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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