Rugby Tackles Gender Inequality

Khelo Rugby’s new Project Manager writes about her experiences in organising our Day of the Girl Tournament and how gender inclusion is an important part of combatting gender inequality. 

by Nidhi Ghelani

When I see the girls from across our Khelo communities’ play and lead training sessions I realise that the only thing holding young girls back is the lack of opportunity and a platform to showcase their talents. A young girl encouraging her team to play better during an inter-community match got me thinking whether the most pressing issue to be addressed today is “gender equality” or “gender inclusion”. Our minds are so trained to think of gender roles in a stereotypical manner that we forget the very essence of equality.

Here, at Khelo Rugby we believe that sports is an excellent medium to accelerate gender inclusion and foster gender equality among both girls and boys. Rugby as a sport has a place for everyone on the team. Hence, rugby teaches us that irrespective of size, weight and height what is important is the zeal to play and the passion to excel.

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Character traits like passion, competence, sportsmanship, discipline are essential in every athlete and have no gender bias. They are not gendered or stereotyped. This is the beauty of sport, it does not discriminate based on gender, race, religion, or caste.  The only limitations are the ones we introduce when we say “rugby is a men’s sport” or “girls should not play contact sports like rugby”.

We often feel that educating girls will empower them.  Or just by making them aware of their rights and responsibilities, we can promote a more gender neutral society. However this is only half the picture. What needs to be addressed simultaneously is to sensitize the boys and men around us, which will help us nurture the sapling of equality we plant in the mind and heart of each individual.

The International Day of the Girl is to mark the plight and gather support for young girls across the globe who are subjected to gender based discrimination and violence. We at Khelo have joined hands in this initiative to make a more gender fair society by helping and supporting young girls to break down barriers and emerge as heroes. We undertook the mammoth challenge of organising an U-14 Tag Tournament, where 240 young, motivated, and extremely talented girls from over 20 Indian communities were out on the field enjoying rugby. Our team of 4 coaches and over 45 Young leaders spent their days training girls from various communities and delivering the theme of gender equality through fun games and open discussions. These lessons are one of the tenants from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which we have adopted in Khelo.

Socially enforced gender roles are so deeply embedded in our culture that  discrimination has become normalized and accepted. Young girls from underprivileged communities have often seen their mothers, sisters and other women of the family being subjected to gender based discrimination which they have accepted in their very own lives. It was enthralling to see so many girls out on the field, free from any stereotypical bias making their presence felt and voice heard.

When we talk about gender equality we must also talk about gender inclusion which means that both girls and boys get the opportunity to participate equally. The tournament was planned, organised and executed by the girl young leaders. It was an opportunity given to them to showcase their skills and also a learning opportunity to prepare themselves to deal with bigger challenges life will eventually throw at them.

What life has to offer and what we make of these offers is what shapes our personality. There are times when life throws a curve-ball at us, we either duck or face it with determination and smash a home run. Well, the society today under the facade of liberty and liberalization still breeds gender based discrimination which trickles into the life of these young girls impacting their personality. Sports on the other hand can free them from this cage giving them a more bias free platform to showcase their skills and nurture their passion. It is motivating to see girls who have been a part of Khelo Rugby participate in various state and national level tournaments, making their family, community, organization and nation proud. That what we mean by ‘Growing Up With Rugby.’

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When sport does not discriminate why should we? Sports impacts the lives of players deeper than we can imagine. Hence, for girls who hardly get to see or explore the avenues which lead to self-growth and development this exposure adds a brick to their ever growing palace of dreams and ambitions.

To play a full contact sport like rugby is a barrier many girls have to overcome.  From wearing shorts, to playing in front of an audience, the cultural taboos on women are many. A very important lesson we learn from rugby is to get back up after being knocked down. Many dreams and ambitions are laughed upon and ridiculed when these girls share them with their family and friends… nevertheless they learn to strike back with more determination and zeal. Girls across the globe are fighting various gender biases, and sports provides them a chance to not just free themselves from this but also train their mind and body to become stronger and sharper as they grow.

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Here in Khelo, girls are no less than boys. The roles and responsibilities are given not based on gender but capability and talent. It’s not easy to break free from the shackles of stereotypical thinking but as an organization working with disadvantaged and underprivileged children we try our best to instil among our children the concept of a gender fair society. We see girls and boys adopt the values of rugby in their daily lives leading better  and more fulfilling lives. I’m a strong believer that girls can bring about social change at every level. As daughters, sisters, and mothers… women are god gifted with the task of passing on values and building strong value systems. Khelo through various theme based activities and fun games tries to address these issues in a manner which the children enjoy and learn from as well.

‘Women are genetically stronger” says science. “Women are entrusted the responsibility of being primary caregivers and nurturing a new life” says the society. If women are considered so powerful both through mind and body, why hold them back with stereotyped gender roles and biases? This paradox is prevalent everywhere. Khelo makes active efforts to free young talented girls, giving them opportunities and the right exposure to broaden their horizons.

To build something new the old must sometimes be brought down. To create a more gender fair society we must work together towards including more and more girls and women in every part of community life. What we need today is not projects for them but projects by them. The solution to gender inequality is gender inclusion. Here at Khelo we train girls and boys to grow up together, making each other stronger.

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Jungle Crows and Maharastra Women’s Team after their Bronze Medal Match, All India Oct 2017 

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We in the Jungle!

Originally published on his own blog “Off-Season”, Harry A Johnson is a Watson Fellow scouring the world for the most innovative uses of sports as a vehicle for social change. Here he writes about his experiences visiting Saraswatipur for our Kichad Rugby Festival.

By Harry A Johnson Jnr

Some may argue this point, but to my knowledge, the POLYTECH High School Boys Basketball team from 2009-2013 has to be the most dominant team of all time in the Henlopen conference. During my four years at POLYTECH, we did not lose a single game in our division –completing a streak of 65 straight games– and only lost two games in the conference over my three years as a starter (go ahead and correct me if I’m wrong). Our team’s mantra quickly became “We in the JUNGLE!!,” describing our high speed, in your face style of basketball that suffocated other teams. Less than one day after arriving in India, I was once again in the jungle. However, this time I was on a rugby field surrounded by trees standing 100 feet tall and the under constant threat of elephant attacks. More surprisingly, I felt right at home.

The first program that I am exploring here in Kolkata, India is Khelo Rugby. This sports-based social development initiative uses rugby as a vehicle to counter a number of social issues (ie. poverty, homelessness, lack of access to education) and works to ensure that Indian youth grow up with the best of opportunities (a more in-depth review of the program will come soon). The program works in over 45 communities throughout India. During my first 24 hours here I got to accompany the program on a trip to Saraswatipur, a group of villages in Siliguri — a small town in the jungle foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.

About Khelo and Saraswatipur: 

Saraswatipur is a tea estate made up of a cluster of 4 villages. The lives of children growing-up in these villages are embedded in the larger context of life as a tea garden worker. This is because more than 90% of the people have Adivasi tribal backgrounds meaning they were brought in as indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens at the start of the century. The villagers live in basic conditions, make meager wages (85 rupees/day= $1.33/ day), have limited access to the outside world and a lack of employment opportunities beyond the tea garden. In addition, the village is plagued by rampant alcoholism, illiteracy, lack of schooling, poor sanitation practices, lack of safe drinking water, oppression by Tea Garden owners and the constant threat of wild animal attacks (e.g., elephants, leopards).

Khelo Rugby began in Saraswatipur in March 2013. Since then, Khelo has trained more than 500 children in the sport of rugby. Along with rugby training, Khelo has conducted youth development camps, provided various sports-based opportunities (e.g. participating in Rugby tours and Rugby tournaments organized in India), secondary school scholarships, and work opportunities. The program has 26 children from Saraswatipur in the Khelo Scholarship program and 4 former players (2 girls; 2 boys) are currently working with Decathlon, an international sports brand.

Khelo took a unique approach to developing the program in Saraswatipur. When Khelo first arrived, the program purposefully introduced the sport of rugby as a “girls sport” so that parents would not exclude their daughters from participating. Four years later, it is evident that Khelo’s deception was actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. The girls from this small practically unknown village have dominated girl’s rugby throughout the entire country of India. These are some of the Saraswatipur Leopards (Girls team) accolades:

  • U-18 All-India Nationals 2nd Place (Runner-Up)

  • September 2016 All India Senior Nationals 3rd Place (Plate Winners)

  • August 2016 All India Georgiadi International 7’s 1st Place (Winners)

  • August 2016 All India Senior National 7’s 3 rd Place (Plate Winners)

  • May 2016 U-18 All India National 7’s 2 nd Place (Runner-Up)

  • 6th Place (Leopards Boys team)

  • January 2016 West Bengal State 7’s 1 st Place (Winners)

  • September 2015 Junior All India Nationals 1 st Place (Winners)

  • July 2015 All India National Rugby 7’s 2 nd Place (Runner-Up)

  • June 2015 Calcutta Rugby Tournament 1st Place (Winners)

  • February 2015 National Games, Kerala Entire Bengal team comprised of Saraswatipur Leopards

  • November 2014 U-18 All India Nationals 2 nd Place (Runner-Up)

This past summer 5 girls from Saraswatipur were selected to the U18 Indian national team which participated in the 2017 Paris World Games and another four girls were selected to the U20 Indian national team which played in the Asia U20 rugby tournament. More importantly 3 players have gone on to college and to the programs knowledge they are the first three in what may be centuries. Khelo’s work continues to expand as the program is currently fundraising to build a youth center in the village.

Above is a short documentary on one of the girls from Saraswatipur who played on the India national team

My Experience: Saraswatipur Rugby Festival

The focus of my trip to Saraswatipur was to help in the coordination and execution of a rugby tournament for kids aged 14 and under. The tournament was then followed by a cultural celebration in honor of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This quickly turned into a cultural exchange between the people of Saraswatipur and myself. As I walked around the town, I was met with unapologetic stares that did not seem to cease over my stay. Although I was taken aback by the attention, I slowly realized the stares were a sign of interest and curiosity. It was hard to communicate with many of the villagers because they have their own language which is a mixture of Bengali, Nepali, Hindi, Bihari. Anyone born outside this village will struggle to follow this mix. Fortunately, some of the villagers knew a small amount of English. (English is known throughout India because it is the language of government, law and medicine.) As I engaged with those around the town, it was evident that the beauty of the landscape was a reflection of the people of the land. I felt at home as I was welcomed into home after home, chased around by small children and shook well over 200 hands during my three day visit.

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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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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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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Lovepreet’s Bengal Jungle Adventure

Saraswatipur – Challenges and Opportunities through Khelo Rugby

By Lovepreet Singh Gill

My name is Lovepreet Singh Gill and I have lived my whole life in Kolkata.  I started playing Rugby more than 3 years ago starting from the Winter Camp organized by the Jungle Crows Foundation and I have really loved playing and training with my team – the Jungle Crows.  The founder of our club is Paul Walsh and with him we now we run the Khelo Rugby program for children from disadvantaged communities. I am involved as a full-time coach in the program, in which I go to the communities to do rugby coaching and have some fun with the kids, while helping them to have a good way of life.  I have also been involved in Netball and I have been doing the same in the schools while teaching netball. On Saturday morning, we also have our Rugby Academy sessions were children from all over come to learn proper rugby. Having been involved with the Khelo Rugby project and Academy for a while, I received a fresh challenge in October 2014 from the foundation.

Me and some of the Saraswatipur children

With some of the Saraswatipur children

Just shout; “KHELO KHELO”

I was selected to manage our Khelo Rugby programme in the North of Bengal in a very rural village called Saraswatipur. The nearest big town is Siliguri and that village was right in the middle of the jungle! The previous coaches were Sanu and Amirul, and as their time in the village was over, Paul requested me to do some work there. I was little bit scared when I heard from my colleagues that lots of wild elephants are there in that jungle!

The three and a half months that I was there was amazing and I found any number of really talented children. Not only in Rugby, but even in other activities like dancing, football, volleyball etc. The children were very enthusiastic and they were really good at catching new games. The participation of the girls in rugby in Saraswatipur is more than in the town.The senior girls team were already very good in the game and all the credit goes to Sanu and Amirul who made it possible through their hard work. I didn’t have too many difficulties while coaching them because all the boys and the girls were listening to each and every thing through my coaching sessions!

Victory In For the Girls!

When I heard that the All India Under 19 girls 7’s tournament was coming up, myself and Sukumar (who joined me for a month and helped me a lot) had planned to do plenty of good training sessions with the girls – using drills, developing their fitness and working on their other weaknesses. The girls worked very hard and came runners-up in the All India tournament. On that day, I felt really proud that I was able to coach such talented girls and to win in only their second tournament outside was indeed a great achievement for them.

All India Runners-Up

Saraswatipur: All India Runners-Up

Jungle Adventure at Saraswatipur

One day I planned with the local boys that we will go deep into the jungle where the villagers are allowed to hunt for birds and pigs, we were about 10 boys and they all were excited about it. Next day in the morning, I was excited but nervous about facing the elephant, still I heard a voice in my heart – “lets go, we will see what will happen!” I took my catapult and lots of parle-g biscuits in my bag and we all arrived at the jungle for a day of lot of fun! We came back and on the same night, a jungle elephant came into the village! It was the first time I had seen a jungle elephant in the open and all the people (including me) were shouting “hurrrr hurrr” so that the beast would go back to the jungle!

Friendly Village Peacock!

Friendly Village Peacock!

Winter Camp 2014 at Saraswatipur

Like every year, in the last week of December, Jungle Crows Foundation organized a winter camp at Kolkata and at Saraswatipur in which more than 400 hundred kids participated. The main motive of that camp was to have fun with kids. This time I got the opportunity to do the Winter Camp in Saraswatipur and make it successful. Parvez was there to help me and previous coach Sanu also came along. Before the winter camp started, we organized a one day workshop with young boys and girls about how to become a good leader. We had given the tasks to them to create new fun games which we can apply in the winter camp. After that, we selected the best young leaders who will do coaching in winter camp and this time we said to the young leaders that, in this winter camp, the main focus is to teach boys and girls in the age group of 13-16 about proper rugby.

Through the blessings of god and hard work of young leaders, the Winter Camp went excellent! All the young leaders and the kids said that this was the best winter camp they had!  I felt so good, no one can imagine that! It was all possible due to my mates –  Parvez and Sanu. Big thank you to them.

I have been back in Kolkata for some time now, in my home and felling happy but I miss Saraswatipur a lot. For a number of days, I was there and I didn’t miss my family at all much because the boys and girls there gave me so much love and respect that I will never forget. Miss them all a lot. But I have so many great memories from my time in the jungle and village, I will cherish them forever!

Winter Camp Saraswatipur

Winter Camp Saraswatipur

 

Young Leaders in Action

Duke of Edinburgh Gold Team from Scotland in India

by Rory Higginson

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Starting line-up: Nanda (host), Anna, Hugo, Lauren, Pedro, Sophie, Rory, DP (host)

As the plane touched down I started to get anxious. What was I doing bringing my Fettes team mates all the way to Kolkata in India to a place almost the polar opposite to where we are all living? Would they appreciate the hot, hot weather, the chaotic travel, the dusty, dirty streets or the food?  None of them had done anything like this before and I was now worried this was going to be a disaster.  However 45 minutes later, after we collected our luggage and left the arrivals and were met by a smiling Paul and Hari who would be our companions for the week and DP our driver, who even gave me a hug I knew it would be OK.

We immediately went to our guest house and dumped our stuff before heading to lunch with Tiger and Ajay – our introduction to food in Kolkata was hot and spicy Chinese.

In the afternoon the Jungle Crows under 18 team were playing the rest of the Jungle Crows in a practice match before the U18 all India tournament the following week. Pedro and I took the opportunity to join the training and play with the team. I almost lasted the first half, but totally shattered from the journey and the heat, with the sweat streaming from my head into my eyes, hardly able to see what was going on I made the earlier exit. Pedro, from Hong Kong was more used to the heat and he managed all of the first half. It’s a great experience playing with the team as they are so enthuastic and although we were so much bigger in height and body mass they were not afraid to tackle and came straight for us, and my goodness they are fast…so fast. We wished them all the best in the All India Tournament.

ft2After a quick sleep we headed out to dinner. DP our driver met us at the guest house and walked us to the New Market – the market is so very old so we don’t know why it is called new. See the pictures we found here, this is how it looked in 1945.  Think this was quite a surprise for everyone as it was so busy and there was so much to see.

Dinner was great, somehow we had managed to get a table in the coolest restaurant in Kolkata – 1658  …….we all enjoyed the food which was a mix of Indian, European and Asian so something for all.  After dinner DP met us to take us back to the guest house and although DP’s plan was to make two journeys we persuaded him otherwise and all 6 of us squashed in for the 5 minute journey.

We all crashed after such an eventful and enjoyable first day but excited about what the week would bring. Some of the highlights included………..

Working With The Children

ft3Sunday there was no resting as we were met at 8am and headed out with all the stuff we had brought with us to our first training session at Salt Lake Dhapa. When we got there it was obvious that the Khelo coaches had been here often as the children were very familiar and treated us all as good friends. They knew the games and were skilled. They loved our hula hoops, as this was new and fun.  There was quite a crowd of children so we split them into three groups with Lauren, Anna and Sophie coaching the younger group and Hugo, Pedro and I coaching the older groups.

Over the rest of the week we went to Brooklyn, Siliguri, Howrah, each Khelo Community was completely different but all had expectant children eager to meet us, be coached and have some fun. When we found something they were good at they just didn’t want to stop and loved the positive praise.

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Night Train to Siliguri

ft5That night we were getting the night train to Siliguri and we had been told we had a luxury coach. We had also been warned to sleep on our possessions and not to go to the toilet alone so it was with some trepidation that we boarded the train. Our luxury coach was interesting – it was a compartment with two sets of triple bunk beds separated by a table. The compartment had no door so as people walked down the corridor they could look in. However, it was luxurious as it did have a fan!!

It was a new experience for all of us and we had lots of fun but not that much sleep.

The Elephant

Meeting an elephant was a totally unplanned experience – when we were up in the village of Saraswatipur we could see an elephant in the distance. When the locals saw our surprise at seeing it one of the them brought it over to us. Seemingly it lived outside the village in the forest. For most of us it was the first time we had seen a wild elephant –  it was furry (a surprise) and very friendly and obviously used to people as it would play with our hair and legs with its trunk.  The girls got to ride it and it was very photogenic as we all got to take photos with it.ft6

The Sun Rising on the Himalayas

ft7We visited Darjeeling on our way home from Siliguri and Paul and Hari asked us to get up at 4am for a special trip – we did and made a journey up a rocky, sketchy road to the top of a hill where there was a lodge. We stood on the balcony with lots of other locals waiting to see the sun rise on Everest. It was really cold – a surprise as I was in my shorts! As we had just been boiling in Darjeeling. Despite our poor choice of clothing and although we didn’t see Everest we did see the most breath-taking sunrise over the Himalayas. Well worth the early morning trip and when the sun came up it was a lot warmer 🙂

Diwali

ft8We were lucky enough to be in Kolkata during Diwali which is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Christophe who runs Terra Indica works with Calcutta’s street children, providing them access to education and vocational training in woodwork and carpentry, many of them also play rugby with the Jungle Crows. Terra Indica has the most amazing roof terrace looking over all of Kolkata and Christophe was persuaded to have a party – we all dressed for the occasion. The roof was all lit by candles and we had fireworks. We also had great Indian music and were taught how to dance – not sure we were much good at it but we did have fun.ft9

Painting the Jungle Crows Nest

ft11The organisation that manages the Jungle Crows and Maidan Hazards rugby teams and supports all the Khelo programs is called the Jungle Crows Foundation and they had just moved into new offices which were on the top floor of a school. The school didn’t use the top floor as it was so run down and they didn’t have enough teachers for so many classrooms. ft12It is a great facility for the Jungle Crows as it not only gives some office space but also can provide some accommodation for the Khelo coaches and any visitors. It also has shower and kitchen facilities. When we were in town they had the official opening and we helped prepare for it by painting the school yard and outside walls to make it more welcoming for visitors and kids.

ft13Outside the school is a field so some of the training can take place here and on the open day we had about 100 kids turn up to play sport – we had brought some hula hoops and play tunnels with us from the UK and the kids loved them.

ft15We had such a fantastic trip and felt we really had made a difference and had learnt a lot about ourselves. Our hosts Paul and Hari who coordinated our whole trip were absolutely fantastic and along with all the coaches gave us a really memorable experience that none of us will ever forget. Thanks to everyone!!!!

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Hula Hoop Team!