Spirit of Rugby Live In Kolkata

On 10 December we brought together ten NGOs to play rugby in Calcutta as part of our mission to spread the game and share the “Spirit of Rugby” with more and more children. We played a lot of rugby but also took some small steps on a bigger mission, that of equality and justice.

by Nidhi Gelani

“If you want the ball, don’t stand and wait for them to give it to you…..go and get it!” These words kept ringing in my mind long after I heard coach Turi motivate a young girl who was standing on the side line, disheartened that the boys in her team weren’t passing the ball to her. Well, it’s one thing talking about equality, gender inclusion and to create a gender fair environment but it can be a different thing in the field.

At Khelo Rugby we work directly with underprivileged communities in and around the city, we also collaborate with various other non-profit organisations. We decided to use the banner of “Spirit of Rugby” to introduce a whole new community to rugby. And as part of this took the step to coach 100s more children across the city. By using tag-rugby we aimed to make a more level playing environment between those few organisations that already played and those comparatively new to rugby. Each team was also required to have at least three girls on the field at all times.

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10th December was also the International Human Rights Day which just added an extra value to the tournament. We had loads of girls and boys out playing together reinforcing the beliefs that Khelo Rugby stands up for – the equal dignity and worth of every person.

“Gender inclusion to combat gender inequality.” We had mixed teams to instill the value of equality among the children. While seeing this I was vividly reminded of this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which is at the heart of 7o years of the Decalration of Human Rights: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Every word of this is filled with meaning and is a call to action for all of us.

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“Change” is not just a word with 6 letters, but a word which has caused war and is also the reason behind reconciliation. Well, it’s also a word we use so commonly that the depth of it has been lost. Here, in Khelo Rugby we believe in motivating the children we work with by planting seeds of change which are nurtured by their own will to excel and grow. We start small, close to home in the environment the children are most comfortable in. Weaving concepts like gender equality and human rights within our tournaments and daily sessions.

“Passion” is another big part of Khelo Rugby. Being a part of the team for almost 6 months now I am a strong believer in this.  On the morning of the tournament, at 6:30am our team of coaches and young leaders reached the field to carry out the necessary arrangements before the tournament. They were welcomed by heavy rainfall and cold winds making the whole event questionable. Till about 7:30 we were all hesitant whether to carry on with the planned event or not as the rain decided to keep pouring. That is when we saw the children who had arrived on the field warming up and eagerly waiting for the games to begin completely ignoring the rain and cold winds. That is when I realised that the zeal to play beats the challenging weather as well. Once the children had changed into their playing jersey, warmed up and were ready to play there was no looking back.

At 8am we began the tournament and to my surprise it went just as planned. The tournament was organised and executed by our group of extremely talented and motivated young leaders. At one point where we were thinking of calling off the event the enthusiasm and sports spirit displayed by the children on the field was a complete treat to watch. 10 charities from across the city participated with a total of 120 children playing enthusiastically on the field. The breakfast for all the children was generously sponsored by local restaurant Hakuna Matata. A team from the restaurant joined our children on the field which was great to see. The onlookers were all so surprised and amazed to watch young children running about the ground playing some excellent rugby completely oblivious of the shivering weather.

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We were also host to 26 students from Auckland Grammar School visiting India from New Zealand. Both sets of youngsters were eager to shake hands and be involved in the games. The AGS students were each given a team to look after, a few volunteered to referee as well. The children were thrilled to have visitors as they helped the teams warm up, play and also spent time playing games while waiting for their matches to begin.

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The children from the participating NGOs were trained and chosen by our group of coaches and hence each coach had an almost nail-biting experience when their teams played. All in all, the passion for rugby, the enthusiasm of children, the support and help from our visitors, determination and planning of our young leaders not only made this tournament a success but also helped overcome the challenge of bad weather it was a great and fulfilling experience.

The team from Don Bosco Ashalyam lifted the winning trophy followed by the Future Hope team who were the runners-up of the tournament. The Decathlon Foundation team were the Plate winners and Loreto Rainbow the Bowl winners.

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A dodgy beginning to the tournament ended with a happy bang! The day ended with the senior coaches encouraging the children and complimenting their remarkable efforts. A brief prize distribution ceremony was conducted where a few prizes were given away to the children by our visitors.

And finally, what comes to our mind when we talk about Rugby and New Zealand… yes definitely Haka! But our Khelo children are not far behind… we too have our own Haka!  The boys from the Grammar school showcased some extraordinary Haka on popular demand followed by our very own Khelo children winning over hearts with their very own Khelo Haka.

A life changing impact is created when a lot of small efforts add up. These tournaments are the small steps Khelo Rugby takes to ensure we give our children the right guidance, making them responsible citizens. Engaging our children in such tournaments is the Khelo way to take small steps in acting for equality, justice and human dignity!

 

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Rugby Building Futures

Talking Rugby Futures with Akash and Puspendu

by Disha Musaddi

The Jungle Crows Foundation, through its unique open-for-all sport-for-development approach, has supported many children from disadvantaged communities over the years to express themselves through the medium of sports and reach their full potential. This interview series is an attempt to bring out the stories of several such young people associated with the Foundation. We aim to develop a platform for further discussion and dialogue on the theme of sports for development. In the first of the series, Disha Musaddi speaks to two young rugby players – Akash Balmiki (19 years old) and Puspendu Tudu (20 years old) about the experiences and opportunities that have come their way since joining the Jungle Crows and starting to play rugby.

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Puspendu and Akash

So Puspendu, first of all, what’s the story behind your unique nick name ‘Commando’?

Puspendu: As a kid I used to play and jump a lot. One day I jumped from the second floor and climbed three floors from the pipe. On seeing this, my friends told me I should be called Commando or ‘fauji’. They eventually stuck to Commando and gradually everyone started calling me by that name.

For how many years have you boys been playing rugby?

Akash: I have been playing for the last 6 years, started sometime in 2008.

Puspendu: I started playing in 2004 when I was just 10 years old.

We’ve heard that, initially, you both have practiced and played a lot together; tell us about those days and how you both started playing?

Puspendu: At first, I wasn’t friends with Akash. We both belonged to different groups. Then gradually we became friends, then I asked him to join me in rugby, but he wasn’t interested. But when I got the chance to go to England one day to play, he was amazed to know about it and then decided to join me for practices. We would go for practices together…go everywhere together. If it rained, then the two of us would play in the maidan…sometimes only the two of us would be there.

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Akash and Commando with the Jungle Crows U20s

Which position do you both play?

Akash: I play number 10, I personally feel it’s the best position ever. In this position the player has a lot to do and to think about. He has to take along all the players together.

Puspendu: Centre. It is an important position in the back, they are the ones who make the game.

How do you prepare for a match? 

Puspendu: One day before a match, we increase our water intake because we get cramp easily during a match and even tire easily. I then try my best to calm my mind and be at peace.

Akash: Before a match, I drink lots of water, focus on the game and listen to our coach, what he has to say.

Who is your inspiration, as far as rugby is concerned?

Akash: It’s Sailen Tudu. According to me, he’s the best player; he has taught me well about rugby…everything in life. He’s like a big brother to me.

Puspendu: It’s Sailen Tudu for me too. When I came to Calcutta the first time, I met him. We belong to the same village. There were only two people from my village those days, Tudu bhaiya and me… no one else. He taught me, sent me to school. Those days I used to only play, I didn’t have any knowledge about rugby. One day he took me to the Maidan and introduced me to Paul (Walsh) sir. Since then I’ve been going for training.

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Comando makes a superb break to score: All India Rugby 2012

An advice given to you, which has helped you?

Puspendu: Respect is the most important thing for me. Respect the players and your coach. No matter how great you are, if you don’t respect your coach, you’re nothing.

Akash: Tudu bhaiya taught me to respect my position in the team, team mates, and coach. His advice is the most useful as he leads by example.

What about respecting the opponents?

Akash: Yes, we do respect them in the game. When they get injured during the game, we help them. Because at the end of the day, it’s just a game.

You both have gotten the chance to visit UK, how was your experience? Was it the best experience of your Rugby playing career so far? 

Puspendu: I never imagined I’d go to England… never thought I would get the chance to travel by plane. The first time I went on a plane and lived there, it was a very nice place. It’s a very clean, no dirt at all, the people were good… everything was amazing. From then on, I have never looked back and my Rugby playing has only improved. Recently I also got the chance to play for the India team and that for me is my big achievement.

Akash: I had just played my second game in La Martiniere school tournament, where I played well. Arijit Sirkar had asked me for my birth certificate and told me that I would go to UK, but I took it as a joke. My passport was made and Paul Sir came to my house to tell me about the verification. When I went to the station, the officer couldn’t believe that I am going to UK. He looked at me condescendingly and said, “this boy from the basthi will go to UK?”  My mother wasn’t happy with this decision; she was scared about who will take care of us and how will we manage. But, I really wanted to go and convinced her. It was the first time I was on the plane and that made me nervous, and Commando told me that the toilets in the plane are very small… that freaked me out more.  On reaching, we met Peter and Steve, after which we got divided into two’s to live with different families. Sanjay and I got to stay with a Punjabi family. And, we met Curt and Tudu at Caldy Club, where we played our under 13 tournament.

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Akash leads a session at Winter Camp 2014

If there’s a new kid who wants to play rugby, what would be your advice to him or her? 

Akash: First, I will describe the ball! The kid will be surprised to see an egg-shaped ball, and then I will talk about rugby and tell them that if they want to play, they should eat good, healthy food.

Puspendu: I will do the same. I will speak to him, and tell him that he’s a good player. I will tell that if one gets into bad habits, it will instead affect one’s health… the game too… I will try to explain the harmful effects of indiscipline.

Besides playing, the two of you have also done some coaching Tell us a bit about that.

Puspendu: I don’t do much coaching. To be frank, I find coaching a bit challenging; I don’t think it’s something I can do too well. When I go for practice, I explain the format and rules of the game to all those who are new.

Akash: I started my coaching experience with netball. Initially, I was very nervous and didn’t know how to go about it. I would just observe Lovepreet and try to work it all out. Paul Sir would encourage me, which did give me some confidence and I’ve had training. Currently I’m coaching at three communities in our Khelo Rugby project (Bhavani Bhavan, Bijoy Basu, and KPT Colony), a couple of schools, and I am also involved with Netball coaching in a few Girls’ schools.

Can you tell us a bit about Netball?

Akash: Netball is the best sport for girls, according to me. It’s a no contact sport, so the girls can play without hurting themselves. It can be played in basketball courts too.

What more you want to do for the children associated with Khelo Rugby?

Akash: I would want them to study while becoming a good player at the same time.

Puspendu: I want to teach them, want them to play well… be a good player… work on fitness, eat healthy food…

Akash: Yes, don’t eat junk always… Most important!

You both have played a few seasons of Rugby now. So can you talk us through your day during the rugby season?

Akash: During those times, we don’t think much about studies! We only think about how we are going to play, about winning the game.

Puspendu: I don’t think about school and studies too.. To be honest, I don’t think much about it otherwise! It’s the rugby season, so my main concern is how we are going to play; we make the game plan, focus on fitness, and go to the gym.

What’s the best thing about each other when it comes to rugby?

Puspendu: Akash is a complete player, has the skills, his passes are good…

Akash: Commando has good skills, passes, running and the best part is, he is always one step ahead of the others.. always thinking about what should be done next.

And, the weakest

Akash: Commando doesn’t talk much, he has to talk more! He can be one of the best player in the country if he talks more..

Puspendu: Akash’s tackle is the weakest; he misses the tackle at the most crucial point and the opponents manage to score a try.

Will you teach him how to tackle?

Yes, of course.

Will you learn, Akash?

Akash: Definitely, there are a lot of things Commando has taught me regarding rugby, before I joined Jungle Crows. I will continue learning from him.

Puspendu: I will be very happy if Akash becomes a better player than me one day!

Can you tell us about Paul Sir, what do you think about him and his influence in your life?

Akash: I’ve never seen anyone like Paul sir in Kolkata, because he took local boys like us and spoke to us and made us what we are.

Puspendu: He has helped me a lot. He would be always very happy to see me play well. Whenever I needed something like shoes, shirt, shorts, he would give it happily.

Commando, tell us about your special interest in the children from the Adivasi community.

Puspendu: Adivasis are very fit… they play football, hockey and so many other sports There are people of all cultures who play… there are Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims… I want there to be a separate team where the Adivasis get a chance to play and have an identity of their own … I want them to organize and play very well, make a mark for themselves. I want people to recognize them, because many don’t know about our culture, and they think we are just illiterates from the jungles. What I really want to do is to train them hard, and learn a lot. If rugby can change me, my brother Tudu, then it can surely transform many other youngsters and prevent them from exploitation.

Other than rugby, which sport(s) do you play?

Puspendu: Football, cricket…

Akash: We play these sports just for fun.

Tell us about your future plans…

Puspendu: Studies is a big challenge for me! But I want to work hard, finish my studies and maybe join the army team one day. I also want to work hard to promote Adivasi Rugby.

Akash: Last year, I played for the India team and that was a very proud moment of my life. I want to be the best coach and retire as one of the top players in the world!

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Comando and Akash with the India U20 team playing in Pakistan

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