Our Girls Day: from Try to Triumph

By Rwitoban Deb, Journalist and Sports Enthusiast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Under 9 Rugby Rocking Kolkata

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

By Peter Fernandes

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

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

The following teams took the top honours:

Cup Winners – Fatehpur

Plater Winners – Jainkunj

Bowl Winners – Khatal

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!

Khelo Khelo

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