Our Girls Day: from Try to Triumph

By Rwitoban Deb, Journalist and Sports Enthusiast

My search for the Kolkata Port Trust field in Taratala last Sunday ended with spotting a bunch of young women armed with caps, whistles, pens and clipboards strutting about with carefree confidence, commanding military-like discipline from a few hundred younger girls.

No, these weren’t seasoned teachers out on a school picnic. This was the under-14 Khelo Rugby tournament – of, by and for girls – to celebrate the UN International Day of the Girl Child on October 11.

The second edition of the tournament saw more than 250 girls from 16 deprived communities congregate from all corners of Kolkata to put the scorching sun to shame with infectious spirit and unwavering enthusiasm.

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“The best thing about this tournament is that it’s been organised by the older girls for the younger ones. The seniors are now coaching the young ones, managing people, making sure the teams follow the rules… these are all valuable life lessons,” said Bruce Bucknell, British Deputy High Commissioner. The British Deputy High Commission was one of the supporters of the event and has been working towards girl empowerment across India.

A group of 50+ young women ranging from the age of 16 to 19, who have now graduated to community leaders, were tasked with organising the tournament. They had meetings before the tournament to divide up the responsibilities, from setting up the tent to organising food for all the players. This really was “A Skilled Girl Force” the 2018 theme of International Girls Day live and in action.

“Jungle Crows started off as a fascination for a few chubby, middle-aged guys but it’s amazing to see how many young women have got involved, it’s really the Spirit of Rugby live and in action!” exclaimed Shaun Kenworthy, chef and Jungle Crows supporter.

Artist and fashion leader Pinky couldn’t recall seeing this many girls play a sport in the city together. “It’s a spectacular sight watching so many girls enjoying themselves and cheering each other on. They all come from underprivileged backgrounds and many don’t even have shoes, but that’s not dampening their spirits one bit!”

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The 16 teams were divided into four groups with the winners of each going on to play for the Cup, the second-placed teams for the Plate and the third-placed teams for the Bowl. The contest ended with Hide Road beating KPT Colony 12-7 in the Cup final, while Jainkunj won the Plate and Sukanta Nagar lifted the Bowl.

Winners and losers though, were only restricted to the scoreboard. There wasn’t a single glum face or any sense of disappointment because most of these girls have fought and won a bigger battle within their family, their neighbourhood and their society, just so that they could even be on the field. The pure rush of adrenaline, the raw emotion and unadulterated joy of playing a sport had been alien to them.

“Only boys were allowed to play and girls weren’t even allowed to talk to them in my neighbourhood,” complained Kanika Mondal, one of the leaders of Salt Lake Dhapa, which was echoed by many around her. And now? “Most boys are terrified of them! Boys leave the field for them or play together with the girls,” laughed Sukumar Hembrom, a senior Jungle Crows men’s player, as he looked on from the sideline.

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The conversation was brought to an abrupt pause as a 10-year-old limped into the tent with a cut on her leg requiring medical assistance. Although visibly in pain and discomfort, she kept calm. While it might have seen many a grown man shed a tear or grimace in pain, this little girl just put on a band-aid and dashed back to the field in seconds. In case one missed the ‘#GirlPower’ on the back of their jerseys, this was it.

Rugby hasn’t just made these girls physically strong, but also mentally tougher. They are now vocal, assertive and unwilling to let patriarchy dictate the Do and Don’t of life.

“I’ve become more confident ever since I started playing rugby. A few years ago, I wasn’t even allowed to leave the house but now I take my own decisions at home. I convinced my parents to let me study commerce in school,” said Siya Shaw, one of the organisers-in-chief.

Ishma Taj too had to grapple with her family before she could do the same to her opponents. “I loved playing everything from badminton to hockey, before Zaffar (Khan of Jungle Crows) introduced me to rugby. But my relatives didn’t like me playing and my parents soon barred me from going out. It took a lot of effort to convince them that since boys and girls come from the same place there’s no reason to treat them differently,” said Ishma, 19, who now coaches 50 girls in Brooklyn, Garden Reach and wants to play rugby for India.

“When we started working in these communities, the biggest deterrent was the families of the girls. Through years of communication, we’ve finally managed to gain their trust. Now, with the senior girls taking up active responsibility of mobilising and training younger girls it’s become slightly easier but there are still plenty of other challenges we need to overcome,” said Harinder Singh, Jungle Crows manager and one of the few men seen motivating the girls from the sidelines.

Till only the other day, they were made to believe that their sole purpose of existence was to get married and raise children. Now, rugby has given these girls a sense of identity, a dare to dream. They’ve seen their seniors play for India and conquer the world. They’ve realised the world is much bigger than they ever imagined it to be, or were allowed to.  They will not settle for nothing. They’ve been in the shadows for far too long. This is their time to shine.

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Winning the Calcutta Cup

In September of 2018 the Jungle Crows won the rugby championship of Kolkata, the Calcutta Cup. Khelo Rugby Coach Akash tells the story from his perspective as the teams 2018 Coach and Captain.

by Akash Balmiki

“Standing in the hall of fame…

The world’s gonna know your name…

‘cause you burn with the brightest flame…

And the world’s gonna know your name…

And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame…”

This is the song I keep playing in my head as I head towards the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club ground for the final. I keep reminding myself that the organisation I belong to and the sport I play has taught me to not only train my body to improve my physical strength but also train my mind to excel, to push my boundaries and to achieve the best of my capabilities.

akash a1zWhen I was asked to write down my thoughts on the Calcutta Cup, it took me down memory lane and for a brief moment I re-lived the days which make me the sportsman I am today. I fell in love with the Calcutta Cup when I was a young aspiring player who stood on the sidelines watching my mentors and coaches play during the season. Each match got tougher than the last and with each game the growing passion within the team was an inspiration for me.  I often observed Paul sir and my senior coaches train the team not only on the physical aspects but also to strengthen their will to win, passion and respect for the game. And in that moment I knew, that this is what I want to do and be.

My journey from a spectator to the Jungle Crow’s captain is one I want to share as I am 100% certain that there are many young and talented dreamers like me who given a chance and the right guidance can achieve the maximum of their potential. The foundation of my dream was laid when I was given a chance to play the Calcutta Cup for the Jungle Crows Development team the “Maidan Hazards” in 2012. Each year the season brought along a certain kind of thrill and I took it as an opportunity to display my skills and perform better and better for my team and club. I would see my seniors lift the glorious silver cup which is over 100 years old with the heritage and culture of Bengal beautifully crafted on it. A true example of extraordinary silver craftsmanship and something I wanted to lift up.

Fast forwarding to 2017, I was selected as the captain of the Jungle Crows team. We must fall before we rise; we must stumble before we can run said Abraham Lincoln. It however holds true in my situation as well. We lost the Calcutta cup that season and this setback filled me with more zeal and passion to win the coming year.  That’s the thing about rugby, it doesn’t matter how you fall or how hard you fall, it’s all about how quick you get back up.  Like the arrow needs to be pulled backwards before it is released this set back did the same for me. I knew the coming season was going to be my year to shine and there would be no looking back.

In 2018, I was nominated as the captain once again and this time I was sure that I wouldn’t let my mentor and club down. Right from the start I prepared strategies for our training sessions and would discuss it with my teammates. Even though we have one captain in the team, the thing about team sports is that the captain is only as good as his team. And so, I also consulted and discussed all my strategies with my teammates.

2018 started with a bang for me. There was a lot of travelling including international travels and tournaments where I played for the country as well. With each passing week as the season came closer my practice schedule became more and more intensive. Along with focusing on my own game I was appointed as the coach for the U17 Bengal state team and later the coach for the U19 nationals. This was a lot of pressure all at once for me as I was coaching in the morning and training for my game in the evening almost every day. It seemed like pressure but when I thought of it, it made me extremely happy and confident to know that my club and Paul Sir had placed his trust on me and motivated me to perform to the best of my potential.

Cal Cup 2018 action

Akash makes a long range kick

The prestigious Calcutta Cup was here, and our first match was with CCFC. Jungle Crows and CCFC have always had a kind of love hate relationship when it comes to rugby. Last year we lost the cup to them and this year we were back on the same field to win the glory back. As a captain I always told my team, “for the next 1 hour forget who you are, your name, what you do… everything. Just remember…. WHO ARE WE…CROWS”.  It was a delight as we won each and every game re-establishing the fact that Jungle Crows is one of the strongest and finest rugby clubs.

In the past few years I had observed and realised that the teams that often won matches against strong opponents always played a good defence. This year my team and I trained ourselves all round. We wanted a strong scrum and fast backs. The best part was to see that the whole team had come as one. We trained and played as one team with one aim and that was the Calcutta Cup.

As we entered the finals so did the under 19 boys team. I travelled with the team for the tournament and came back on the day of the finals to play with the Crows. I was on cloud 9 when my mentor and all-time favorite player Zaffar came to Kolkata to play the finals with us. Zaffar was my first coach and to play with him was like a dream come true. Whenever anyone asked me what my short term goal in life was I often said to lift the Calcutta cup as the captain of the Jungle Crows team. I owe a lot of my success as a player to all my coaches and mentors and the best gift a student can give his teacher is to excel at what he has been taught. On the day of the final game, I wasn’t nervous I was exhilarated. I just couldn’t wait to change into my jersey, get on the field and get some mud on me. Before entering the field I looked around and saw my family standing on the sideline cheering for me, I also saw children who I train cheering  for me and along with this amongst the crowd I could see many young talented boys and girls with dreams of being where I am today. In that moment I knew, I not only had to play for myself and my team but also the dreamers and aspiring Crows players watching me.

The pressure was building specially when our opponents Kolkata Police went into the lead. I had to do justice to my club, to my coach and to all the people who have placed their trust on me and the team. And then the winning moment and with that a wave of happiness and gratitude took over and I knew in my heart we had all done our club proud.

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To all the aspiring sportsmen, to all the rugby lovers and to all the dreamers… all it takes is hard work and indestructible passion for dreams to come true. And as always I stand tall and strong and shout at the top of my voice…. WHO ARE WE… CROWS!!

More Than Just A Try

The empowering change a game can have on a community.

by Ramona Sen, Author and Journalist

The girls from Saraswatipur are disappointed that they couldn’t participate in the Asian Games, the most high-profile tournament for the Indian rugby women’s team. Their hopes were soaring when the team was approved for the preparatory camp and cruelly dashed when the Indian Olympic Association decided to leave rugby out of the final Indian contingent.

“Some of our friends from the other states even left their jobs to come practise for this,” said Swapna Oraon, one of the first from her tiny tea-garden hometown in North Bengal to have taken to rugby.

Her disappointment is understandable. Swapna, Sandhya and many other young girls in Saraswatipur have been given a new lease of life after they discovered rugby. These are girls whose lives had been mapped out since they were tiny tots – scrape through class 10 and get married as soon as possible. Now, with the advent of rugby, marriage is no longer a matter of compulsion; they have the luxury of choice.

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Sandhya and Swapna: disappointed with the Asian Games decision but determined to keep playing

Rugby has put Saraswatipur on the map. “Our village is in the middle of the woods, no one knew it existed. But now we have out-station visitors and many people come to watch us play,” said Sandhya Rai, who attends George College in Sealdah, central Kolkata. She likes the big city, in spite of the serenity she has been used to. “Transport is available so easily in Kolkata. In Saraswatipur, we used to travel a long way to go anywhere and if we didn’t find transport, we would have to cancel plans.”

The game has made the village more cosmopolitan than it could have ever imagined being. Now its young girls wear shorts and dash about a field, like boys, driving the boys to the sidelines. Not that it was a smooth transition from playing doll to playing ball. “My uncle used to constantly tell my mother it was obscene of me to be seen with bare legs. But she’d always tell him to mind his own business,” said Sandhya. The censure isn’t limited only to the older generation, unused to seeing their womenfolk scampering about a sporting field. “Girls my age are married and raising children. They never took to rugby, or they tried and couldn’t play, and now they’re jealous and talk about us behind our backs,” said Sandhya, who is 17.

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Sandhya in action for West Bengal

Do the globe-trotting rugby girls, back from Paris and Singapore, assume that marriage and babies is not for them? Not at all. They like the idea of a boyfriend, preferably an athlete himself, someone who will understand equality. They face no discrimination on the field and don’t think they can ever settle for it in their inter-personal relationships. This, if anything, is the biggest change the game has brought about. For the first time, girls from Saraswatipur can dream of equality. “My husband should never be able to throw his money in my face and tell me I’m dependent on him forever,” articulates Sandhya, firmly. She understands the need to have the wherewithal to make her own life as well as inspire younger girls in the village to follow this not-so-beaten path.

Perhaps there really is something about sport that lends clarity of thought. The girls have learnt to be optimistic but practical about the life that lies before them. Though they’ve grasped an opportunity with all the doggedness of a forward, they see the struggles awaiting them – of having pinned their life’s ambitions on a game that might receive rejection from governing bodies, of making their peace with defeat at international tournaments “because the other team was bigger and stronger”. And through it all is the will to live a life that makes a difference.

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Swapna breaks through for West Bengal

Read more about what we do at: www.junglecrows.net

Playing for Equal Rights

Across our Khelo Rugby communities on 22 April we were focussed on equal rights, leadership skills and rugby of course.

By Peter Fernandes

Three community rugby tournaments on Sunday 22nd of April were the culmination of six weeks work in our communities on the theme of ‘equal rights, equal opportunities.’ Bhawani Bhawan, Salt Lake Dhapa and Fatehpur saw some 230 children come together in tournaments planned and organised by our young Khelo Coaches. For six weeks our coaches and young leaders had been delivering charcha on ‘equal rights, equal opportunities’ with a focus on gender equality. Bringing so many children together was a perfect way to complete this project.

The tournament was a good platform to get an understanding on how much the children had learnt and understood about the theme. Children from each community had to produce an artwork or poster based on the theme and explain the same to children from other communities at the tournament. With lots of rugby squeezed in between this was a high tempo fun way to share learning.

Children displaying their creative posters

 

As well as work around ‘equal rights, equal opportunities’ this was another live skills development for our young coaches who managed the whole event –

  • Assign roles & responsibilities among the team members
  • Ground cleaning and setup
  • Organising drinking water & refreshments
  • Toilets / changing rooms arrangements
  • Transport for teams
  • Playing kit, rugby balls, cones, whistles, poles, flags
  • Tournament scheduling and match fixtures
  • Theme delivery using posters
  • Prizes and trophies

A total of 21 communities participated in the tournaments. At Bhawani Bhawan, Howrah Pilkhana defeated Hyde Road in a closely fought final with the score 5 tries to 4. At Fatehpur, KPT Colony took the top honours defeating the team from Khatal 3-1. At Salt Lake Dhapa, Chingrighata defeated the hosts Dhapa 4-2. The quality of rugby at all the locations was superb and the children had a great time. Break up of locations and teams was:

BHAWANI BHAWAN FATEHPUR SALT LAKE DHAPA
B.N.R Brooklyn Arupota
Bhawani Bhawan Behala Belgachia
Chetla Fatehpur Boistala
Hyde Road Garden Reach Chingrighata
Howrah Pilkhana KPT Colony SL Dhapa
Kidderpore Khatal
Nawab Ali Park Jainkunj
P.G. Hospital
Wadgunj

Highlights of the day were the young leaders doing a great job in organising the tournament, displaying good team work and cohesion. All the children were well looked after. It was very special that so many children got the opportunity to visit the homes of their rugby friends, see where they live and in the process make new friends. The 3 locations had a total of 50 matches and 180 tries were scored!

Let_s score a Try!

The charcha sessions delivered by the children were excellent. It was encouraging to see the level of knowledge displayed by the children on gender equality and how they firmly believed that they can make small differences in their own communities. Every child was of the firm belief that both boys and girls should be given equal chances in order to excel in life – hear, hear to that!

Children displaying their knowledge on gender equality

Under 9 Rugby Rocking Kolkata

Bringing our under 9s together on Crow Field was a new and enjoyable experience for players and coaches alike.

By Peter Fernandes

Under 9s was the order of the day on 25th February 2018 – a great day of rugby as the smaller children from our Khelo Rugby programme exhibited their very good rugby skills, had lots of fun and made new friends from across our communities. The tournament featured a total of 20 teams made up of 230 children participating from 24 different Khelo locations. With our commitment to gender equality we opted to play a 6-a-side mixed team tag rugby tournament. Each squad had to have a mixed composition of 5 girls and 5 boys. The 20 teams were coached and looked after by 46 young Khelo community coaches. The coaches did a splendid job and ensured that the children had a great time.

We saw the tournament as a great opportunity for the younger children in our program to play in a professionally organized tournament.  A total of 57 matches were played with a whopping 311 tries being scored. Every child was given a healthy breakfast when they started the day and lunch at the end of the tournament.

The following teams took the top honours:

Cup Winners – Fatehpur

Plater Winners – Jainkunj

Bowl Winners – Khatal

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Interesting findings/observations: 311 tries were scored in total at the tournament, with the Cup, Bowl and Plate finals itself producing 24 tries! It’s an astounding achievement meaning there was more than one try for every minute of play! The children were very disciplined and listened to all the instructions handed out during the course of the tournament. The level of rugby was simply amazing!

Let’s meet some of those taking part.J SantoshJ Santosh, Young leader from Fatehpur “For the U-9 tournament, the team trained hard every day for about a month. The tournament was super fun. Dealing with the young children was a big challenge but an experience I would cherish forever. Watching the children play such good rugby at the tournament makes me feel proud. They are so young but displayed so much maturity on the field that it surprised me a lot. Winning the cup was a result of all the hard work and dedication of the young children. I will continue coaching rugby to the children of Fatehpur and these lovely children are a big part of my life now.”Priya Pandit and Ayman FirdousPriya Pandit (14 yrs) and Ayman Firdous (12 yrs) were responsible for the tournament fixtures, scorekeeping and time management. Both are young girls from our Howrah Pilkhana community and did a splendid job that ensured that the matches run as per schedule and on time.

Ayman “This was the first time that I was given the responsibility of managing the tournament fixtures. It was a lot of hard work and the weather was very hot. I had to inform all the teams of their match timings. I kept 2 young leaders assigned to tell the teams for the upcoming matches. Considering we had 4 fields setup, there were 8 teams that had to be kept ready to take on to the field as soon as the ongoing matches would end. I loved the experience. I think we did a good job as we finished the matches on time”, said Ayman with a big smile on her face.

Priya “I learnt something new today. At first I was a bit nervous but I knew my rugby coach Akash was there to support me. For the first time, I had seen 4 fields being setup and 4 matches being played simultaneously at one time. It was a bit nerve wrecking but super fun. Noticing the confidence bestowed on me by my coaches, I felt more comfortable with my role. I had to keep track of scores from field no.1 and give the scores to the scorer’s table. I also helped in the presentation ceremony. It was another first time experience talking in front of 200+ children. I enjoyed it.”Aditya Singh and Khushi ShawI caught up with a very thrilled Aditya Singh and Khushi Shaw of team Fatehpur after the Cup final match where they beat Brooklyn 3-2 in a closely fought finals match. “We are so happy that we won the tournament! This is our first trophy and we will show all our friends in Fatehpur this trophy. We did not expect this. We practised a lot for this tournament. When we reached the finals, everyone was a bit tense and nervous. For both of us, the final was the best match. Overall we had a great day and enjoyed a lot. I made so many new friends today” said Khushi. Khushi was also bestowed with the player of the tournament award for being the leader of the team.Alisha Khatoon and Sanny AliAlisha Khatoon and Sanny Ali were in the Brooklyn team that stood Cup runner-up in the tournament. Alisha, “when I reached the field today morning, I was so surprised to see so many children from different parts of Calcutta. I did not know so many children played rugby. The playing field is so nice and the grass is so good to play on. I had great fun. The field was my favourite part. I made 3 new friends today, one from Pilkhana, one from Dhapa and one from Jainkunj. I hope I get to meet them again”. Sanny, “I can’t wait for the next tournament. I had great fun. I love rugby and I will practise harder to win the final next time. We have lot of children in our para (community) that play rugby and I want to continue playing this game.”Sapna YadavSapna Yadav from Jainkunj “I am so happy today. My parents were not allowing me to play before but thanks to coach Subroto, I am here today at this tournament. He spoke to the parents of all the girls in our para (community). I am so shocked to see so many girls from Kolkata playing rugby. I now feel special. I will never forget this day and it will always bring good memories to my mind.”Sandip KumarSandip Kumar, “we worked very hard and practised a lot at our field back home. I am happy that we are taking back the plate trophy back to our para. Next time hopefully we will be cup winners. This was my first tournament experience and I had great fun. I am looking forward to the next one.”

A special big THANK YOU To all the 40+ Khelo coaches, 200+ children, fantastic team at the Robin Hood Army for the lunch, Sudhir and Ravi for cleaning the ground and arranging for the breakfast and drinking water.DSC06998You can also watch a short movie with plenty of the action on our You Tube channel here!

 

 

Rugby Conversion

Poem from Swindon (UK) Community Poet, Tony Hillier, in celebration of the Youth Sevens Rugby, organised by Future Hope, Kolkata, India, 3 March 2018 

Rugby Conversion

By Tony Hillier

In blue and white tiered seating
of footballer Sailen Manna’s Stadium
rugby was the order of the day
All India and International Youth Tournament
kicked off at 8 a.m. in 30 degrees already

Reds and greens on pukka green grass
as first tournament try scored by Jungle Crows
Some mis-matched teams in this learning game
It’s pick it up and run, run, run, then try, try, try
In logoed vest, hosts Future Hope, try their best

Crows’ brush fully loaded for whitewash
Two tries second half; such a murder of crows
– smiley!

Smart, white Caravel-sponsored tops,
identify “Coach”, “Referee”
All badged, quite rightly so,
30 years of Future Hope
Males of course. Females of course
‘Game over, an Ace Foundation handshake tunnel’

Teamwork amongst the ball girls
and ball boys, keep games flowing
Teamwork round touchlines means
New ball, always centre-spotted

“Coming next Mumbai plays Armenia.
Can I have the captains please?”

On sunshaded terrace, in plus thirty degrees,
the welcome fan drones
Above field of play, another drone,
Camera zoomed in from Hong Kong
Captures the worker drones of Indian Rugby
always trying their best.
‘Meanwhile, Yellow leopards,
primed to pounce from sidelines
Later give Jungle Crows a run for their money’

White shirt team does team press ups.
Pirate Ants form their team-talk-hill.
‘Adibasi gets one back on Ants;
a cheeky, well-earned try.’

These students, just 7-17,
tackle many problems on streets;
Tackle tactical challenges on rugby field.
On streets required to try to survive.
On rugby pitch,
we have seen today,
children choosing to thrive.

Little Humans of Saraswatipur

Originally published by Leher, as part of their #LittleHumans blog series here we profile five children from Saraswatipur – hear about them and their ambitions.

by Noah McDaniel

Saraswatipur, a cluster of picturesque villages situated around sprawling tea gardens in the north of West Bengal is about 30 kms away from Siliguri. Positioned on the banks of the Teesta River, on the edge of the jungle, one can’t miss the view of the Himalayas on a clear day. The predominant line of work is at the tea estate – picking and processing tea leaves. From a population of 2000 people, 1500 people are employed by the tea factory, passed down across generations.

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Today, this tucked away little village is being known for more than just its tea. News from the region boasts of the burgeoning young talent on the rugby field. In 2012, Father George Matthew was transferred to Saraswatipur to head a local parish. He noticed the athletic potential of the children and reached out to the Khelo Rugby team, to bring the program to the village. Within a few weeks, two coaches moved to the village and the program was set up within a month. Ever since, the program has seen unprecedented success with the children of Saraswatipur playing for the West Bengal state and national Indian rugby teams.

Khelo Rugby brings adventure, challenge and excitement to the lives of children. Present in Kolkata and parts of West Bengal, this program has also made its way to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reaching out to children from disadvantaged communities by incorporating sports as a social development tool. Managed by youngsters themselves, Khelo Rubgy is building this program with scholarships and a curriculum of social issues.

This week, we bring you stories of Little Humans from Saraswatipur for whom the rugby field is now second home.

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Eliyas is a very smart 8th grader, studying at the Rajaranga National Hindi High School. He excels in all of his classes, but Hindi is his favorite.

Yet, Eliyas’s passion is playing rugby. He has been playing for 4 years and never misses practice. His favourite positions are center back and flanker and he is always chosen to throw the ball in during line outs. He brags that he is the best passer on his team and can pass accurately to his left and his right.

When he finishes 12th grade, Eliyas wants to move to Kolkata. He has heard many stories of the city from friends and family who have been there.

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Sonali is 12 years old and is in the 8th grade at Katalguri Junior High School. She loves History because she wants to learn about how people lived a long time ago. Her mother says she is very dedicated to her studies, but waits eagerly each afternoon to play rugby.

Sonali joined Khelo Rugby in 2013. She was a little shy at first and would sit on the sidelines and watch the others play. But soon enough, she mustered the courage to play, dove right into the game and never looked back. For Sonali, although playing rugby is great fun, the most important aspect of her practice is fitness. When she turns 18, Sonali wants to join the Air Force and she knows that being physically fit is a critical component of this. She admires those who have volunteered to serve their country and wants to follow in their footsteps.

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Debaraj lives in a small hut with his parents right on the edge of the tea fields where both of his parents work. Debaraj has big plans for his future. His favorite subject in school is English and when he grows up he wants to become an English teacher.

He knows he has to study hard to achieve this goal and studies English for hours every day. But, it’s hard to find the time to study. The power goes out frequently at his house in the evenings and often elephants wander through the village looking for food and destroying the thatched huts in which people live. Debaraj recalls one night when an elephant came to his neighbour’s home and began ripping off chunks of the roof to try and get the rice he smelled inside.

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John Paul has swag, both on and off the field. In the mornings, he takes a bike to school along with the older Saraswatipur children. Most students take 30 minutes to get to school, but John Paul brags cheekily that he can make it in 20.

Both his parents pick leaves at the tea garden, but when he grows up, John wants to be a forest ranger like his uncle. Saraswatipur has weekly run-ins with wild elephants that can be quite dangerous. John’s uncle plays a crucial role in protecting the elephants and their habitat while also keeping them from hurting people in their search for food. John wishes to grow up and help protect his family and friends from the elephants and ensure that the elephants can still safely live in the jungle.

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Rehan is a shy, young, 10 year old boy who lives in the tea garden village of Saraswatipur. His day starts at 5 am every day when he gets up to do his chores and help his mother sweep, clean, and feed their livestock. After he finishes, this 5th grader packs his bag and heads to school. Rehan’s favorite subject is Bangla because he loves reading novels. Once school gets over at 3 pm in the afternoon, Rehan walks home and sits down to do his homework. Once he finishes, he rewards himself by watching Hindi serials on TV.

Although Rehan is a reserved person, he’s quite the opposite on the rugby field. He was introduced to Khelo rugby by a friend 3 years ago and has been playing rugby ever since. Speed is essential in rugby and Rehan is fast enough to play every position on his team.

When he graduates from school, Rehan dreams of following in his sister’s footsteps and moving to the big city. A few years ago, Rehan’s sister was offered a position working for Decathlon in Kolkata and Rehan hopes to work with her when he grows older.

-Thanks to Leher for agreeing to let us publish these stories on our blog – learn more about Leher from their websitefacebook or twitter!