Big Jim on Rugby and Life

Talking Rugby Futures: as part of our series to bring out the stories of the young people impacted by the Jungle Crows Foundation today we talk to Jim about his journey and experiences.

Tell us a little about your background…

I am from Fiji and came to live in India to complete my higher education.

In Fiji, people are crazy about rugby, similar to the way Indians feel for cricket, so we start playing rugby from a very young age. Interestingly, if we don’t have a rugby ball to play with – we use bottles, coconuts, or random objects to enjoy the game…we just love the sport and can’t stop playing.JIM5

I got involved with competitive rugby at the age of 9. At first, I started playing in my village, and then went on to play at higher levels – high-school and state.  In the first year of my secondary school I got selected to represent the school in various rugby tournaments. I would normally play with the older boys, and was also the captain of the under-16 and under-17 team.  And, I played club rugby till I left for India.

I came to India through a scholarship program, where students from less-developed nations are selected to travel to different countries for higher education. I went to Pune to study. Over there I joined a local rugby team, and started training with them. Later a friend told me about rugby being played in Kolkata; that’s when I started travelling to Kolkata.

One aspect of the game you enjoy the most…

I really love this game! It’s a physical one and I’ve been playing it since I was a kid.

What I really appreciate about rugby is its awesome and unique ethos – we have enemies on the field who can be smashed or attacked, but off-field we are the best of mates.JIM4.JPG

What have you learnt in India?

Living in India has been quite an experience, and very different from the way I lived in Fiji. I’ve become more independent and I get to enjoy life over here.

In Fiji, rugby is played throughout the year. So, I would have to train daily. We had a really interesting schedule with various tournaments simultaneously on. Moreover, I was always busy with training, studies, work…

But when I was in Pune, my main focus was on studies; so all I would do was sleep-eat-study-exercise, and never had much activity initially. It’s when I got introduced to Jungle Crows that I learnt about giving back to the society – this is important; and there’s much more rugby training now!jim14

Comparing India to Fiji, India has very few ruggers and is not doing well in this sport (as compared to Fiji). What is your view on this matter? 

Fijians are passionate about rugby. Everyone out there will play and know about it. In fact, you don’t have to teach rugby to a child; it comes naturally to us.  It’s not the same in India.

Out here, cricket and football are far more popular, and we don’t see the same love and obsession for rugby…it’s there in Crows though and getting all the players into the community side works really well. Means we are not just rugby players but mini social workers also, gives a good feeling.

In Fiji we have prize money and a good player can make a living from the sport, there is nothing like this in India. Maybe, if there are more sponsors and funds to support the India players, then the situation will change.

How can this condition be improved?

Firstly and most importantly, the passion for rugby should be present. Once people are passionate, they will naturally go out and play the game.

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In the Media!

We should also start at the grass-root level. In Fiji, we have so many tournaments, right from under-9s to under-19s, village and state tournaments, and then there is regular coaching.

What Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby are doing, more such projects should be implemented to encourage children. So, first the easier versions of rugby, like tag, should be taught and then gradually the physical game should be introduced.

Plus, India Rugby should also concentrate on better opportunities for players like playing abroad or bringing in Coaches. This way they can promote the sport and also ensure better opportunities to the young players.

Further, rugby should be promoted more and in a better fashion in India to attract more attention. I went to one tournament and the posters and signs showed American Gridiron Football players but this was for rugby, the sports have only an egg shaped ball in common. Was sad to see.

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Jim as Coach with Crows National U20s Champions

 Coming back to rugby, who has been your role model?

My father has always been my inspiration. He too played rugby and had represented the state.

What is your most cherished rugby moment?

There are several such moments. But, I will share the most recent one – winning the Centenary Cup in October (2015). The boys had been training and working very hard for it, also we had near misses in the last few tournaments. So, this victory means a lot to us.jim16

What about the embarrassing one?

It’s an incident from back home; there was a big rugby tournament between the high-schools. I went to a renowned rugby all-boys school, but for two straight years we lost in the Quarter finals, which was very disappointing.

After you return to Fiji will you stay connected with Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby?

I definitely want to stay connected!

I have seen the work and have also been to the Khelo communities for coaching. I want to come back and help the club and children associated with it. The best way to do so is by raising funds, brining in new and more children and help in building the program, and finally, by coaching. The work with the kids is great, just building up for their brighter future is amazing and with our rugby what could be better.

What advice would you give to a new child who comes to you for coaching?

I would tell them a little about rugby, and how to pass, the rules, and the basic idea. But, there’s one thing I will tell them is what my coach would tell me, “Take the ball, run, and forget about your life.’’ This is why every kid should play to be able to have those times when all the pressure can be lifted. Growing up can be tough.

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Lining Up with Jungle Crows Seniors: All India Mumbai 2015

Who do you think is the player-to-watch-out-for in Jungle Crows?

The present younger lot has many good players. Sukumar , Amit and Akash are great with the game. If you look at them, they are small or haven’t got the big build some think is required for rugby, but they have worked extremely hard to become sure and confident players.

Finally, if you could give a nasty tackle to anybody, who would it be?

It will be Ajay Singh, he is a great friend and won’t mind if I tackle him. Another person will be Shuvomoy. He is the laziest person in Crows, so this tackle is just to wake him up and make him focus on the task ahead.jim13

Power of Play

Reviewing the Winter Camp and looking forward to the Year of Play

By Shreyas Rao

The Jungle Crows Foundation has been conducting its annual Winter Camp at the foggy environs of the Kolkata Maidan for the last 11 years starting from the year 2004. It is normally an event that lasts about 10 -11 days and involves engaging hundreds of children from several disadvantaged communities for a couple of hours each morning. Rugby is the principal sport and the camp involves the participation of the children in several play based activities developed around the central sport of rugby. The legacy of the Winter Camp has been well established through several journeys over the years of youth being transformed from a life of meager future to successful players and individuals who are able to take control over their lives.charge

The Camp has been growing in size due to the growth of our Khelo Rugby project which is getting involved with more and more communities across Kolkata. The objectives of the Camp and the Khelo Rugby project revolve around the idea that play can be a huge positive, a belief that all children, irrespective of their socio-economic background, deserve to develop themselves through the medium of play and this supports them in fulfilling their potential. In a society rift with inequality and casteism, the programme aims to aid children break through the dogma of predestination by providing a support structure based around play, in an environment that is inclusive, non-threatening and aids in self-discovery. The 2015-16 Winter Camp engaged more than 800 children on an average each day from 22 different communities, who were attended to by a team of 75+ volunteer coaches. It turned out to be the biggest camp we’ve ever organised, the biggest anything we’ve organised actually!coaches

This Camp involved a lot of planning and turned out to be a huge logistical effort – one of the benefits to all of us this. We had to ensure all the 800 children had a safe transport facility to and from home, a fun-filled Camp session, some basic kit and a healthy breakfast each day. As we prepared ourselves to gain a momentum into the Camp, we felt that it was important to develop a higher objective, so as to create a sense of direction to all the effort and have an over-arching goal. Thus, was born the idea of “Year of Play” – the concept of utilizing the Camp to create a platform for the year ahead, to start our own movement towards the Power of Play.

It is quite easy to be cynical about an initiative like this as it is for a short period without guaranteeing any sustainable or measurable impact on the lives of all the children involved. Yet, it contains within it, an essence of an ideal world, a consistent effort for equality and a belief of a new social reality. It is this feature of the Camp, that I believe, makes children participate each day in consistent numbers and compels the volunteer coaches to forfeit their Christmas holidays for this noble cause. Waking up early on a cold smog filled winter morning at Kolkata can be quite a task but the noise and laughter of hundreds of children enriches the heart of any soul who wishes to lay oneself bare to the experience. It was in such an exhilarating atmosphere that we wanted to take the first small step towards initiating the idea of our Year of Play.happy

Within the Khelo Rugby project team, we have developed a set of fundamental principles that we keep in mind as we develop our programmes with children. It basically revolves around teaching children to value their own lives, teaching them something new each time, appreciating them, developing their self-belief, acknowledging their rights, providing them emotional support and working towards building non-threatening platforms for them to succeed in their lives. The medium of play helps us to break several cultural barriers along the way in realizing these principles. It provides an environment where the engagement can take place in a very spontaneous unpretentious way.

Taking forward from these fundamental principles we felt like we needed to develop the theme further and use the New Year’s Day to delve, discuss and initiate the activities of the coming year. Perhaps, we were looking for “resolution” of our own. We have become so used to objective singular New Year “resolutions” that the concept itself has become drenched in mindless euphoria. As an organization, we had to ensure that the “resolutions” involved the hopes of others with a spirit of equality and justice. We needed to provide space for the rights of the children of the world. In that sense, we felt that one of the ways to “resolve” for a better tomorrow was by working towards initiating a movement on the topic of PLAY. Not just in a superficial way by playing or teaching someone a game but by acknowledging that the Right to Play of children in the world is directly connected to the various movements of social justice and freedom. That war, violence, hatred and greed eventually effects the way or the amount a child gets to play, to learn, grow and fulfill human potential. That the Right to Play is under threat from the inequality and ecological destruction that is manifesting all around. While there was the theoretical challenge of having to articulate our vision to our children, our team and to the world outside, there was the other challenge of practically implementing it as a visual display of our thoughts.rugby

The idea came about of creating the word “PLAY” on our Maidan Crow Field, involving all the children and volunteers who participated in the camp. The preparations began a day earlier by marking out the field through outlines and cones. As the day started, the coaches were encouraged to hold open discussions or a “Charcha” over the topic of Play with the children, trying to make them understand what it meant to them in their lives. We then moved onto the Herculean task of arranging all the 900 odd children in the formation of the four letters, with all the coaches keeping a vigil and making sure everything was in order. It turned out to be a lot easier than expected and when the formation was finally done, our team was brimming with a sense of achievement. A few slogans were chanted on the theme of Play, a mass wishing of Happy New Year took place, great photographs taken through some daredevilry up trees, breakfast distributed and finally all returned home overwhelmed by the feat!tug

Having managed to accomplish the feat, our next challenge was to elaborate the idea into a framework of ideas that could be practically implemented in various forms. We felt that such an important and universal idea needs to be laid out on a canvas in a way that we can paint our future plans and goals. After open discussions, we managed to create a fundamental framework:

  • Providing opportunities to as many children as possible to have a safe play experience.
  • To promote the participation and support for girls and their participation in their own journey of self-discovery through play.
  • To bridge gaps and fight inequality by being inclusive in all our endeavors.
  • To aid in the development of the culture and market for sports so as to develop play as a worthy effort for participating children.
  • To establish platforms for advocacy that can minimize the hurdles for success through play.
  • To innovate and create new designs for play spaces and play grounds, such that it stimulates play based activity in all communities.
  • To acknowledge rights of children and launch a fight against child abuse by creating awareness among children themselves through the medium of play.
  • To acknowledge that the children are the future and the next year needs to provide the basis for better years to come, a better tomorrow full of hope and promise because our children deserve that.

So, we at the Jungle Crows Foundation, are going to try our best in our own small way to develop our program around these points. For all of us who have been a part of the Winter Camp, it has been very memorable as we soak in the positivity, delve on the negative points and look to better ourselves for the future. At the same time, we invite development organizations and governing bodies worldwide to join our endeavor, for what lies ahead of us is a huge task. Year after year is turning out to be more harmful for the lives of children as the threat of both man-made and natural disasters looms large. So the idea of play and its universal appeal has become more relevant than ever before. We need to believe in it, for sake of ourselves and the children.  It will involve debunking a lot of myths, reshaping our identities, re-learning our histories, re-assessing our self-worth, introspecting deeply on our delusions and liberating ourselves to a brighter future. However, and most importantly, it involves engaging ourselves in the simple safe, fun-filled, powerful activity of PLAY.

Let us all cheer for a Year full of PLAY!!play

Bangalore Delights in Winter Rugby

The Story of the Khelo Rugby Winter Camp in Bangalore

By Zaffar Khan

I think everyone involved felt really proud at the end of our first Bangalore Rugby Camp. We worked with a total of 216 different children, fifteen hundred bananas were smashed, eight hundred Oreo cream biscuits munched, seven hundred real fruit juices punched and god knows how many oranges pealed over the 6 days. This was the first time we managed to get so many children under one umbrella. The camp took place in Sarjapura, Bangalore.  Barely enough space for sixty children, the ground was packed at an average of one twenty children each day and this was a real challenge . Bangalore particularly has issues of public spaces especially for so many rugby mad children to run around and exhaust themselves.1915030_10153949656266004_6692642181960089017_n

The camp would start sharp at 7am and finish at 9am. Children came to the camp from as far as 15 km to be a part of it. The ratio of girls to boys is what we are looking to focus on, for our next year camp. We want to get more and more children involved in the sport but our focus is also on more girls playing. This year we had one girl to every five boys. We know the girls love playing rugby it is just a bit more complicated to get them out of their homes and to the field each day, but we’ll work on this. Khelo Rugby Bangalore runs its project in twelve schools, three communities and a 7am Sunday morning academy at Decathlon, Sarjapura for free as all our coaching sessions are.

We spoke to a few children in the camp and asked what they thought of the camp “I am very excited. I met so many new children but my favorite was Sitara didi (Sister).  She played for the Indian National Rugby Team. I thought only boys can play for India. If I get strong and fast like her, I will also play for the Indian Rugby team. I love running” Princy Age 11. Children like her get training twice a week as a part of our school and community imitative.10570446_10153949652301004_2945101594370654031_n

Throughout the camp we had volunteers who would come whenever they found the time to help. One such legend was the ex Indian Rugby International and Commonwealth Games player Puneeth Krishnamurthy.  “Having played rugby in Bangalore all these years I did not know that there were hundreds of children playing and enjoying the sport. Need to commend the fantastic work put in by the Khelo Rugby team for starting something so wonderful from scratch. I would like to thank them to give me an opportunity to spend some time with the children and give back something to the sport and community also reminding me why I love this sport”10400813_10153949649221004_6123110917122082303_n

We are always looking to reach more and more children. We want to grow our network of sport lovers who want to give back something to the community and volunteer. We have now partnered with more groups and organisations so that we can spread our wings to other parts of the city. Many people ask us  if they will have to give a lot of time to be a volunteer or take up a coaching session? Our Idea is to just give two hours a week and the difference one can make is huge. From our experience we have understood that children do not need fancy stuff. They just seek a bit of our attention and time.

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Another such volunteer was Anand. Who is genuinely a sport lover and had never played  Rugby…

1661380_10153949651271004_1898124754075900504_n“A beautiful morning at the “KheloRugby” – Sarjapur chapter. I had the opportunity to be part of a wonderful initiative – it was the final day of a weeklong training for the children. Honestly I did not expect it to be such a hit amongst the kids. The organisers were extremely professional in their approach and the kids loved every bit of the attention given. There were some lovely girls along with some macho boys taking some valuable tips on team work, hand & eye coordination, planning and general fitness from a Professional Coach. I saw some great learning imparted to the kids there – both boys and girls alike.

I came into help and immediately was given the task to write down the names of the students along with their age and then transfer the same to the certificates. Yes, after the entire week long course, they get certified too from Khelo Rugby and Jungle Crow Foundation.10379012_10153949656036004_6012848445027518622_n

The 2 hour energizing session with the kids ended with some breakfast and a special Gatorade drink for each of the participants. The last count I had was over 124 children (both boys and girls of all ages) and to manage this size is no small feat.

I could see enthusiasm, energy and high level of motivation in those precious eyes. I am glad that I could stand witness to the good efforts taken by the team at Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby. This organisation is trying to make a difference in the lives of these children. Humbled by their efforts. Hope to be part of more such initiatives.” Anand Menon 10401233_10153949656096004_7005903149037488763_n

A great Winter Rugby Camp in Bangalore enjoyed by 100s of children and quite a few volunteers also. Thanks to all who supported the effort especially Cult The Workout Station and Nihil.

If you are interested to be a volunteer in Bangalore please get in touch with us on zaffar.khan@junglecrows.org