A Captains View

Zaffar Khan our Khelo Rugby Manager in Kabul in conversation with the Captain of the Afghanistan Rugby team

With Ramadan and Eid out of the way our Kabul Khelo coaching has moved into full flow. Our community coaches have swung into full action with regular coaching now at eight communities every day of the week. Fantastic weather and a motivated team am sure there is more to come in the upcoming months and things will get better and bettter.  The kids have been super excited to be at training. Some children start as early as 5.30am and the kids are much better than the Kabul government civil servants at going to the office, they are on time, ready to go and full of energy.  We’ve also had some of the big boys from the Afghanistan Rugby team come out to some of the trainings including the Afghanistan Rugby captain Sayed Mustafa Sadat. The children always love it when he is around…and why not 6ft 2in big shoulders and a very handsome guy, he is very hard to miss.  But the kids do not love him for his image but for being a good person, Mustafa is very gentle and full of humor with the kids. He recently donated half his liver to his mother who was struggling for life. He has been both a sport and human idol to all of Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Captain Mustafa

Afghanistan Captain Mustafa

We caught up with Mustafa over cup of green tea (the best thing to have while in a conversation in Afghanistan) and asked him about Khelo and Rugby.

Did you enjoy the training today with the Khelo Rugby children?

Yes the training was really good the kids are very excited to learn a lot about the game and I think they will become very good players. They are learning from a very young age and so they will learn quickly. They will need to get stronger physically and mentally but that will happen with time.

 

What did you like about the training?

The training is very interesting because the important things are well taken care of…for example being punctual, respecting your team mates and more important the training is fun. There are lots of fun games being played. Which I think will always get the kids motivated and interested to come back to the training.

What do you think about the concept of Khelo Rugby as a community project?

Yes it is good…Khelo is doing a very good job. What it is doing is growing rugby in Afghanistan and that’s important because until and unless we develop the sport with children and young people we will not have a good grassroots. Which in turn will mean we would not develop a big variety of players to choose from. I know it will take time and we must have patience. What Khelo is doing ,I think in a few years time we will have a good base of players to choose form.

captain1How do you think we can grow rugby in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan Rugby Federation (ARF) needs to invest in the national team and give us more exposure and facility so that the national team can work in learning and developing the skills. Also the same for the kid’s rugby. We need to find financial support and also coaching support for all of us so that we can grow as a proud rugby playing nation.

Tell us some thing about your first sport and why rugby?

Laughs… my first sport was very different from rugby but yes lot of running involved also but not contact and we passed with our legs.  I used to be a very good football player, well still now though I have not practiced since I have joined rugby, I represented Afghanistan in the U19 football also but after an injury I had to quit playing. I was also in the Afghanistan National kick boxing teams for 4 years years. I think I was doing very well. I like rugby because it is a contact sport and the most important is it is a very good team sport, football is a team sport but what is interesting about rugby is that you have to really work hard for each other. It is not an individual sport, you have to rely on each other…it is like a house of cards one falls and the whole will fall…every one needs to step up to the challenge and work together.

captain3What is your basic dream for rugby in Afghanistan?

My basic dream about Afghanistan is to now participate into the Asian 5 Nations championship, people talk about the world cup and more but we have to be realistic, it’s not that easy. Teams in Asia like Japan and Hong Kong are way above the rest of the Asian teams and even they find it difficult to jump the qualifying round of the world cup… so we have to be realistic and focus on the plan rather than the unachievable image at the moment.  I think I would like Afghanistan to participate in the Asian Division 5 next year and begin working our way up the ladder.

I enjoyed chatting with Mustafa over a few green teas and it was great that he took time out to be with the kids. Khelo Rugby is really kicking on here in Kabul and it’s very exciting to be involved in the development of rugby and to be giving all the Khelo children such a good time.

Khelo-Khelo!!

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Rumble in the Jungle

Khelo Rugby in the City gets together with Khelo Rugby in the Countryside

by Zeeshan Ali, Khelo Rugby Community Coach

To mark our India Independence Day we thought it would be a great idea to introduce two of our Khelo Rugby communities – the city children of Kolkata to their country brothers and sisters in Saraswatipur. We brought together 8 Kolkata children, 2 from Salt Lake Dhapa, 2 from Bijoy Basu, 2 from Bhawani Bhawan and 2 from Nawab Ali Park and set of late on 13 August night on the Darjeeling Express from Sealdah Station.  Myself, Owen (a UK volunteer), Sanu and Amirul were responsible for making all the arrangements and though it was a late night train, the excitement meant none of us really slept properly.

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Starting out from Kolkata by train – excitement building

After a long 10 hours train journey, we reached Siliguri.  From there Father Mathew George of Salesian College drove us through the forest to Saraswatipur. During the ride through the jungle all the children were astounded by how beautiful it was, extra green and lush because of the monsoon rains.  It was a completely different level of experience for the children who had all been born and brought up amidst the huge buildings and busy streets of Kolkata. After the one hour drive we reached the village, which is surrounded by tea plantations on all sides – so now the Kolkata kids found out where tea came from!  We were warmly welcomed by everyone in the village, especially Amirul who everyone in the village knows very well after he lived there while setting up the Khelo programme. After a quick wash and freshen up the Kolkata kids were keen to get out and practice and see where they would be playing.

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Looking smart!

The children were astounded seeing the size and conditions of the field. These kids hardly get to play on such a lush green field in the city. We started training. Soon there were children coming from all over Saraswatipur and the surrounding villages to watch the new children playing. And before we knew it, we had 6 teams playing with all the children mixed up.  It’s always amazing how quickly kids break down any barriers and get playing together especially when they have a great sport like rugby in common.

Personally it was a second time for me to Saraswatipur, and I could see that the children’s rugby skills had continued to improve. I could clearly see that rugby had really captured the Saraswatipur children and the city boys were amazed and knew they’d have some tough games the next day.  The day ended with the Kolkata kids having made 100s of new friends and was followed by a good dinner and a good nights sleep.

Amirul takes the whistle!

Great play and Amirul on the whistle

Independence Day dawned and we observed a traditional flag hoisting by Father George. Then a few races were organised for the very small school children who weren’t taking part in the upcoming rugby tournament. Once all the races were over we kicked off with the first match of the tournament. There were 8 teams in the junior league including the team from Kolkata, and there were 4 teams in the senior league. The field was a bit muddy and water logged in some places but it didn’t affect the spirit of Khelo amongst the kids. The day was filled with great games of rugby and a high level of skill from every player in every team.

Owen ready to referee

Owen ready to referee

Although the Kolkata team had much more experience than the Saraswatipur players all the games they played were close.  I don’t think we expected them to be pushed quite as much as they were and it took all their experience to win through the tournament.  The Khelo spirit was in abundance and the day was a real festival of rugby for the children.  In the end the Kolkata Crows lifted the cup, but only after a tough final match.

Fast and Furious Action

Fast and Furious Action

In the senior league Saraswatipur Cyclone won the cup by defeating Nirpinia Thunder. After the prizes were given out, lunch was organised for all the children – thanks to the Jungle Crows Foundation for this

After spending amazing days in the village it was time for us to leave and head back to Kolkata. Just time to catch a movie and do some shopping in Siliguri. All the children were very sad they had enjoyed their time together so much and made loads of new friends. But then it left a smile on the Saraswatipur children’s faces when they got to know that Amirul and Sanu were going to stay back in Siliguri and train them regularly.  The Crows Foundation is sponsoring Sanu and Amirul to pursue their further studies in Siliguri, so they’ll study and also carry out Khelo Rugby sessions. After saying bye to everyone we left, eyes were filled with tears and faces illuminated with big smiles at the same time. The Kolkata children were really touched by the warmth they had encountered from the villagers. They want to go back again and play with them, the sooner the better.

Thanks to everyone who made the trip possible and especially thanks to my co-organisers Owen, Sanu and Amirul.

Kolkata Crows

Kolkata Crows

Amirul’s Great Big Rugby Adventure

by Amirul Hossain

My name is Amirul and I have lived my whole life in Kolkata.  I started playing rugby more than 4 years ago and I really love playing and training with my team the Jungle Crows.  Our team is pretty good and I play for our second team called the Maidan Hazards (the Maidan is the big park where we practice in the centre of Kolkata).  The founder of our club is Paul and he comes up with all these names, like Crows, whoever would have thought to name a rugby team after a squaky Crow or Hazards.  But we’ve been a Hazard to many a team in India and are growing stronger and stronger and now we can beat the Crows as well!

Not long after my brother Zaffar (not my real brother but my rugby brother) started Khelo Rugby I was selected to be a Community Rugby Coach for Khelo Rugby.  I mainly coach and spend time with the children in the communities around where I live which is Kidderpore, near the docks and river area of Kolkata.  People are sometimes a bit nervous about Kidderpore but it’s my home and I love the area very much.

Just shout, "Khelo Khelo''

Just shout, “Khelo Khelo”

Earlier this year I was selected to lead a new Khelo Rugby project we were putting together in the North of Bengal in a very rural village called Saraswatipur, the nearest big town is Siliguri.  Read Hari’s blog post, “Rugby Brews Up in the Jungle” to find out how the setting up of the project went.

Anyway last week I went back to Siliguri to take admission to College and again visit Saraswatipur village.  I have been given the chance by the Jungle Crows Foundation to go and stay in Siliguri as they will sponsor my stay and college, this is really very excting for me.  I will be able to carry on coaching in the village and I will start more coaching and grow rugby across the whole town and countryside.  I had never thought I would have chance to go to College and now I will study hard and be able to help my family.

With the Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Girls

With the Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Girls

As soon as we arrived in Siliguri on Saturday we made our way out to Saraswatipur and met all the children again, they were so happy to see me and this time I had two other Jungle Crows players Sanu and Arun with me.  This was Arun’s first visit to the village and he thought it was a very amazing place, he really loved it.  But he was very nervous about the elephants.  In the village it can be dangerous to go out after dark as lots of wild elephants are there and they have even killed people.  We didn’t tell him there was also an elephant living near the village with the Park Rangers.  When we were drinking tea in the evening this elephant came past, Arun was very scared and tried to hide until we told him that this was a friendly elephant!

On Sunday we ran a small tournament and could see straightaway that all the children had stayed practicing, they really are good at rugby.  We had also collected up a big big bag of clothes from friends in Kolkata so at the end everyone got a new t-shirt or shorts.  The children in Saraswatipur really don’t have much clothes, much of anything really so it was nice to be able to hand over something that would be useful for them.

Talking and Listening

Talking and Listening

I had to ruturn to Kolkata the next week, but even that was good as our Maidan Hazards won the Centenary Cup Plate tournament beating the Kolkata Police Sergeants team.  They got a little bit angry as most of our players are much smaller and younger than them, they thought they’d win easily but we beat them 24-10.

So next week after my Eid I will be packing my bags to return to Siliguri to a new part of my life.  I will have a friend Sanu who is also continuing his school in Siliguri. We will have great times making a whole new rugby community in Siliguri, making sure the children of Saraswatipur are doing well and working hard for our future also.

My Big Adventure!

On My Big Rugby Adventure!