most sports participants try their best, follow the rules, at the highest levels finding a winning angle can cross the boundaries of fair play but most players don’t look for this. 

And then an event comes along that makes you realise that whether it is rugby or any sport there is a terrific sporting spirit in the heart of every athlete. 

The context of my own interest in the Spirit of Rugby is through the social development programme of the Jungle Crows, the rugby club I helped found 15 years ago in Kolkata. For 3 years now our Khelo Rugby has been a part of World Rugby’s Spirit of Rugby programme. The Spirit of Rugby recognises a select number of projects around the world and supports them from World Rugby HQ in Dublin. Khelo Rugby is so far the only project representing Asia and we’re proud to have been shown such faith.

One of Kolkata’s showcase rugby tournaments is the “Georgiadi Rugby 7s” hosted each year by the prestigious Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC). Rugby has been played in Kolkata since 1872 and the Football in CCFC actually refers to the oval shaped ball rather than the round ball.

The Georgiadi Cup is named after a Greek of the same name who was the custodian of the CCFC grounds for many years, a stalwart of the club from another generation honoured with the Cup being named after him. This year saw 20 Men’s teams and 8 Women’s teams entered into the competition, which kicked off at 9am on a bright Saturday morning in July.

Rugby 7s is an abbreviated form of the full 15 player game, played over two halves of 7 minutes with only 7 players on a full size pitch. Lots of space, this is a game for speedsters, while retaining the full contact nature of the game it suits strong fast players with plenty of stamina. A team may play 3 or 4 games in a day so a quick recovery is needed to maintain the pace and keep up a winning streak.

This year the tournament was excited to welcome the senior India Men’s and Women’s teams. They had been in a camp in Bhubaneswar preparing for the upcoming Asia 7s to be played in Jakarta. The Georgiadi would provide the ideal match conditions to test the two squads. The South Africa Coaches in charge of the India teams were excited for the games ahead.

Both the Men’s and Women’s India teams got away to winning starts, pretty much as you’d expect, cantering through the opposition on day one. Day two saw all the teams re-ranked based on their performances on day one. This meant the two Men’s teams entered, India A and B, would face each other in a semi final. As a courtesy to the teams and to prevent their two teams going at each other the coaches decided to withdraw the India Men’s teams leaving the field clear for a local club to take the title. The final would be contested between two local Kolkata clubs, our own Jungle Crows and hosts CCFC. In the lead up to the final the monsoon skies turned dark and what had been a light Kolkata monsoon for one afternoon at least turned into a flood. The rugby carried on, the ground cut up, players turned muddy and the advantage of small flighty players became less as the wrestling contest in the mud increased in importance. In the Men’s final the Jungle Crows ran out 17-0 winners, a close fought contest with both teams muddy, bruised and congratulating each other at the end.

The Women’s final was scheduled as the last match of the day, this would see the India team take on a team made up of young players from a group of villages near Siliguri in the North of West Bengal, part of our Khelo Rugby programme. It was great to see them in the final. The team was named after their village and the most common big cat, the Saraswatipur Leopards.  What was about to happen stunned the crowd and eventually saw a show of sporting spirit most found hard to describe. 

The final kicked off under lights, the field was muddy but the rain had stopped. The India team was made up from the best players in the country, from Maharastra, Delhi and Odisha, even a Leopard was in the squad. Saraswatipur were immediately on the attack and the opening minutes saw a break in the India defence, the Leopards Swapna sprinted 70 meters to score the first try under the posts which she also converted, 7-0 to the Leopards. The crowd went a little crazy, those not paying too much attention to the game were suddenly fully focussed. Was the most incredible upset on the cards?

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Half time team talk for the Leopards

Half time and the Leopards led 7-0. The pair of South African Coaches looked calm but they must have been thinking what the consequences would be of the national team losing to what on the face of it were a bunch of kids from a village. Albeit the rugby crazy village of Saraswatipur, these were girls who had played a lot of rugby, won tournaments, led by the their canny coach Roshan.

The second half saw the India team intensify the pressure, they kept the ball well and started to attack using their superior size on the smaller Saraswatipur team. The India Tigers were showing their class. With just minutes left the Tigers scored in the corner, with no conversion the score was 7-5, the Leopards still ahead of the Tigers.

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India star Neha attacks

With time almost up, India had the ball in the Saraswatipur corner, could the girls from the tea estate hold on? A long blast from the referees whistle, some of the supporters thought it was over but this was a penalty for India. Time was up, but the penalty would be taken. India piled in, the corner was dark under the lights, the players muddy but no doubting the next signal and whistle from the referee – try to India. A crushing 10-7 loss for the Leopards who trooped back to their Coach crestfallen, they’d held out for almost the entire game, but a famous win wasn’t to be. Applause rang out for both teams, and nobody doubted the commitment either team of Women had shown.

The biggest sporting gesture was yet to come. The India team were called up to take their winning medals and receive the trophy. India Captain Vahbiz had different ideas, took over the microphone and proceedings. Grabbing a handful of medals she started to distribute them to the India players while at the same time calling up the Leopards. This was a medal ceremony the like of which none of the crowd gathered under the dark monsoon sky had ever seen. Each of the India players took their medal, and hung it around the neck of a Leopard. With a big hug and a smile each player in turn recognised their opponent. 

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All smiles – Tigers & Leopards

Time for the trophy and Vahbiz wasn’t interested in lifting it for the plaudits, this was for the Leopards. The girls lined up together all smiles, the three coaches joined them – two from South Africa and one from India. This was something very special. A terrifically competitive game had ended in a final play win, that had been exciting, but the actions of the India team lifted the drama to a different level. This was a great sporting moment, not between highly paid superstars but amongst hardworking committed rugby players, who’s passion for their game see them sacrifice and sweat just to get the chance to play. Two remarkable teams of Women had shown that rugby really is a beautiful game and demonstrated what the spirit of the game is all about.

Find out more from our website!

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Khelo Rugby Family: Crows & Leopards

Rugby Friends in the Forest

“Rugby is the story of a ball with friends around and when there is no ball, friends remain”.

Kichad Rugby 2019 brought together 100s of children from villages local to the Tea Gardens of Saraswatipur and welcomed teams from Kolkata and Jharkhand. 

by Thomas Pothet

If anyone told you about a rugby tournament occurring in the middle of a forest, in India’s West Bengal, would you believe it?

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At first, you would probably ask yourself, who could have such a weird idea of organising a rugby tournament in a forest? Do they even play rugby there?

Well….. it did happen, and I am about to tell you it’s story, the Kichad Rugby story.

Within the Baikhuntapur Forest near the banks of the Teesta River about 25 km from the heaving city of Siliguri, among elephants, goats and cows… is a rugby field in Saraswastipur village where regularly children and teenagers come for rugby practice. This is the place where everything occurred, where about 500 children from different horizons (Saraswastipur, neighbouring villages, Kolkata & Jharkhand) gave their best while playing rugby and enjoyed this special moment to its fullest.

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This was a two day tournament with all the children getting to play lots of games, staying healthy and hydrated under the intense sun, having their breakfast and lunch – all organised by the older players under the steady direction of their Coach Roshan.

These young leaders had many tasks. Not only did they have to manage hundreds of kids as coaches and referees, but they also had to handle everything food related (supply, cooking, distribution…), the clean-up of the area and finally manage a way back home for the kids living outside Saraswastipur.

As well as all the organisation they showed great leadership skills while coaching the U11 and U14 teams.

They oversaw the discipline among their teams, were motivating them and trying to guide them to victory. While the euphoria could have led to a loss of discipline, the tournament was successfully managed without a glitch.

As I was witnessing this incredible event, I was overflowed by the strong values that Jungle Crows is teaching through its mission. Those values were flowing out of the children while playing, out of the young organisers as they were taking their role very seriously and trying hard to succeed.

What I felt was an indescribable mix of emotions to see such passionate youngsters about rugby, so committed to their teammates and coaches, and doing their best to win.

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Passion for rugby was flowing out of them through their pores. They did not only come to win, first and foremost, they came to play rugby, to enjoy it and to improve themselves.

During the tournament I have not seen any player expressing sadness or deception after losing a game. Even in their loss, they gained something as they had the opportunity to play rugby with others, to be part of something bigger than just themselves, to be part of a team.

It was not about which team won or lost, it was about enjoying this moment and learning from each other.

“Rugby is the story of a ball with friends around and when there is no ball, friends remain”.

As I am used to watching my 16-year-old brothers rugby games in France, I was truly surprised not to witness any nagging songs or mockeries from the winning team toward the losing team as it is a common thing in French rugby and can sometime lead to conflict.

The values expressed by Jungle Crows children, both players and young leaders, were about passion, discipline, commitment and humility. Jungle Crows teachings and the youngster’s dedication are what made Kichad tournament a successful and a memorable event.

The emotions and values representing Kichad tournament are engraved forever in hundreds of people’s mind, including mine.

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Learn more about Khelo Rugby and the Jungle Crows here!

Playing for Gender Equality

First published on LinkedIn Thomas Pothet, Paris based MBA student and volunteer with the Jungle Crows shares some early impressions from Kolkata and how rugby is shaping young lives.

by Thomas Pothet

At first sight, rugby could be seen as a very masculine sport, but the Jungle Crows story in Kolkata, India, is the proof that rugby is not exclusively for boys, that it can be a vector of women’s empowerment giving them the chance to break their social chains.

Jungle crows aims to promote education through rugby to both boys and girls but, as they face many social barriers when it comes to girls, they must enhance their efforts to educate young girls and to empower them. Parents are reluctant to let their girls play rugby as they fear injures or because they consider it as a boy sport or saying that girls should help their mother as part of their “household duties”.

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When it comes to girls, Jungle Crows is trying to both change their social conditions as slum kids but also their woman’s condition. As they grow up and live in an environment where gender inequalities are rooted in every part of their communities, Jungle Crows gives them an opportunity to break the chains that bound them from reaching their full potential. To do so, several strings are pulled, such as rugby training, social projects (planting trees…), educational projects (scholarships, English classes…) and leadership activities.

Jungle Crows is perpetually pushing those girls to empower themselves in many ways.

Through rugby and social projects, Jungle Crows is teaching values such as passion, solidarity, discipline, integrity, commitment, hard work, trust and team work. Those values and skills learned from various projects are transforming those girls into proactive leaders with a collective mindset. Their leadership skills enable them to lead educational/social projects in their own communities. When they come back home, they teach and spread those values within their communities as young leaders.

Even though rugby plays a big part, Jungle Crows DNA remains education which has the capacity to empower women. Therefore, they have developed several educational projects such as scholarships financing, English lessons at the American Center and leadership training. Many girls playing rugby for Jungle Crows are going to school or college as result of Jungle Crows efforts to finance their tuition fees but also to talk to them and their family about education, about how much it brings to someone’s life and in which way it is a key for empowerment.

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Jungle Crows is not only giving the opportunity to those girls to do the same activities as boys but to do it with them, to completely being set as their equal which truly improve their self-confidence.

Girls and boys are training together, playing together and learning together.

Allowing girls and boys to play together is a practical way to teach young boys that boys and girls are equals and can do the same things! When it comes to reduce gender inequalities, empowering girls is important, but it is equally important to educate boys about respecting girls and gender equality.b

Currently, several girls playing rugby for Jungle Crows are also playing rugby at international level representing India in the U18 Indian women’s rugby team. Moreover, many girls gained access to education (middle school, high school, university…) thanks to Jungle Crows scholarship programs and can empower themselves by being educated. Not only did those girls empower themselves, but they turned out to be role models within their communities.

Through its projects, Jungle Crows is planting seeds in Kolkata’s communities to change women’s conditions.

Learn more about the Jungle Crows: www.junglecrows.org

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