Playing Together from Kolkata to Karachi

Our Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum brought together sport for development children in Kolkata and Karachi

by Shreyas Rao

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace – IDSDP (6th of April) always provides good opportunities within Sport for Development organisations like the Jungle Crows Foundation to try new initiatives and bring refreshing ideas into our projects.

Sport for Development events across the world provide a focus to the day and help in building new ways to engage young persons in different ideas and initiatives through sport.  With this in mind, we had the ‘madcap’ idea of seeing if we could get children from our communities in Kolkata to interact with children in Karachi through a video conference on 6 April.

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Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum – Kolkata meets Karachi

Britain is GREAT, an initiative of the British High Commission has given us the opportunity to create and deliver several events under the Sport is GREAT banner. Using our Khelo Rugby programme we have held events in Kolkata and Bhubaneswar. Our Sport is GREAT work kicked off with a  Rugby World Cup themed children’s tournament in Bhubaneswar and most recently saw a rugby tournament in Kolkata just for girls. For this we had more than 160 girls from across our Khelo locations in Kolkata and Siliguri come together to play and listen to an inspiring talk from Shubha Kenworthy.

Our thinking was that we wanted to do something a little different to mark IDSDP in 2016 and the video conference was something we felt could be very special for all the children involved. We were fortunate that the Kolkata offices of the British Council and Deputy High Commission shared our enthusiasm. Kolkata partners for what we called our Children’s Forum were identified by including Future Hope and Durbaar who both participate in the Football for Development project Dosti. And though we would have liked to link up with our own Khelo Rugby children in Lahore logistics meant it was better to connect with Dosti children in Karachi.

On the day of the event, 30 children arrived very excited at the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata dressed to represent their respective organisations. After a brief ice breaker session, the children all seated themselves anxiously at the conference room eagerly waiting to meet new children in Karachi.  After a few redials the children were all soon immersed in free-wheeling, fun-filled banter about various aspects of their life, opening their hearts and their minds listening and talking about each other’s lives and engaging in an engrossing exchange.

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Children representing Future Hope, Durbaar and Jungle Crows meet in advance of their Kolkata – Karachi link-up

I was delighted to be the moderator and followed a plan along the following lines, while encouraging the children to set the pace and be in control of their own conversations:

  • Introduction – from each side: their names and what sport they played.
  • A brief chat about their city and community.
  • Language and culture – sharing each others different and same languages.
  • A discussion about their own sporting experiences and favorite players.
  • Challenges the children have faced while growing up and how sport has helped in these.
  • Exchange on passions and hobbies.
  • Fun chat over the hypothetical question – if I was in India for a day…. or If I was in Pakistan for a day…
  • A round of Anthakshari between the children based on their common love of Bollywood songs

To make things simple, it was agreed at the start that the interaction would take place in Hindi. While it was the girls who dominated the discussion in Karachi, the participation was relatively equal from both boys and girls in Kolkata. Sport helped ease the tension even through a video conference – we started with a debate about whether Ronaldo or Messi was the better player. Of course Messi won, with the discussion going to a vote in both Karachi and Kolkata! Other highlights for me included the children teaching each other their respective languages – Bengali and Pashto, laughter and agreement on their love of Biryani and telling each other about their famed city landmarks.It was also great to see how the children could think criticaly even at such a young age, always surprising us with their maturity about issues and their enthusiasm about learning about each others culture. They were also sensitive enough to be politically correct – with a girl from Pakistan saying that she would love to play “Holi” if she ever visited India. The sports kits of girls was also a topic for discussion with the girls from India quite curious about what girls wore when they played outside in Karachi. At which, a little girl in Karachi nonchalantly stood up and turned around to show everyone her name printed on the back of her full sleeved track, implying that they were all indeed present in the room with their sports kit on. Several of the Kolkata children were pleasantly surprised that the girls even got a chance at sport. Towards the end, there was a lot of light banter about Bollywood and varying and similar tastes in music, fittingly ending in a fun game of Anthakshari between the two teams!

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Karachi Dosti On the Air

This experience turned out to be  incredibly memorable for everyone involved; children and adults alike. With such an event it is quite hard to comprehend its significance. But it was noteworthy that all the children participating came from disadvantaged communities and generally lacked any regular access to technological resources. Yet, the children showed much maturity in the discussion, steering clear from populist prejudices and preconceived notions. The exchange of thoughts seemed to have enabled the children to refresh their minds from any narrow vision of the “other”, the “enemy” or other such identities that can be indoctrinated from a young age.  It was clear that at the most basic level, children know no hatred, their curiosity is genuine, and the bonds they form are pure. It was incredibly heartening to see, in the end, a couple of them came near the screen and intently waved at each other.  Alas, their hands could never meet but a peculiar yet innocent friendship took form.

One thing was clear, it was only the medium of sport that made something like this even possible to imagine. Sport creates unique channels of interaction; it provides an opportunity for opening new passages for dialogue. At a time when debate about nationalism is becoming ever more loathsome and petty, such events help elevate the plane of debate. Sport with its broad visions of equality can open up so many new doors everyday and guide us towards a renewed global movement.  It is indeed a rare privilege for sport for development organizations around the world that they can facilitate such unique initiatives, that they can dream beyond borders and provide experiences beyond boundaries!

It is worth concluding by noting that the views here are expressed on my experience as a moderator. I will also be compiling more thoughts from the children themselves, and I am sure that is bound to spring many surprises.

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Author Shreyas captures a selfie with the children in Kolkata and Karachi!

Scoring a Try for Peace

by Paul Walsh

Manifesto of Peace 

RESPECT ALL LIFE
REJECT ALL VIOLENCE
SHARE WITH OTHERS
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND
PRESERVE THE PLANET
CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF COMMUNITY

Earlier this year we decided that Khelo Rugby would attempt to unite our small Khelo communities in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan with a shared sporting experience as part of the United Nations Global Peace Games.  Though separated by borders and 1000s of miles apart we hoped that seeing other children playing and coming together for the same cause would help foster the spirit contained in the Manifesto of Peace for our Khelo Rugby children.Peace Games

The United Nations International Day of Peace falls on 21 September and in order to support this initiative the UN has for several years promoted the idea of organisations holding Peace Games.  These Peace Games are intended to enable children and young people to come together and learn a little more about what Peace means and share a fun and sporting experience that declares their support for the ‘Manifesto of Peace’.  In advance of the Games organisers are encouraged to discuss with children what they feel the term peace means to them.

Though the title Global Peace Games may sound rather grand and the idea of being part of a Global event a little intimidating, the event itself needs to be low cost (self funded) and held at a grass roots level so it can relate to all the youngsters that participate (and be affordable to folks like Khelo Rugby!)  The Peace Games are more normally associated with football and were in fact founded in 2001 by the NGO Play Soccer (http://www.playsoccer-nonprofit.org).

Once registered we received a message of support from Wilfiried Lemke who is the UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace and a message from the President of Fifa. We did tweet the CEO of the International Rugby Board to see if he would also like to send a message but he was obviously a little busy that day or more likely thought we were a bit mad.  Saying this it would be nice to see the global rugby community come together with some shared campaign in this way and perhaps in 2014 the IRB might be persuaded to be involved, it only takes a short letter which acts as the message of support – #TryForPeace.

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Peace Games Nawab Ali Park, Kolkata

So with our registration in place and clutching our messages Khelo Rugby set out to share and promote our own Peace Games.  First out of the blocks was Kolkata with a 12 team tournament held in Kidderpore at Nawab Ali Park on Sunday 22 September.  And very exciting for us that Amirul was able to bring a team all the way from Saraswatipur to play in the tournament.  This was the first time most of the Saraswatipur children had ever been away from their village and great that they were able to do this with a visit to their Khelo brothers and sisters in Kolkata.  12 teams, 120 odd children, biryani, bananas and more than 100 signatures on the Manifesto of Peace – all the ingredients for a great day of sport and fun. And though it’s not about the winning we did have some winners with the Cup going to the super quick children of Salt Lake Dhapa, winning out over the other super quick children of Saraswatipur.

Wazeeri and his 'Try for Peace' message - superb!

Wazeeri and his ‘Try for Peace’ message – superb!

Just two days later and it was the turn of Fort Abbas in Pakistan to fly the flag for Peace. And what an incredible effort! While sticking to the remit of a grass roots tournament Wazeeri and his team of young volunteers did a super job in delivering the message of “try for peace” to 100s of children.  20 Schools from across the local area took part in a mega-sized day of rugby action. To support them Wazeeri had organised 20 team managers, 10 coaches, 8 touch judges, 4 referees and 15 tournament marshals. 

Sunsets at Fort Abbas

Sun sets at Fort Abbas

 

And as the sun set on the desert location the Pashtoon Fighters had the skill and stamina to win out over Government Primary School 270 in a very close 5-0 match. Government Middle School 263 placed third. As children and volunteers made their way home all involved were able to reflect on an incredible effort to promote the message of peace and come together through rugby.

Khelo Khelo Pakistan!

Peace Games Fort Abbas, Pakistan

The Afghanistan leg of our Peace Games will happen a little later this month with our own Zaffar in charge of organising. We are very much looking forward to seeing the event Zaffar puts on and I know many of our children and the Khelo Coaches in India and Pakistan are excited to see the Afghan children in action.  Zaffar will be writing about his Peace Games as soon as they are completed!

It was a tremendous effort to make the Peace Games in Kolkata and Fort Abbas such a success. Special thanks go to Hari in Kolkata and Wazeeri in Fort Abbas who really led by example and who I know are both really committed to the children and the message that the games attempted to deliver.  HUGE thanks to to all the volunteers who took part and made the days events to remember.

For me it was great to see how powerful sport can be and how it can bring together young people under a common message.  This isn’t in itself life changing stuff, but by each of us taking a small step, in what is surely the right direction, we can make a difference.

JAI HO FOR PEACE

Khelo Khelo Pakistan!

Khelo’s Journey into the Cholistan Desert

by Zaffar Khan

Pakistan is a journey we’ve been working on for some time now, to take our rugby passion to a whole new set of young people.  To children who are so close to us in India (and me at the moment in Afghanistan) yet at the same time a long way away.

We’ve been lucky that making this latest Khelo Rugby journey possible has been terrific guide and mentor Muzammal Khan Wazeeri who has brought us to the Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. Where the temperature can rise beyond 50 degrees centigrade, but Wazeeri and his gang of rugby loving ruggers are never phased by that.

Wazeeri has been such a inspiration with his work…with the desert heat and the grueling holy month of Ramadan he made sure what he promised the children happened.  80 children were bought from different parts of his community some up to 40 km away. They all came together and participated in a Khelo Rugby tournament, what he described as a “very small tournament”, we say “great great effort”. Eight schools from his community are now participating in Khelo and his current mission is to get the girls to play – which he says is his dream and challenge.

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Khelo….Khelo….Khelo…

Here I talked with Wazeeri and asked him a few questions about his involvement and journey so far with the Khelo Rugby Family.

Q: Tell us something about Rugby in your community?

Wazeeri : Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful), Alhamdulillah things have been very good in Cholistan and we are doing our best to promote rugby here with the help of Pakistan Rugby.  And now with the involvement of Khelo Rugby it has given us the perfect platform for grass roots rugby.  I come from the Pakistan State of Punjab and the town of Fort Abbas and that’s where I formed my Desert Camel team years back now.  Masha’Allah we have older boys in our club but we always missed not having a youth or a junior team, some years back I did start a team but due to lack of planning and guidance it did not really work out.  Then one day I came across Khelo Rugby on Facebook  and since I knew Zaffar I asked if we could start a project in my community to see how it could help with the children and especially I liked the idea of the small children playing rugby.

ImageQ: How do you think Khelo Will help grow Rugby and the Community in Cholistan?

This is something very important happened to me and my club Desert Camels.  We have always had a team were big boys would come and join and never a opportunity for smaller children to come learn or play. Since Khelo has started to support us we have had such a impact on the participation level and also on the audience level. Parents do not see rugby now as a violent game after the introduction of tag rugby with the children. We have had a change of view from many of the families in the area.

Q:  Do you think that is a big change?

Yes of course it has been such a huge change, I believe that Khelo make such a difference to these children’s life….I will explain. We have children who are 12, 13, 14 younger and above….who literally do not have anything to do as far as organised fun or sport and Khelo now brings that into their life and into communities that I have been trying to reach.  It’s simple but really effective for me and the children.

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Q: I know it’s very early but how do you think the project can be helpful to the community in the near future?

Yes it’s early to say what and how the community will benefit from it on a long term, I mean on a short terms yes we can see the results – lots of children playing and really enjoying. But I think Khelo is a very powerful tool to work with, it cannot be just seen as a sport but what we can do with it is something I am excited about.  My area and the areas around have lot of cultural and social issues involving children and Khelo creates a great platform to speak and discuss with them and also elder boys and how these can be resolved or at least bought into context. Like for example recently we did a very simple session with the children on how we can keep our grounds clean, and we decided once training was over, each child who came to the session was asked to pick up at least four plastic bags of the ground before leaving, we had 20 kids so that meant a lot of bags were cleared.  People just dump things on the ground because there is no fencing to it…so we are trying to work on little things…and see where we can go with it.

Q: Do you personally feel that the change you want to bring will be possible?

Hmmmmm… it won’t be easy…you are talking about peoples habits and social nature, which has been here for years now and it cannot be changed immediately.  But what Khelo does again is bring children together and it can create a platform where they can learn and talk about things.  And to be good at their sport they need to be healthy and well – just that is very important.  And there you go you have a young, I mean very young generation in front of you, who are all eager to learn and hear, the rest is up to us to guide and support them. I know support is very important in rugby and in life growing up.

Q: Last question… and it’s a tough and very big question…do you think this could be a catalyst between our two nations for a bit of peace?

Well the government is trying…but I think we also have the responsibility to make an effort.  With Khelo the children have something very simple yet powerful in common, I know the children from Pakistan and India can be a way ahead, friendship between the children from both the nations will always bring better understanding.  I hope we can one day come to India to play the Khelo India children, but they won’t be India or Pakistan children they’ll be Khelo children, Rugby children. I am sure it will be great.

Thanks Wazeeri bhai for your time…I hope together we all get where you dream of…Inshallah.

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Wazeeri (far right) and the Khelo Rugby Pakistan Children