Connecting with our Scholars

Using the time of lockdown to deepen our understanding of our scholars and to see how we can better support them in the future.

By Shivanshu Singh in Kolkata, Akash Balmiki in Bangalore & Roshan Xaxa in Saraswatipur

Khelo Rugby has been under lockdown for a month now. With all outdoor activities suspended we’ve had to come up with different ways to be in touch with all our rugby crazy youngsters. Whether it is through our ‘chain of support’ to ensure everyone is safe and well, video calls with friends or rugby stars, posting exercise videos, sharing our best dance moves or just catching up on the phone our priority has been to stay connected.

We have also taken this opportunity to carry out a survey with 175 of our scholarship students – in Kolkata, Bengaluru and Saraswatipur.  We’ve used direct calls and also discovered google forms which can be operated through smart phones. The technology meant we could survey students sitting at home during lockdown. They were able to respond using their own phone or a friends.   

The idea behind conducting the survey was to take this chance to learn more about the youngsters, their family backgrounds and how their community is coping during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a situation that none of us has ever experienced or come across in life and we could see good communication was going to be important.

The survey was conducted between 5th April to 15th April.

Kolkata

60% of the students said they would not be able to continue their studies if their scholarship were to stop. Every student comes from an underserved background with their parents being drivers, butchers and other daily wage jobs to run the family. 63% of students have 4-5 members in their family living in a single room house. 95% of respondents said their families were supportive of them playing rugby. Many felt the scholarship was important as it convinced the family to let them keep studying. 72% of our scholarship students are first generation school goers from their families. When asked about what they want to do after they complete their education, the most common answers were Fitness Trainer, Sports Manager, to join the Police or Army and Hotel Manager. 

For 13 of the students responding their Class 12 exams have been postponed without completion, a particular worry. 86% of parents can no longer go for their regular jobs which for most means they are not paid. 60% of families are getting a food ration from the local municipality through a club or counsellor, the other 40% are using their savings to manage. In all cases the families said that they would face difficulty if supplies were stopped or once savings run out. 

“There are a total of 8 members staying in my single room house. I usually go to my friends factory to sleep at night. My father who works at a butcher shop is not getting much business. My mother is using our savings to run the family.” Khelo Coach Ashfaque. 

Though the lockdown has created many problems for everyone it has also brought a slight happiness to some of our youngsters as they are getting time to spend with their family. Normally this is not possible as parents had jobs with long hours and few if any holiday time.  Most days for our Kolkata children are spent helping their mothers in the kitchen, studying when they can, doing online classes & video conferences, with social media and games a regular distraction.

Bangalore

Survey with 42 young leaders, 68% of whom are first generation senior students from their family. 45% of the students have 5-6 members in their family and 55% live in a single room house. 100% said their parents support them playing rugby. Many also play kabaddi and kho kho apart from rugby. Seventeen are Decathlon trainees and most want to study beyond class 12 and work part time to support themselves and their family. All talked about taking one step at a time and wanting to finish their graduation. They would then think about their career choices depending on their marks and interest areas – though jobs in sports and fitness were mentioned as preferences. Karnataka is strictly following the lockdown, in 78% of the families parents are not able to go to their regular jobs. Respondents are spending time with their family, watching television, using social media and doing self studies to try and keep up with the school syllabus.

Saraswatipur

We had 35 of our scholarship students go through the survey from Saraswatipur. For 90% of children the main source of income for their family comes from working in the tea gardens. 45% of the young leaders who took the survey had 6 members living in a two room house mainly made out of wood, paddy straws and tin sheets. All of the students are a first generation school student and wants to do well in education and rugby. When asked about their interests 95% wanted to be better at or learn English and basic computer work. All 35 have 100% support of their family to play rugby and feel they are role models for more hundreds of children who train under them. At the moment none of the family members are able to work as the tea garden is closed and anyone entering the village from outside is sent away to the local hospital for a check-up. 92% of families are getting a ration to support themselves from the church, forest department or local politicians. They have all helped in distributing the ration for the village.

Everyone is focusing on their fitness and helping parents in their household work.  Lots are involved in cooking and working on the fields to help with growing vegetables. Fishing is also possible as the river is near by and parents are happy if a good catch of fish comes home. This family time is welcome as children and parents don’t always get much time together in the day. The tea garden has now partially opened and some family members have started going to their  jobs. Rugby training stays closed keeping the safety of children in mind. 

Conclusions

Using this time to better understand our scholarship children and the challenges they face was very useful. We see these children all the time but normally we are racing to a practice or thinking about an urgent problem. For all three of us, this was a good chance to step back and think much more about each youngsters situation. We know this will help us as we work with the children in the future.

It was nice to see that though the scholars come from different states and have many tough problems day to day, they all share a love for rugby which they are missing very much. When asked about how badly they miss playing, everyone had the same answer, that they cannot wait to get on the field once the lockdown is lifted. 

Ada Milby, the first female member of the World Rugby Council, “Sport helps to connect people and communities through the creation of heroes.”

All these young people are our heroes.

Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable

For 2019 the theme of the International Day of the Girl was “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. Khelo Rugby is working to play it’s part creating opportunities for our unstoppable female athletes.

by Paul Walsh

It was absolutely brilliant once again being part of our girls rugby tournament on October 11th. Rightly this has become a big part of the Khelo Rugby calendar with our girls looking forward to playing in and organising the day.

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Kolkata

With more than 500 girls playing across four locations and I’d think another 100 organising, the tournament is a great way to mobilise and encourage our girls to take action. Khelo Rugby has always operated with the attitude of “let’s make it happen” and this is a good example of this. When we first came up with the initiative to have a girls only rugby event, the only question was why we hadn’t done it earlier. Each year I can see more and more benefits from the tournament and making the focus of October on our girls.

The tournament itself has become a focal point for everyone in Khelo Rugby, setting a clear target and getting everyone working together towards a common goal. Coaches need to get their teams organised, bring out the next generation of girls to play, brothers encourage sisters, sisters encourage sisters, each community wants to play well.

2019 was the first time we co-ordinated four tournaments on the same day, and seeing the photos ping in was special. It seems almost everyone now gets to see social media so we tried to quickly share images from each location so the girls could feel a sense of unity even if they were 100s of miles apart.

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Bengaluru

More than 45% of children in Khelo Rugby are girls and this tournament has been a catalyst to achieve this. As a team we always need to be focussed on ensuring we keep levels of participation from our girls up. In this we absolutely need to keep taking what is the tougher path.

India’s female rugby players are an incredibly strong and resilient community and should be celebrated at every opportunity. It was really special to see three of India’s rugby stars being showcased at the recent “We the Women” event in Kolkata, specially since it included Jungle Crows star Sangita. Our Khelo Rugby girls can feel proud to be a part of this.

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Saraswatipur

I promised myself I would keep this article short so I won’t go over all the reasons why girls are perhaps the single most important part of our planets future. You’d have to be sleeping under a rock not to have seen the impact Greta Thunberg is having across the world. It’s hard to believe it was four years ago I wrote my blog “Who Wants to Change the World?” – the messages of how 600 million girls will bring change are still valid. Our girls play rugby, but this is more than just a game, like 11 October was more than just a tournament. The impact belief and empowerment can have are very real. It’s “More Than Just a Try.”

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Haripur

We’ve still much work to do and we’ll keep a special focus for the rest of October, but our efforts shouldn’t rest. This is a full time commitment. We’ll have charchas in communities for the rest of the month, taking time to discuss and think about what we’re doing, how we can do more, achieve more. The girls want to share more messages through posters and slogans, so we’ll showcase those to more children at our end of month KSL (Khelo Sporting League) get together.

We enjoyed 11 October as the #DayoftheGirl but for real change to come we need to support girls everyday.

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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Bangalore Delights in Winter Rugby

The Story of the Khelo Rugby Winter Camp in Bangalore

By Zaffar Khan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#KheloKhelo Bangalore

Khelo Rugby has Landed in India’s Garden City of Bangalore

By Zaffar Khan

Khelo Rugby and the idea of it being in Bangalore, well, when it was suggested to me my only thoughts were that it’s a big city and should we be taking Khelo Rugby there? (I’ve now been here since October!) South India according to research has the highest literacy rates and the best level of employment in India. Every time I’d heard any news about Bangalore it would be for some kind of marathon run happening or some multi-national company opening their new office in the city. It just did not come across as a city where the idea and the fundamentals of Khelo would fall into place. Keeping that in mind India always surprises everyone, even its own children and it turns out that Bangalore is just like any other city in India (while of course being totally unique also) though it seems one of the differences is the media and people on social media show less of the disadvantaged side of society here. The first time I was in Bangalore was eight years back for a Rugby 7’s tour with the West Bengal state team. I then remember the empty roads, green atmosphere and clean air and most important the roads which did not have much traffic on them.

My First Monday late afternoon in Bangalore

My First Monday late afternoon in Bangalore

Talking about traffic I now live in Sarjapur, almost on the outskirts of the city. To cover a distance of eighteen kilometers in Kolkata it usually takes me more or less one and half hour. I had the first experience of Bangalore traffic, when on my second day I promised my friend that I would meet him at MG Road in two hours max on a Monday evening, I soon realized I was sitting in the bus for the past  three hours and we had not even reached half way. I soon told myself that this is not going to work and I should stop promising people. Well untill I got used to the traffic timings. I have got a cycle now and I make it to MG Road in less than ninety minutes. My greatest achievement in the past one month has been beating a brand new red mini cooper on a fifteen kilometer race #BangaloreTrafficZindabad (#longlive Bangalore traffic).

With Khelo Rugby our aim is not to just photocopy the project to new places like Bangalore, but to learn from where we have had success like Kolkata. In Kolkata #Nanda #Hari and the gang have done a great job so we need to look at those good things but also see what works elsewhere. So we try to learn from Siliguri where #Amirul and #Sanu have done fantastic ground breaking work, Pakistan where #MuzamilWazeeri keeps raising the bar for all of us – all the time, and other places where we are using sport to be more than just a part of the pitch. We’re learning again now from Sarjapur, Bangalore. Sarjapur is a rapidly growing area which has many government schools, which are often lagging way behind. For example I had a conversation with the Sapthagiri School Principal where we have recently started to work and she said, “our school and neighboring schools in Sarjapur had lots more children a few years back but children are now dropping out of school and we do not know how to control that. I think it is because Bangalore is developing and people are finding easy low money jobs and children tend to just drift into the money making business. I think it’s not a good idea to leave education without completing it”

Saptagrhi School Khelo Day

Khelo Rugby Day @ Sapthagiri School

We have often faced issues like “school dropouts” in the Khelo communities we work with, particularly in Kolkata. Our community coaches who work with these communities are able to discuss this with children and often have experienced first hand the same pressures. We speak to the children who are going through a rough phase to help them understand the importance of education, being a big sister or brother able to listen, understand and guide. I personally was a school dropout, when I did not do well in my class seven school exams but I am happy I had a family who pushed me and encouraged me to get back into education and I am eternally grateful to them.

I call it the "Little School"

I call it the “Little School”

At the moment in Bangalore we are focussing on the government schools who we can really support . The idea behind working with government schools is that most of the time they do not get attention or opportunity in terms of sport and outside opportunities. Our aim during 2015 is to have over one thousand kids playing rugby every week in Bangalore. We will also start to implement workshops on health and hygiene, carry out sports development in government schools, tell them about our own child protection policies and keep a close eye on every child we work with so that he or she can achieve what they deserve. This is just the start but already we are working with over 180 children every week.

I have also managed set up a “Brothers and Priests” team just to keep us safe from the evil eye 😉 – a longer story for another day!

St. Patrick School Brothers and Priest Touch Rugby Team

St. Patrick School Brothers and Priest Touch Rugby Team

As always we are always looking for people who are interested in coaching children and are eager to make a difference to the communities they live in. You do not have to be a rugby coach to be part of the process, if you can bring smiles to the faces of the children or keep them busy in something creative and interesting you are the right person for the job. Please do get in touch with us through our Khelo Rugby facebook page or through the email address: info@junglecrows.org.

Keep Smiling….Be Happy….Play Rugby