Akash’s Rugby Journey

Community Coach Akash Balmiki tells the story of his journey growing up with a rugby ball by his side.

By Akash Balmiki

My name is Akash Balmiki. I am 21 years old and live in Kolkata, West Bengal. I have been raised in a simple and humble family consisting of 5 members. I have two elder brothers, mother and father. My father works as a sweeper and my mother is a home maker. I am currently a community coach for Khelo Rugby and a player for the Jungle Crows Rugby Club. From a young age my parents have taught me the importance of living happily with very basic amenities and minimal facilities. Right from the time I began to walk and run, I had a good liking towards sports, especially outdoor sports. I attended Government school in Kolkata but I could not afford continuing my education because of financial difficulties at home. The sport of rugby has made a big impact in my personal life.

I got introduced to the sport of rugby in the 2008 Jungle Crows winter camp. One of my neighbours told me about a fun-filled event that takes place at the Kolkata Maidan during the winter holidays. I did not know anything about rugby and had never seen a rugby ball in my life. The Jungle Crows winter camp was a life changing experience for me. Before the camp, I was very shy and hardly had any friends. After the camp, I had 20-30 friends and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. The winter camp assisted me to open up a bit, have fun and learn a new sport. Each day of the camp, we got yummy breakfast. The coaches were very caring and ensured that everyone had a lot of fun, ate a proper breakfast and drank lots of juice. Since the 2008 Winter Camp, I have continued to be addicted to the sport of rugby. I would attend every Jungle Crows Academy session which was initially held near the Calcutta Rangers Club. It was even more fun during the monsoons because we would all be covered in thick muck and my mother’s scolding would not hamper my enthusiasm.  After all these years, my mother has also understood the role that rugby played in my upbringing.

From 2008-09 I never missed the Crows Academy which helped me to develop the core skills and techniques required to play the game of rugby. My first coach was Akhtar Sir who always emphasized on fitness, discipline, hard work, respect and being punctual for every session. The values I learnt back in 2008 have imbibed in me till this very day. All the coaches of the Jungle Crows were amazing and always pushed me to achieve my best on and off the field. In 2010, Khelo Rugby started to organize training sessions at a field barely a few metres from my house. I attended Khelo sessions from 2010-11. At the Crows academy I continued to work very hard to improve my game and physical fitness. I also realized that the food I eat played an important role in my health. I stayed away from junk food, oily food and consumed very little sugar. Till today I avoid tea or coffee. Looking at my game improvement, Paul sir gave me an opportunity to play for the Maidan Hazards, the development team of the Jungle Crows. I played for the Hazards for 2 seasons, 2012 and 2013. We had a great group of players who did exceedingly well and we even managed to defeat some seasoned teams in the Calcutta cup and other rugby tournaments which we played in.

In September 2013, I got a call from the Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU) to attend the India camp for the U-19 Asian Championships. I was very nervous and it was the first time I was leaving my home in Kolkata to go to another place. My team mates assisted me to get my passport done in a short span of time. The India camp was very good and I made it to the Indian National U-19 rugby team. It was a huge achievement for me and I got lots of encouraging positive wishes from my team mates of the Hazards, Jungle Crows and Paul sir. The U-19 Championship in 2013 was held at Lahore, Pakistan and it will always remain a very memorable experience for me. Wearing the India jersey for the first time and listening to the national anthem being played gave me goose bumps. 2014 was the year when things were getting one notch higher and I was assuming more serious roles as a rugby player and coach.

Early in 2014, I got an offer from Paul sir to work as a community coach for the Khelo Rugby project. I loved working with children and it was a very good life opportunity for me. I took it up with full heart and till this day continue to work in the many communities of Khelo Kolkata spreading the joy of rugby. In 2014, I achieved another personal dream and milestone by making it into the Jungle Crows team. All my role models like Tudu da and Zaffar da played for the Crows and it was a dream for me to represent the Crows team. I continue to represent the Crows and have played in all tournaments for them from 2014 till date. In my first season for the Crows, we won the Howrah Rugby 7s, All India U-20 championship, Georgiadi 7s, Centenary Cup. We were also the plate winners at All-India rugby nationals and stood runner-up in the popular Calcutta Cup. In June, 2014 I made it to the senior India national team that played in the Division III 5 nation’s championship at Pakistan. We lost against a formidable Uzbekistan team in the semi-finals, 17-23.

In 2015 I got selected to take part in the 2015 UNOSDP Youth Leadership Programme at the IMG Academy at Florida, United States of America. The 13-day camp was dedicated to giving youth leaders from around the world, a practical training on the best practices in the field of sport for development and peace in order to better use the power of sport to make positive changes in their communities. The experience was very good and helped me to get more insight on how to become a better coach at Khelo Rugby.

In May 2015, I represented the India team for the Asian championship held at Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I loved this tour and Uzbekistan was a completely different experience. The country is very beautiful, the people were very warm and friendly and the food was lip smacking good. It made me realize that the real beauty about a country is the people. Uzbekistan gave me that very welcoming experience which I will always cherish. Coming back to India, we trained really hard to do well in the All-India nationals in October 2015 and were rewarded for our hard work with the plate winner’s trophy. In Feb 2016, my Jungle Crows team-mate Sarfaraz Ahmed (Tiger) and I represented the India Rugby 7s team at the Asian 7s tournament in Dubai, UAE. It was nice to have a team-mate and brother along with you on a national tour. We had a good tournament which started with a convincing win against Qatar but lost to a technically superior Chinese Taipei team.

Khelo Rugby has a cultural exchange program with the Auckland Grammar school, New Zealand. In July 2016, my colleague Harinder and I travelled to Auckland for a 21 days program at the Auckland Grammar school. New Zealand is by far the most beautiful country that I have visited and I am really thankful to the Jungle Crows for providing me with this opportunity to learn in a rugby crazy nation. I came back even more recharged and committed to sharing what I learnt with my fellow colleagues and the Khelo children.

Just over a month back, I attended my 5th India camp for the Asian 7s tournament at Doha, Qatar. The camp was held in Delhi for 3 weeks and we used to train thrice a day. We did fitness training, had Gym sessions, rugby skills training and a couple of friendly matches. Every player wishes to represent the national team. To play for the country, one has to follow important things like discipline on and off the field, respect your coach and follow his game plans. One has to also respect each team-mate and bond as a team. The tournament at Doha, Qatar was not a successful trip for the India team. We lost the first two matches and only narrowly beat Pakistan by a small margin. Doha, Qatar was a good place. I liked the food especially their shwarma’s and burgers. They have very good sports facilities, probably the best rugby pitch I have played on so far. Having good sports facilities is very vital in attracting youngsters to the sport. At the Doha 7s, I also got the opportunity to meet rugby legend Ben Gollings and have a very small but meaningful conversation with him. It was inspiring to talk even for a few minutes to such a top player and share a selfie with him!

In India, playing for the Jungle Crows, we are privileged to have a very well maintained rugby pitch in the centre of Kolkata at the Maidan.  I guess a major part of why we continue to produce good players every year is because of the good facility that we have at our disposal.

For my personal growth, I am extremely grateful to Khelo Rugby. Becoming a community coach is the best thing that has happened in my life. I get to spread smiles to thousands of children which is a very nice feeling. I am also thankful to Shaila Ma’am and Rubickon English classes who painstakingly and patiently taught me verbal and written English.  The ability to speak in English has improved my confidence even more. Compared to my previous international trips with the India team, in the trip to Qatar I was much more confident at immigration and striking conversations with random strangers in public.

I want to be a role model to the 100s of youth that I train in rugby on a daily basis at our Khelo Rugby communities and the Crows Academy. Being a coach is a very big responsibility as I have to keep learning new things and develop my own self in order to assist another person to do better. I strongly believe that every person is capable of achieving any goal in their life if they work hard and are sincere in their dedication towards achieving the goal. An aspiring rugby player has to put in a lot of work in improving his/her rugby skills. A player has to be very patient because good results take time to achieve. I have seen a lot of aspiring athletes take supplements and drugs to enhance their physique. It is best to stay away from these harmful chemicals. A person’s body is best built by eating natural food and a dedicated fitness regime. An athlete has to be careful of what they eat and stay away from intoxicants like alcohol and cigarettes. There are other important components that makes one a good player. One has to respect your team mates, rugby is a team sport. If you learn to play and work together as a team, then only can your team win laurels. I have literally grown up with rugby and I strongly feel that as many children as possible should have the chance to grow up with rugby.

 

Our Madcap Winter Rugby Camps

How our Winter Rugby Camp has grown and grown over the years to include more children and support the development of more and more coaches and leaders.

By Paul Walsh

Christmas Day 2016 saw 1064 children playing on or around what we call Crow Field on the Calcutta Maidan. And even more exciting than the chance for these children to play and have fun on a winter’s morning was that most of the event was planned and delivered by 117 trained young coaches, all committed to their safe and fun enjoyment. This was the 12th year of our Jungle Crows Winter Rugby Camp and 2016 saw it bigger and better than ever. From day one – 24 December to day nine – 1 January the average morning attendance was 959 children and 109 coaches.calcutta7

1443 children from 26 different communities from across Calcutta played. All part of our Khelo Rugby project which takes sporting and other social development opportunities into places it doesn’t always reach. The planning and delivery of the camp is an integral part of the experience and our young Khelo Leaders drawn from across Kolkata did an inspiring job learning a huge amount in the process.

We were superbly assisted by Chef Shaun who managed to bring a little competitive spirit into who could deliver the top breakfast as well as win a tug of war versus a team of 12 year olds! Shaun was up every morning providing hot tea and orchestrating the breakfasts. Also calling in each day, inevitably on his way back from surgery was Jungle Crows Chairman Dr Hasan Iqbal to give cheery encouragement.

calcutta3And we’re indebted to those hotels and companies that supported the camp by delivering more than 15,000 bananas, 6000 boiled eggs and innumerable frooties, cakes and small gifts for the children. Turning up and playing with the children in the early morning after long hotel ‘party season’ shifts was great to see, take a bow; Indismart, Taj Bengal, Oberoi Grand, Decathlon, Balaram Mullick, Paris Café, Novotel, Kookie Jar, TIL, Swissotel, Bangalore Biere Club, Wow Momo, CDE, Hyatt, Savourites, Kutchina, Mio Amore, ITC Sonar and Hakuna Matata.

When our Winter Camp started 11 years ago there was no greater aim than to get a handful of children up and out and playing on a winter morning. And fundamentally this is still at the core of the camp. Giving children a motivation to play and enjoy our fantastic Calcutta winter mornings. But we can also now see how the camp has many more positive impacts. As a super way to engage with our Khelo Rugby children and teach them new things. As a practical hands on management training experience for the young coaches. As a great fun CSR project for a whole load of organisations. The Winter Camp provides a valuable focal point to all our work with children and communities.calcutta1

The growth of the camp has been phenomenal and now attracts volunteers, visitors and supporters from around the world. And it doesn’t just happen on the Calcutta Maidan. We’re now in our second year in Bangalore: five mornings with 150+ children each day, second year in Siliguri: five mornings with nearly 400 children each day and for the first year in Uluberia supporting Decathlon’s work there with three mornings of camp and over 150 children each day. That’s over 2000 children in the camps with 35% of them girls.

In 12 years living in Kolkata I have only been away from the Maidan on Christmas morning once, this makes me a little bit crazy for sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because I just love these madcap winter mornings.

Click here and you can watch a brilliant little film on the camp made by our mate Rohan!

And if you would like to read the full detailed report on the camp please be in touch and we’ll send you a copy.

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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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Winter Camp: Coaches Speak

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900+ Children and their Coaches form the word PLAY at our Winter Camp

Thoughts and Reflections from the Khelo Coaches on Jungle Crows Winter Rugby Camp 2015/16

On 2 January 2016 the Jungle Crows completed its mammoth Winter Camp in Kolkata and what an amazing experience it was: an average of 800+ children each day from 25 different communities across Kolkata. The Camp required a massive effort from many, but the absolute focus of activity were our Khelo Coaches. They had to train the volunteers – more than 80 of them, ensure all the children traveled safely to and from the camp, keep the energy levels up with fun and engaging activities, ensure every child got involved and felt a part of the camp, feed everyone – in a nutshell their job was to make the whole thing click and be excellent. And what a superb job they did. Here they share some of their thoughts and reflections.

Lovepreet Singh Gill

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“My best experience was getting great positive feedback from our guests, getting  the ‘Top Star’ certificate by Jungle Crows Foundation and when different groups of children asked me to coach their groups.”

I felt very proud with our well organised Winter Camp this year .This year we were thinking that about 500 children might come, but as we started the camp, attendance went to more than 800. That’s the great achievement for the coaches involved with Khelo Rugby .This was the first time we’ve managed to get that many children on our Crow Field. We split the children in age group of under 10 ,14 ,19 . I enjoyed a lot in this camp because in the very cold morning, I managed to keep the children busy with my moves and my jumping exercises. The idea was to make them warm and we did it every day before the classic bull dog – a very famous game of ours which we do in every winter camp.

I learned a lot from this winter camp. I got the responsibility to train the young leaders and help them be good coaches, so they can deliver their coaching skills to under 10 children. It was very tough to manage the small children. It was our hard work that we successfully managed the small children from beginning to end of camp. In the end, I asked my team what they had learned from this camp, they said how to make the children busy with different activities and how to manage the number of children! All the coaches booked the mini van for each location to take the children to the field. By these good arrangements of transport, we had seen many more girls coming to winter camp.

Our guests showed a great involvement in all the activities .They were participating in fun games, managing the children, distributing foods etc. One of them came to me and said “You guys were doing an excellent job. Well done guys, keep it up!”. Thanks to Mr. Shaun who personally arranged the foods for 11 days of winter camp and thanks to every guest who showed their commitment to wake up in the morning to come to the field to have fun with children…..

We did an excellent job by making PLAY word with the children. The idea is that we want make this year a Year of Play. This was the main motive this year to give every a chance of play. All the volunteers had done great job and shown their full effort to make the winter camp successful. My best experiences were getting great positive feedback from our guests, getting Top Star certificate by Jungle Crows Foundation for the Camp and when the different groups of children came to me and asked me to go to their group to coach them!

Biswanath Turi:

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My best moment was in Siliguri where we had to take the food in a big pan from one village to another by walking!”

This was my 2nd winter camp with Jungle Crows as a Coach but this time I was the main leader in my group to manage all the children from different communities which was very tough. On the first day of winter camp, I was quite nervous about how to bring all the children from different location and make them play together but me and my team of young leaders managed that easily.

I also went to Siliguri for my first winter camp there. It was very challenging  for me as we had to make all the arrangements in the cold. I have to say that doing coaching in Siliguri was very easy compared to coaching here in Kolkata, because the children there were very sincere but here children can be very naughty. So from here I learned to handle the naughty children..

My best moment was in Siliguri where we had to take the food in a big pan from one village to another by walking. And teaching theme based fun games to the children also made me happy because I am teaching something to them which is based on their lifestyle. One such theme was Safe Drinking Water and we managed to conduct many games on this theme.

This time the Kolkata’s winter camp impressed me a lot, especially seeing the involvement of the guests. I know it’s very hard to wake up in the morning and coming to the field but I guess enjoying with the children made it easy.

Kameliya Mondal

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“Before the camp, just about 100 odd children knew me and now, almost a thousand children got to know me!”

We conduct the Winter Camp every year but this year it was special because we had more children than the previous years. The number used to reach so much that sometimes it became tough to handle but we managed alright in the end. Personally for me, it was a tough experience to be put in charge of a large group of Under 10 children because I had to constantly think of new games to keep them engaged. I think the breakfast was great everyday and I think it made the overall experience good for all the children participating.  I think this was the reason that more and more children were participating each day! I heard it from the many of the children that they wished that the camp was of more days and that was very encouraging to hear. We can do better next year by involving more coaches and more children, Personally, I love the fact that before the camp, just about 100 odd children knew me and now, almost a thousand children got to know me!

Suraj Srivastava:

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For me, the best moment was when I finally learnt how to make the crying children smile! 

For me, the positive thing was we had so many more children from the community because we all worked hard towards reaching our target. I was very happy about my KPT colony where we managed to include about 180 children from all the communities in the locality. The children were very cheeky and naughty but they were listening to us all in the end. The important thing was that we planned everything well in advance and that is why, we succeeded.

The last Winter Camp was fun as well but in 2016 Winter Camp was very exciting, just to see us being crowded by children and coaches each morning. I was very content as I got to talk and interact with many people this year.  The most challenging thing for me was to manage the really naughty children and the crying children. For me, the best moment was when I finally learnt how to make the crying children smile. The children enjoyed a lot because we were having a lot of games together and when, we saw their smile in the end, we knew that they all enjoyed a lot.

We can do the camp even better by working harder and not wasting any time. We need better planning for our sessions so that the children can develop in their lives.

John Voniani:

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“The effort shown by the coaches dealing with more than 50-60 children in each groups, with some groups having a maximum number of 80 children, was super to see”

Winter Camp 2015-16 was a great success looking at the number of children that attended the 11 days camp compared to the previous ones. Personally I think the children enjoyed the 11 days they spent at the Maidan with those amazing young coaches who sacrificed their time in helping the children understand the game of rugby and having a fair idea of what rugby is all about. Waking up early in the cold mornings and making their way to the field either by truck, bus, cycle or by foot, the children loved each and every session they attended.

Coaching the U19s came with some challenges as well, with communication on top of the list. Some boys have difficulty in understanding English but with the help of the senior coaches in the group (Monu, Adash & Muna), who are able to help the boys understand using the local language. Also majority of the boys came from total football and cricket background having no idea what rugby is. Within the 11 days, they showed that they had learnt so many new things and enjoyed the tournament on the last day of the winter camp. Discipline was not a big issue since it was overcome by conducting fitness every time the boys misbehaved!

The coaches and the organizers also did well with looking into the health and safety of the children from leaving their homes in the morning, travelling and reaching the ground, and their way back home after the camp. The effort shown by the coaches dealing with more than 50-60 children in each groups, with some groups having a maximum number of 80 children, was super to see. Since its my first winter camp, I enjoyed every single day with the lovely children at the Maidan, travelling with the children in the truck every morning and then dealing with my group of boys and having a taste a what’s its like to be a coach.

Generally the 2015-16 winter camp was a huge success, credits to the coaches and the organizers for making it possible and hoping the coming winter camps to keep on getting bigger and bigger. Involving more young coaches and coming up with more and more fun games for children and also keeping each and every children busy within that 2-3 hours of camp so that the children don’t get bored can get even better. All in all there’s no low point in this Winter Camp.

Saima Taj: 

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I have been a part of the Jungle Crows Foundation for many years and I have learnt a lot by organizing and managing the children in each events. I started out as a small child participating and now, I am given the chance as the coach put in charge not just of teaching the game but also arranging for the children from my community each morning. This year, as a Young Leader, in charge of a community, one of the big positives was the transportation arrangements which ensured that all the children had a safe mode of transport to and fro from their homes. For me personally, it was a good experience to train the boys this time around and also to be featured, in a newspaper article. These are small steps and I hope that I can use the skills and the support to achieve bigger things in life.

Bikas Paswan:

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“It was a big shock for me to be given in charge of a large group of naughty Under-10 children..!”

This was my first camp with the Jungle Crows Foundation which I really enjoyed a lot. Personally it was a big shock for me to be given in charge of a large group of naughty Under-10 children which I had never done before! But in the end, it was a really good experience for me and I learnt a lot of things that are going to help me a lot in future. Now I am quite confident of dealing with a big group of children, and the special thing for me by this camp I got to know all the other coaches well. I would like to thank our team and Paul Uncle for giving me this splendid opportunity. To be involved with the Aripota community and engage the children from there for the first time was the best experience as I had to personally go and bring them each day.

Akash Balmiki:

akash b dec 2015  “Every morning as we warmed up the children through Bull Dog game, I could see that all the children were very excited to play and to see those hundreds of smiling faces was great”

Personally I enjoyed this Winter Camp much more than all the previous Winter Camp as the number of children was much more this time around. The transport plan was well organized this year. My best and nost challenging experience was to take all the community children by truck this year as I had to be very alert that all of them are safe. The best moment for me was to see all the coaches contribute to cleaning the Maidan before we started play one day after it had been made into a dumping ground in the political rally the previous day. Every morning as we warmed up the children through Bull Dog game, I could see that all the children were very excited to play and to see those hundreds of smiling faces was a great. This Winter Camp, all the children enjoyed a lot because there were so many of them and had a good time with coaches. Each and every volunteer did a very good job , I noticed that they did not behave as coaches but more like a loving brother and sister.

Ravi Misra:

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“Great that we saw so many girls participating this year, another record that we managed to set”

It was amazing to see the number of children who turned out at the Maidan for the Winter Camp, even better to see that the number kept increasing each day! It was the transport arrangements that was the best thing that we managed to do this Winter Camp. For me as the Co-ordinator of the Under-14, it was nice to see many young coaches do quite well despite the fact that they all were catering to more children than they were expecting. Great that we saw so many girls participating this year, another record that we managed to set. They were kept well engaged by the coaches in a variety of rugby skills and fun games and surely was a new experience for them. I think one skill that everybody managed to learn was how to manage situations so that they don’t go out of control. I would like to personally thank all the members of the Jungle Crows Foundation for making the Winter Camp very successful.

Sarfaraz Ahmed:

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..the display of PLAY on the playfield on the 1st of January was amazing as we managed to make the formation by organizing about 850 children on the field.

This year, the Winter Camp was fantastic especially because about 25 communities were involved in it. This involvement was much larger than all the previous years and I think all the children who participated had a great time. I saw that many of them managed to make many new friendships. For me, I was put in charge of the U-19 boys, and I think all the groups did a good job in giving sound rugby training to both the old and new boys. Personally there were two highlights of the camp that made the Winter Camp very memorable. First one was the display of PLAY on the playfield on the 1st of January which was amazing as we managed to make the formation by organizing about 850 children on the field. The second one was the U-19 tournament on the last day which was great as many of the boys teams played really well and made the coaches proud.

Ajay Balmiki:

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“It was great fun to climb the tree to take the picture of the PLAY formation”

This year, the Winter Camp was special not just because of good planning, the numbers, the breakfast, the transportation but also because all the Community Coaches got new challenges. This year, my job was to visit to oversee the work of all the junior coaches and help them out when they were finding it difficult to handle the situation. I enjoyed this role and also was good to see many young coaches perform well in their first time as coaches. Most of the children were very happy and enjoyed this camp a lot. It was also great fun to climb the tree to take the picture of the PLAY formation that we made on the field on the first of March!

 

Parvez Faizan:

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I was part of the organising team this Winter Camp from the very beginning and frankly, I did not expect the turn-out that we had. Every day I felt more and more proud of the Jungle Crows Foundation. I am a part of the Jungle Crows from 2008 where I joined as a small boy and to see the number of children participating this year, I really felt that the organization was grown. I felt good that all the children received good breakfast, kit and many gifts even though there were more children participating each day then we expected. Paul sir threw a success party for all of us a day after the Camp, which means that it was a very good success!

Pritam Singh:

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I have been involved with the Jungle Crows Foundation for more than 10 years and I can safely say that this was by far, the most amazing Camp organized. Infact, it was one of the best events that I was a part of. It was great to see how we all came together to make solid plans for the Winter Camp, and also work tirelessly to implement the plans. I witnessed some dedicated effort by everybody, starting from our internal team, our volunteer coaches, to supporters from outside. The transportation and breakfast arrangements were a highlight of the Camp for me, something that contributed immensely to the success of the camp. The children had a very good time and I think maximum care was taken to ensure that we all did something different this year and did it well. Perhaps some of the coaches could have done slightly better with their planning but all in all, it was a cherish worthy experience for me.