How to be a SUPERHERO

All about our new Khelo Rugby balls

by Paul Walsh

Our new rugby balls for Khelo Rugby feature four panels that help children think in terms of being a SUPERHERO!

But what sort of SUPERHERO do we mean?

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Lesson one is the theory…..

Panel 1: EXCELS

  • be exceptionally good at or proficient in an activity or subject.

Panel 2: COMMUNITY

  • a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

Panel 3: CARES

  • what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.

Lesson two is the practical….

What we have tried to do is capture some important life lessons in the design of the ball panels. And along with training for our young Khelo Leaders to deliver sessions using the ball as their guide, our ambition is to influence a few thousand young minds on these issues.

2017-ball-excelsExcels: we want the children who are part of Khelo Rugby to think about their own performance in everything they do – at home, in school, in activities and in playing. The ball shows a school, an open book inscribed; “Always learn something new” and children on a pedestal after competing. We know that winning isn’t everything but we do believe children should be encouraged to put in their maximum effort. And though we would love to be producing fleets of professional rugby players (our passion), this is not what Khelo Rugby is about. School and education is where children need to excel and this is why the school building is prominent. And if rugby is also the children’s passion then great, because in our experience the longer a youngster can stay in education – passing Class 10, Class 12 and going to College – the longer he or she can play!

2017-ball-communityCommunity: at the heart of Khelo Rugby is our rugby community, where Khelo has grown and developed from. Our inspiration has been working with youngsters who have found their feet and blossomed playing rugby to now be part of their own businesses, working in decent jobs and studying further than they could have imagined. Discussing with children their own communities and how they can have a positive influence on them is a big part of Khelo Rugby. These communities include their families, the locality they live in, their town, city or village and of course all their rugby playing friends. Looking out for those less able is demonstrated by a couple of old folks, we have the symbol for recycling and a green tree. We feel community is a responsibility and each and every child needs to understand and be confident with their role in their communities.

2017-ball-caresCares: our ambition is to support children to become caring individuals and to do this we think it is important that they care for themselves as well as for others. Heart, tooth and an apple show some of the physical well-being a child needs to know about. We’ve lost Khelo children to traffic accidents so a symbol and training for safely crossing the road has been incorporated on the ball. And a clock is there to prompt a discussion on punctuality and the responsibilities we have to others.

We were delighted our new balls arrived in time for our Winter Camps and made a real difference to the work of the Coaches during the Camps. There was lots of excitement as the balls flew into use and we have been delighted with the positive reaction from everyone who has taught or played with them.

Finally, special thanks to Shreyas for introducing us to Mamata who did an incredible design job!

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Universal Children’s Day 2016

Thoughts around the Universal Children’s Day 2016

by Peter Fernandes

Childhood is the state or period of being a child. It is the early innocent years of a person’s life cycle before adolescence. There are various childhood factors that create the kind of attitude that the person has in their life. At Khelo Rugby, our theme for the month of November has been “Childhood”. We as an organisation work to create positive experiences in the lives of the hundreds of underprivileged children that we reach out to. We are able to achieve success in our program because we use the simplest medium that a child understands and enjoys – PLAY!  Play is considered to be so important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations as the right of every child – and more precisely in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Our organised Khelo sessions are designed to get the best out of every child. Over the years of working with underprivileged children who often come from difficult backgrounds, we have learnt how important the role of a coach can be in the life of a young child. I am personally privileged to have been given the best of education, love and the community support growing up in my childhood. I had very supportive parents and a positive friend’s circle which has enabled me to seek the good in life. A lot of credit to the kind of friends I made has to do with sports. Being involved with active sports representing my school and state of Goa in hockey gave me the opportunity to make good friends and surround myself with a positive eco-system of life. When in school I had the opportunity to try my hand at different sports. I took a strong liking towards hockey because I had a good coach. The coach was motivating and always pushed me to achieve success. I would not pay much attention in my class in school as much as I would pay attention to what the coach on the field was saying. The positive attitude that I live my life with today has a lot to do with what the coaches on the field taught me. A good coach has the power to play a very important role in a young child’s life. Coaching is not a profession; rather I would call it a vocation.

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At Khelo Rugby, we are blessed to have compassionate coaches, many of whom have come from similar difficult backgrounds as the young children they conduct training with. Most children in our program don’t have access to positive community role models. Our coaches become an important community support, something that all children deserve in their life. Once we are able to get to the level of the child and become their friend we are able to create a bond of friendship. A good friend who has empathy and understanding is a very important bond children need in their lives. Having a friend in a coach, who a child can trust, who they can look up to, who they can aspire to become, lets them open up their lives to the coach and share their feelings. These feelings could be something very small or meaningless to an adult, but to the child, it can mean the world.

Our focus of 2016 has been the #YearofPlay, we at Khelo Rugby have taken the power of play to thousands of children across Kolkata, Saraswatipur and Bengaluru. We have begun training at 4 new communities in the last 7 months and looking to add 3 more communities in the coming few weeks. It’s a very exciting time to be associated with the Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby, which is not just growing in numbers but I’m also excited to see the coaches getting more mature and assuming the bigger role of a leader of the communities they work with.

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Rugby is a great tool for children to engage and interact with the world around them. Besides getting the opportunity for physically exercising their bodies, they also get an opportunity for intellectual and emotional development. They learn social skills like making new friends, to work in a group and broaden their scope for social interactions. By playing rugby they also learn to accept defeat and celebrate victory, two very basic but critical aspects of life. The sport of rugby gives a child opportunities to explore their creativity. A player on the field has to be sharp to react and quick to move their feet. Rugby is physically demanding and also works on mental toughness.

It is very rewarding to give the children who we train in rugby, opportunities to showcase their talent. We conduct rugby training in our communities. We also have the Jungle Crows Academy every Saturday morning where aspiring and budding young rugby players can play and develop their skills. We organise the Khelo Sporting League on the last Sunday of every month, which gives children from across Kolkata the experience of a real tournament. Our involvement in the lives of these children as a friend, an elder brother, an elder sister who they can trust and share their feelings with is improving by the day because of our charcha sessions.

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The Year of Play has been an interesting journey so far. Most of the children we work with come from tough home situations and can be challenging to deal with. Parents are often less responsive and more authoritarian making it difficult to implement our plans. We work hard to explain the benefits that sport plays in the life of a child. It is clear that a child living in a disadvantaged community gets very little social support. So what are we at Khelo Rugby going to do about it? Well, talking on behalf of the organisation and while we prepare ourselves for the upcoming Winter Camp 2016-17, we will continue to try to make a stronger social impact by getting more involved with our Khelo children and their communities. We will use a more bottom up approach where we do what the child in our programme wants Khelo Rugby to do. It is a tough task for all of us, but life is never easy and the impact that we can create is going to make it all the more fruitful. The strongest component that we will continue using to promote youth development is our love for the sport of rugby. We love our rugby and want to share our love for the game to the hundreds of children that we reach out to.

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This Universal Children’s Day we toured across Kolkata taking a fun filled session to more than 700 children in 15 different Khelo Communities. It was a marathon trek starting at 7am and finishing past 7pm. All of our Coaches were involved, it was inredibly motivating, great fun and hugely rewarding – pictures here are from that!

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Girls Power On

Parents should encourage their daughters to play rugby!

by Peter Fernandes

I was in one of our Khelo Rugby communities in Kolkata recently and heard a parent remark, “I would not let my girl play sports and rugby is out of the question because it is one the most dangerous sports in the world”. Working as I do for the Jungle Crows and having lived in the rugby crazy nation of New Zealand where young 5-6 year old girls turn up for weekly rugby training these words spoken by a parent left me hurting. And wanting to set them right!

The words echoed in my head and gave me a much clearer insight into the real life discrimination young girls face on a daily basis. Gender inequality is very prevalent here in India so I know that the work we do at Khelo Rugby to get more girls playing is very important and makes a difference. We know that with a properly trained coach to conduct training sessions, teaching the right tackling techniques, using the proper equipment, playing on a good field, using a safe and convenient location, rugby can be enjoyed equally by both boys and girls. The physical nature of the sport does raise concerns in the minds of parents and guardians which is why we work diligently  to play safely.

Talking to the coaches of Khelo Rugby about how the sport has been taken up by girls, the replies by most are all inclined towards the belief I have – girls love sports and rugby is no exception. They love the fact that rugby is challenging, tough and sometimes of a full contact nature. In short, they love rugby!

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Some of the slogans from our #DayoftheGirl tournament

Working with these girls who have no issues playing, the onus now moves on to the parents. It can be a tough task no doubt, but we know that if we can make a young girl attend our programme she’ll like it, and will in turn create better awareness of the importance of sport in her family. She will also convince her other friends in her local community to play and participate and that is always rewarding.

India as a country has a history of physical full contact sports which are quite popular like Pehlwani or Kushti (wrestling), Kabaddi and lesser known sports like Inbuan (combat wrestling in Mizoram), Yubi Lakpi (Manipur form of rugby). What is ubiquitous in most of the full contact sports is the minimal presence of girls or women actively participating. If we want to empower and bring about a change in society we all need to do our part by actively involving girls in sports.

To further this active participation we organised our own #DayoftheGirl rugby tournament on 23 October for our Khelo Rugby girls. We also made October our month of gender equality. 237 girls in 20 teams took part in the tournament and it was incredible to see. The girls played tag which means good skills, running and evasion.

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#DayoftheGirl 23 October on Crow Field

It was also inspiring to see recently the first women’s 15-a-side rugby matches played in India during the annual All India rugby tournament. We were delighted that our Jungle Crows team was almost fully made up of Khelo Rugby graduates. At Khelo we wish to create a lifelong love for sport and rugby in every child that we work with.

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Jungle Crows and CCFC teams at All India

I love that there is a place for everyone in rugby – if you are solid and powerful, there is the front row position for you. If you are tall and strong, you’re a good fit for the lock position. If you are fast and tough, there is flanker’s position for you. If you are quick, resilient and have crazy endurance, we have the whole back line positions for you. Whether you are 4ft or 6ft tall, whether you weigh 50kgs or 100kgs, you can be a part of a rugby team.

For me I think the following seven reasons should convince parents and guardians why they should encourage their daughters to play rugby, I hope you’d agree and please do share your own ideas:

1. Our girls learn to be strong and that the body has immense power.

Rugby is physically tough, challenging and being a full contact sport takes a toll on the person’s body. I had read an anecdote that football is a sport where players pretend to be hurt for 90mins and Rugby is a sport where players pretend not to be hurt for 80mins. Playing Rugby will make a girl feel strong. If she loves the sport and wants to be part of a rugby club like the Jungle Crows, she will have to put in the effort to become stronger physically and mentally. By playing rugby, she will get faster; her body will become more agile and strong. Along the course of learning the right tackling techniques, getting tackled the right way, getting into a ruck or maul, getting into a scrum, she will soon begin to realize the fact that her body has immense power and that she has every capability of playing a full contact sport and to be good at it. The ability to push your body and mind to the limit is a powerful accomplishment.

2. Our girls learn the importance of teamwork and trusting other people.

A girl who plays rugby will understand that she will have to put her body on the line and trust in her team mates. She will tackle someone, she will run, get tackled, ruck, will get up, run again, hit someone again, ruck again, run some more. Sometimes there will be a scrum and a tangled mess of body parts, she will get up and do it all again. It will go on for 80 long minutes. But at the end of every match, she will feel re-energized and mentally fulfilled because she was there for her team mates and her team mates were there for her. Her trust in people around her will increase and being a good hard working team mate, she will be equally trustworthy. She will learn that regardless of how talented and good a player she is, without the dedicated efforts of her team mates, she cannot win the match. She will have to learn to trust and be trustworthy herself, that’s the only way her team will compete.

3. Our girls learn that they are capable of doing anything that the boys can.

Rugby being a full contact physical sport is a very good opportunity to promote gender equality. Girls are tough too, both physically and mentally. What one must understand that a girl playing rugby is only going to be tackling and getting tackled by other girls. It is a fair and integral part of the game. By playing rugby, she will become more confident and have more self-belief in her abilities. I had a hostel manager back when I was working in New Zealand who was a volunteer community rugby coach. Every time a girl would approach her for medication for minor injuries, cuts or bruises, she had this very catchy phrase, “toughen up princess, stop whining like a little boy”. Our girls through rugby will learn that they are capable of doing anything. She will understand that she is quite unstoppable when she puts her mind and body into achieving a goal.

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Jungle Crows v YRC in India’s first women’s 15-a-side game

4. Our girls learn how to get back up after being knocked down.

There are numerous times in life, when it will seem like you are completely knocked down and have no energy to move forward. A rugby player who gets knocked down in life will have the mental strength to push hard and keep moving forward. In the 80 mins of a rugby match, players gets knocked down, fall to the ground but always get back up and continue moving forward. What one learns on the field is probably the biggest life lesson of all. A girl who puts in her hard work and is persistent in her training sessions will in most likelihood achieve the desired success. She will also gather the mental strength needed to face this world and live a fulfilling life. She will learn to accept defeats graciously and celebrate victories in full.

5. Our girls have a lot of respect for others.

The sport of rugby is more inclusive than most sports that exist in the world. A person of every body shape and size can find a position on the rugby field. For a girl, this can be very uplifting as her body shape or size will not affect her opportunity to play. She will learn to respect her team mates and her opponents who will in most likelihood be far more different physically then her. She will learn to accept different type of people and still play together as a team. She will learn that once she gets tackled, her teammates are there to support her. She will learn to obey the rules of game, respect the referee’s decision, and respect her coaches.

6. Our girls learn to be great ambassadors for the values of rugby throughout life.

Girls are the best ambassadors to carry the values of rugby into the life of their families. I like this set of values: teamwork, discipline, enjoyment, respect and sportsmanship – essential life values. These values when taught in a cohesive environment to the girls on a rugby field can be passed down for generations. Girls are excellent communicators and the real change makers of society. Rugby needs good ambassadors and girls are the perfect ambassadors for the sport worldwide.

7. Our girls learn the importance of hard work and develop a sense of pride.

“Wait, what? You play rugby??” will be a question that she will learn to enjoy the most in her life. It will instill a sense of pride in her because she will be among just the 1% of the girls in India that play rugby. Rugby requires sincere dedication, sacrifice and a lot of hard work to get good at it. The girls that venture into rugby will learn how important it is to work hard in life to achieve a goal and that there are no shortcuts to success. Given the right motivation, she will continue to strive to achieve more her whole life.

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SCORE for Health & Hygiene

How the children of Khelo Rugby worked together to SCORE for Health & Hygiene

by Milindo Chakma

On any given chilly morning or sunny afternoon you will find Khelo children running around to score a try, can be in Brooklyn or Boistala or any of our 25 Khelo Rugby locations in Kolkata. India today is still one of the major countries where half of the urban population are living in slum areas. Most of the Khelo communities we work with are in these slum areas. There are many many health related issues for the children growing up in these slums, specially in the monsoon season.

Diseases such as dengue, malaria, typhoid take many lives in the rainy season. “Health and Hygiene” was selected for the month of September as the theme for our Khelo Rugby Program. The main objective was to work with the Khelo children to help them better understand issues around personal hygiene – such as washing hands with soap and eating healthily and raise awareness about monsoon diseases such as dengue and malaria both for the children and their communities.

At Khelo Rugby we try to work on different social issues affecting communities by using fun games, rallies, street plays and charcha sessions. We encourage the children in Khelo to came up with their own innovative ideas to deliver these messages. We want the children to be leaders in their own communities and pioneer what we do together. The Health and Hygiene month was a tremendous example of this, with children devising their own posters, organising rallies and getting out and about in their own and neighbouring communities to share the messages they had devised. This is neatly summed up in this 90 second film featuring some of their activities.

SCORE: Since we work with young children, the medium we choose to deliver key messages is very important. Shashi one of our young leaders from Howrah Philkhana designed an info-graphic poster “SCORE”.  In the graphic the word “SCORE” is used to convey important messages on the wider topic of health and hygiene. The meaning of SCORE is short, catchy, sweet and meaningful.

Sleep Safely – Use a mosquito net. Sleep for 8 hours. Early to bed, early to rise.
Clean with Soap – Wash hands with soap. Take bath daily. Keep nails trimmed to keep germs at bay. Erase germs with soap.
Open your Eyes to Your Surrondings – Keep your home and surrounding area clean. Use dustbins and empty dustbins regularly.
Remain Fit – Play Sports. Walk, jog, run. Exercise regularly. Encourage your family to stay fit.
Eat Healthy – Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat boiled and well cooked food. Drink plenty of water. Avoid salty snacks and soft drinks.

This excellent infographic from Shashi gave our coaches and young leaders great support in delivering these important messages.

September at Khelo Rugby was all about health and hygiene. It is important our young leaders and children are fully engaged and leading the way on our monthly themes – they have to be owned by them.  Through awareness campaigns, cleanliness drives, charcha session and the SCORE infographic we were able to support children in taking a small step forward in living safer lives.

Kichad Rugby

How playing rugby in the mud (kichad) can teach children important life lessons

By Peter Fernandes

We started 2016 with a plan to build our Khelo Rugby project around the Power of Play. Sport can be such a powerful tool, on our playing field there is unity, social inclusion and gender equality. Khelo Rugby has come a long way in serving the community and we want to keep doing more for the young children who play with us. Khelo wants to be able to make a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of children, giving them strength, courage, knowledge and essential social skills required to build a good future.

At Khelo Rugby, we train our community coaches to provide high quality coaching to children that would not normally get such a chance. We encourage a very informal and friendly approach that builds trust with the children. The coaches are ably assisted in most communities by ‘Young Khelo Leaders’, who are young rugby players, normally graduates of Khelo Rugby who have displayed consistent skills in leadership and commitment to the programme. These Young Leaders are essential in enabling us to conduct more than 40 training sessions per week across 24 communities in Kolkata.

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Khelo Rugby’s Milindo leads a Charcha in Saraswatipur

Each month we work on a theme based around a socio-development issue and selected by the children and coaches themselves. The objective is to impart important knowledge to the children and give them a chance to learn away from preconceived notions & stereotypes. These knowledge sessions we call “charchas”, they are usually conducted at the end of each training session. Apart from the standard charcha sessions, we also organise workshops and rallies for our young leaders and community coaches to impart more in-depth knowledge about social issues.

The results have been really fantastic and have also been a test of the leadership qualities of the young leaders who have delivered beyond our expectations. We have realised along the way that true leadership skills come to light when the young leaders are given important responsibilities and are held accountable for certain duties.

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Khelo Young Leaders getting their work done!

Our Khelo Rugby centre in the village of Saraswatipur near Siliguri has been one of the most inspiring stories of the impact of the Power of Play. Within a span of 4 years, with the dedicated efforts of our coaches, the children have excelled to become outstanding rugby players and strong individuals who have gone on to represent the India National Women’s rugby team at international competitions and the West Bengal state rugby team. The girls have superb athletic abilities and are now looked upon as role models for the younger generation of girls from Saraswatipur. The story of the empowerment of the rugby playing girls of Saraswatipur has been a special feather in the cap of Khelo Rugby.

Our August theme was Indigenous Peoples to coincide with 9 August the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Like many tea estate communities Saraswatipur has a large proportion of indigenous people, mainly from the Munda and Oraon Adivasi communities. In order to celebrate their Adivasi culture we planned an educational camp concluding with a one-day rugby tournament – giving the children a few days of learning, competition and fun. The organising of the entire camp and tournament was entrusted to a few young leaders, from both Kolkata and Saraswatipur.

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Kichad Rugby

Through the camp children were able to learn about other indigenous peoples around the world and why there is a day to mark indigenous peoples. The children were also able to share interesting things about their own culture and life and feel proud of their Adivasi culture.

New Khelo Rugby manager Milindo on his first visit to Saraswatipur led a team of 6 young leaders from Kolkata and supported all stages of the project. His own expertise and experience was invaluable in enabling the children to talk and discuss openly and in a positive way. Interesting that the symbol of the international day was designed by a youngster from Milindo’s own indigenous community Rebang Dewan a Chakma boy.

indigenous-logoMajor highlights:

  • 12 teams with 180 children playing mixed tag rugby participated in a total of 32 passion filled matches, delighting the spectators.
  • Felicitation ceremony was held for 8 West Bengal players and 2 India National team players, Swapna Oraon and Chanda Oraon from Saraswatipur. Attended by the Sarpanch and members of the Panchayat of Saraswatipur village, Priest from the local church and the manager of the Saraswatipur tea estate.
  • A friendly tag Rugby match was played between Kolkata young leaders and Saraswatipur young leaders with a display of great strength, technique and stamina giving a boost and vision to the young ruggers of the village to continue working hard in the sport.
  • 20+ Young Leaders of Khelo Rugby organised the whole event with tremendous professionalism. The young leaders from Kolkata were treated like family and their hosts took them sightseeing, bathing in the river and to their homes for lunch and dinner. The experience was a humbling one for the young leaders who brought back some vivid memories.
  • For the first time, the people of Saraswatipur village celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and they promised that they would celebrate this day every year.
  • Celebration of indigenous culture with a program of Adivasi songs and dance which gave a broad perspective of the deep-rooted culture and uniqueness of Adivasi people.
  • 300 plates of chicken curry were cooked, served and eaten – nobody went home hungry.

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This was a true community event with everyone participating either actively or as part of a supportive audience. The elders of the villages were touched that their children had brought such an incredible event to life and that to with an acknowledgement of their own culture and identity. The energy and vibe were mesmerizing. Every try, every good effort on the field was keenly responded with huge cheers and much clapping. The audience and community were a big motivational factor and contributed in large part to the success of the event.

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Playing Together from Kolkata to Karachi

Our Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum brought together sport for development children in Kolkata and Karachi

by Shreyas Rao

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace – IDSDP (6th of April) always provides good opportunities within Sport for Development organisations like the Jungle Crows Foundation to try new initiatives and bring refreshing ideas into our projects.

Sport for Development events across the world provide a focus to the day and help in building new ways to engage young persons in different ideas and initiatives through sport.  With this in mind, we had the ‘madcap’ idea of seeing if we could get children from our communities in Kolkata to interact with children in Karachi through a video conference on 6 April.

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Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum – Kolkata meets Karachi

Britain is GREAT, an initiative of the British High Commission has given us the opportunity to create and deliver several events under the Sport is GREAT banner. Using our Khelo Rugby programme we have held events in Kolkata and Bhubaneswar. Our Sport is GREAT work kicked off with a  Rugby World Cup themed children’s tournament in Bhubaneswar and most recently saw a rugby tournament in Kolkata just for girls. For this we had more than 160 girls from across our Khelo locations in Kolkata and Siliguri come together to play and listen to an inspiring talk from Shubha Kenworthy.

Our thinking was that we wanted to do something a little different to mark IDSDP in 2016 and the video conference was something we felt could be very special for all the children involved. We were fortunate that the Kolkata offices of the British Council and Deputy High Commission shared our enthusiasm. Kolkata partners for what we called our Children’s Forum were identified by including Future Hope and Durbaar who both participate in the Football for Development project Dosti. And though we would have liked to link up with our own Khelo Rugby children in Lahore logistics meant it was better to connect with Dosti children in Karachi.

On the day of the event, 30 children arrived very excited at the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata dressed to represent their respective organisations. After a brief ice breaker session, the children all seated themselves anxiously at the conference room eagerly waiting to meet new children in Karachi.  After a few redials the children were all soon immersed in free-wheeling, fun-filled banter about various aspects of their life, opening their hearts and their minds listening and talking about each other’s lives and engaging in an engrossing exchange.

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Children representing Future Hope, Durbaar and Jungle Crows meet in advance of their Kolkata – Karachi link-up

I was delighted to be the moderator and followed a plan along the following lines, while encouraging the children to set the pace and be in control of their own conversations:

  • Introduction – from each side: their names and what sport they played.
  • A brief chat about their city and community.
  • Language and culture – sharing each others different and same languages.
  • A discussion about their own sporting experiences and favorite players.
  • Challenges the children have faced while growing up and how sport has helped in these.
  • Exchange on passions and hobbies.
  • Fun chat over the hypothetical question – if I was in India for a day…. or If I was in Pakistan for a day…
  • A round of Anthakshari between the children based on their common love of Bollywood songs

To make things simple, it was agreed at the start that the interaction would take place in Hindi. While it was the girls who dominated the discussion in Karachi, the participation was relatively equal from both boys and girls in Kolkata. Sport helped ease the tension even through a video conference – we started with a debate about whether Ronaldo or Messi was the better player. Of course Messi won, with the discussion going to a vote in both Karachi and Kolkata! Other highlights for me included the children teaching each other their respective languages – Bengali and Pashto, laughter and agreement on their love of Biryani and telling each other about their famed city landmarks.It was also great to see how the children could think criticaly even at such a young age, always surprising us with their maturity about issues and their enthusiasm about learning about each others culture. They were also sensitive enough to be politically correct – with a girl from Pakistan saying that she would love to play “Holi” if she ever visited India. The sports kits of girls was also a topic for discussion with the girls from India quite curious about what girls wore when they played outside in Karachi. At which, a little girl in Karachi nonchalantly stood up and turned around to show everyone her name printed on the back of her full sleeved track, implying that they were all indeed present in the room with their sports kit on. Several of the Kolkata children were pleasantly surprised that the girls even got a chance at sport. Towards the end, there was a lot of light banter about Bollywood and varying and similar tastes in music, fittingly ending in a fun game of Anthakshari between the two teams!

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Karachi Dosti On the Air

This experience turned out to be  incredibly memorable for everyone involved; children and adults alike. With such an event it is quite hard to comprehend its significance. But it was noteworthy that all the children participating came from disadvantaged communities and generally lacked any regular access to technological resources. Yet, the children showed much maturity in the discussion, steering clear from populist prejudices and preconceived notions. The exchange of thoughts seemed to have enabled the children to refresh their minds from any narrow vision of the “other”, the “enemy” or other such identities that can be indoctrinated from a young age.  It was clear that at the most basic level, children know no hatred, their curiosity is genuine, and the bonds they form are pure. It was incredibly heartening to see, in the end, a couple of them came near the screen and intently waved at each other.  Alas, their hands could never meet but a peculiar yet innocent friendship took form.

One thing was clear, it was only the medium of sport that made something like this even possible to imagine. Sport creates unique channels of interaction; it provides an opportunity for opening new passages for dialogue. At a time when debate about nationalism is becoming ever more loathsome and petty, such events help elevate the plane of debate. Sport with its broad visions of equality can open up so many new doors everyday and guide us towards a renewed global movement.  It is indeed a rare privilege for sport for development organizations around the world that they can facilitate such unique initiatives, that they can dream beyond borders and provide experiences beyond boundaries!

It is worth concluding by noting that the views here are expressed on my experience as a moderator. I will also be compiling more thoughts from the children themselves, and I am sure that is bound to spring many surprises.

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Author Shreyas captures a selfie with the children in Kolkata and Karachi!

Who Wants to Change the World?

by Paul Walsh

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(Article first published in The Telegraph, Calcutta and reproduced here with permission)

“Want to change the world? Invest in an adolescent girl.” – the United Nations Foundation.

Over the winter our Jungle Crows Foundation ran winter rugby camps for children in Calcutta, Saraswatipur and Bangalore. In Calcutta this was the 11th year of the camp. Combined more than 1800 children took part, on the biggest day in Calcutta we had more than 900 children out playing on the Maidan. Looked after by more than 80 volunteer Coaches and fed each day of the 11 mornings a hearty breakfast by one of 14 local hotels and restaurants who stepped forward to support the initiative. Get along to junglecrows.org and you can watch a short film about it.

Over the course of the camp we too realised that girls are pretty damn important in facilitating change. I mean it wasn’t the sudden dawning of something pretty obvious, but a sense that involving more girls in our work really did make a difference to the experience for everyone. We tried hard to get more girls to this year’s camp, organising safe transport, reassuring parents. And it worked partly, 35% of the children playing each morning were girls, this was certainly an increase on previous years and you could sense it changed the atmosphere of the camp.

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This year in the Jungle Crows we are driving forward with an initiative we are calling the Year of Play. The same film referenced above tells you more about that, but the first objective of this programme is to involve more and more adolescent girls in our work. The UN says girls are the key to, “eliminating poverty, achieving social justice, stabilizing the population, and preventing foreseeable humanitarian crises.” That’s quite a lot of responsibility, but having been brought up by a young Mum on her own I can also report how it’s not an unrealistic expectation. We all know girls in our society face many more hurdles in growing up than boys, whether it is marriage at too young an age, isolation due to community customs, denial of education or the threat of trafficking. Most of us will be able to recount experiences where we have at least heard of young girls denied their full chance in life. And this denial of rights is bad for all of us, for all of society. Girls are real change makers in our world, they are the catalyst around which a better world can be created. Today there are more than 600 million girls aged 10-19 growing up in developing countries, just imagine the change they could create if given the right chances.

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We reckon PLAY and sport can be pretty powerful in encouraging and supporting this change. This is what our Khelo Rugby Community programme is all about. Working with children directly in the communities they live in. Community support is essential to any change and if we want to get more girls playing we need to have the support of their families, elders and schools. One way we can change attitudes is by involving girls in high profile visible events of which they are the centre of attention. This was why when we had the chance to partner with the British High Commission for a Sport is GREAT event we chose to do girls rugby. It really was an incredible day with 160 under 14 girls all playing tag-rugby to a very high standard. The final was particularly close and featured a mixed Calcutta team versus a team from Saraswatipur – the tea garden village we work in near Siliguri. The girls from Saraswatipur won, which was a super achievement for them and really showed how they have bloomed with Khelo Rugby.

VIV_0285After the girls rugby myself and the Deputy High Commissioner Scott Fursendonn-Wood raced over to the British Council where we were part of a panel discussion on how sport can play a central role in social development. The debate was high quality and really showcased some of the great social development work going on in Calcutta with sport at its centre; from engaging with school drop outs through Kolkata Goalz to the huge impact of Special Olympics Bharat with so many positive stories in between.

The benefits of play and sport are well known to most parents and in so many ways it is even more important that we work to extend these benefits to include all girls. I think we all know how play and physical activity is a key to a healthier life now and as children grow up. Research has also shown that active children learn better, develop keener memories and have better concentration. Play boosts self-confidence, lessens stress, helps us make new friends, develops team work, is good for goal setting, and I can go on!

And so this is why in the Jungle Crows we’ve adopted the hashtag #PowerOfPlay for 2016, please do use it if you think PLAY can be a positive in children’s lives. And for all the girls in your life please encourage them to get out and play, and then you too can be a part of supporting 600 million girls who are going to transform our world.

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