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

 

Amirul’s Great Big Rugby Adventure

by Amirul Hossain

My name is Amirul and I have lived my whole life in Kolkata.  I started playing rugby more than 4 years ago and I really love playing and training with my team the Jungle Crows.  Our team is pretty good and I play for our second team called the Maidan Hazards (the Maidan is the big park where we practice in the centre of Kolkata).  The founder of our club is Paul and he comes up with all these names, like Crows, whoever would have thought to name a rugby team after a squaky Crow or Hazards.  But we’ve been a Hazard to many a team in India and are growing stronger and stronger and now we can beat the Crows as well!

Not long after my brother Zaffar (not my real brother but my rugby brother) started Khelo Rugby I was selected to be a Community Rugby Coach for Khelo Rugby.  I mainly coach and spend time with the children in the communities around where I live which is Kidderpore, near the docks and river area of Kolkata.  People are sometimes a bit nervous about Kidderpore but it’s my home and I love the area very much.

Just shout, "Khelo Khelo''

Just shout, “Khelo Khelo”

Earlier this year I was selected to lead a new Khelo Rugby project we were putting together in the North of Bengal in a very rural village called Saraswatipur, the nearest big town is Siliguri.  Read Hari’s blog post, “Rugby Brews Up in the Jungle” to find out how the setting up of the project went.

Anyway last week I went back to Siliguri to take admission to College and again visit Saraswatipur village.  I have been given the chance by the Jungle Crows Foundation to go and stay in Siliguri as they will sponsor my stay and college, this is really very excting for me.  I will be able to carry on coaching in the village and I will start more coaching and grow rugby across the whole town and countryside.  I had never thought I would have chance to go to College and now I will study hard and be able to help my family.

With the Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Girls

With the Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Girls

As soon as we arrived in Siliguri on Saturday we made our way out to Saraswatipur and met all the children again, they were so happy to see me and this time I had two other Jungle Crows players Sanu and Arun with me.  This was Arun’s first visit to the village and he thought it was a very amazing place, he really loved it.  But he was very nervous about the elephants.  In the village it can be dangerous to go out after dark as lots of wild elephants are there and they have even killed people.  We didn’t tell him there was also an elephant living near the village with the Park Rangers.  When we were drinking tea in the evening this elephant came past, Arun was very scared and tried to hide until we told him that this was a friendly elephant!

On Sunday we ran a small tournament and could see straightaway that all the children had stayed practicing, they really are good at rugby.  We had also collected up a big big bag of clothes from friends in Kolkata so at the end everyone got a new t-shirt or shorts.  The children in Saraswatipur really don’t have much clothes, much of anything really so it was nice to be able to hand over something that would be useful for them.

Talking and Listening

Talking and Listening

I had to ruturn to Kolkata the next week, but even that was good as our Maidan Hazards won the Centenary Cup Plate tournament beating the Kolkata Police Sergeants team.  They got a little bit angry as most of our players are much smaller and younger than them, they thought they’d win easily but we beat them 24-10.

So next week after my Eid I will be packing my bags to return to Siliguri to a new part of my life.  I will have a friend Sanu who is also continuing his school in Siliguri. We will have great times making a whole new rugby community in Siliguri, making sure the children of Saraswatipur are doing well and working hard for our future also.

My Big Adventure!

On My Big Rugby Adventure!

Rugby Brews Up in the Jungle

My Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Adventure

By Hari Singh 

16 Hours by bus was how my journey began, but at least it was air-conditioned. But not for one minute did my excitement at heading for Saraswatipur village in North Bengal leave my mind.  This was going to be very much a first for me – coaching children brand new to rugby and that too in a remote jungle. When I got off the bus at Siliguri, the sun was glorious and right above my head and there was a tremendous hustle bustle at the bus stop with jeeps and cars heading all over North Bengal and further afield to Sikkim and Assam.  As guided before leaving Kolkata, I jumped aboard a bicycle rickshaw to reach Salesian College where I met Father George Matthew who would in turn get me going on my further journey to the village.

Father Matthew warmly welcomed me and after only a couple of minutes we headed towards the college canteen for lunch of steaming warm momos. I stayed in a college guest room that day which was comfortable and a great relief from the bus journey. The next morning, Father Matthew drove me towards the tribal village “Saraswatipur” in the Baikuntpur forest. The journey was 20KM away from Siliguri and it was not less than a jungle safari. I was overwhelmed with the kaccha roads surrounded by forest cover on either side. While on the way father gave me a small brief about the tribal families, the children and their lifestyle. He also told me to be careful after dark and not to go anywhere as wild elephants were a big threat to people living in the village.

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Bicycle Tour through the Village (I’ve got a passenger!)

As I reached the village, I was amazed by the lush green beauty of the nature. The whole area of the village is surrounded by tea plantations cut into the forrest. There was an ancient tea factory as well, which I would later visit and marvel at how tea is made. I was greeted by a few village children and my fellow rugby coach from Kolkata – Amirul, who had been in Saraswatipur for five days already. Myself and Amirul were delegated with the responsibility of coaching tag rugby to the village children and preparing them for the “Saraswatipur Cup”. Our fooding and lodging for the upcoming days were arranged by Father Matthew. We stayed in a room attached to a newly built church and our daily meals were prepared by a local village family.

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Visiting the Tea Factory

The much awaited time had come for me to begin with the training of the young kids who never saw a rugby ball and never heard about the game in their entire life. Infact, nobody in the village had ever heard of anything called rugby. This was the major advantage for us to attract kids towards the playground as every kid wanted to grab the unusual oval shaped ball and learn the game which was totally new to them. We started off quite well with almost 130 kids coming for training everyday and it went up to 200 in the next week. We had a systematic and planned approach to our training. We divided all the children into few groups and had time table set for each groups.  Saraswatipur is really a group of villages and very soon we had children from all over the area playing – this is now one rugby mad place!

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Practice – children were great and now rugby crazy!

From third week onwards we started with morning and evening training sessions. The children’s responded in a very positive manner and they took the training sessions very seriously. We also started with English classes in the evening for the kids. We would begin English classes at 7pm inside the church because that was the only place where we had electricity all the time. Very soon we became firm favourites with the children who loved the new game and were enthusiastic to learn new things and we shared an emotional bond with each child in the village.  Soon we were helping them with all their homework, helping to revise for exams and moving around the village like locals.

Apart from training rugby and our classes for the kids, we were also able to have some fun.  Even though I couldn’t swim I jumped in the river along with everyone else and was swept along by the current to a shallow sand bank.  Time after time the children went and so did I! We also got to go fishing and hunting in the jungle, something that was taken seriously every Sunday as the boys headed off with bows and arrows to catch something different for dinner.

Finally, before we knew it a month had passed and the RAF Spitfires were in town. On their arrival to Saraswatipur, the village people welcomed them with flower’s and also conducted a local cultural program with dances and singing to welcome their guests. Most of the village people are from tribal or Adivasi background and their songs and dancing is very important and kept alive throughout the generations.

And though the spitfires couldn’t understand much about what was happening the welcome was very warm and everyone was well entertained.  After the program, all the village children with the RAF team went to the playground for a small training session. It was really wonderful to watch the kids enjoying their time with the Spitfires and seeing also how much the Spitfires enjoyed.  The Spitfires really didn’t want to leave at the end of their first day and wanted to stay back in the village, but arrangements had been made in Siliguri and it was important to get through the jungle before dark, before the elephants came out.

And so we came to the Saraswatipur Cup.  Me and Amirul had made 8 teams of 5 girls and 5 boys on each team of 10.  Each team had one Coach from the Jungle Crows team, a group of who had also travelled up, and one from the Spitfires.  And what a great day it was – better than me explaining were the photos which summed up the spirit and joy of the day for the children and all the visitors.

The Crows Foundation is now planning to place a permanent Coach in Siliguri to keep the Saraswatipur rugby going and introduce the sport to more children in the city and across the region – I hope soon Siliguri and Saraswatipur will be known not only for good tea but also for good rugby!

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Action from Saraswatipur Cup

Khelo Khelo Girls……..

Abhishek Singh, Manager of the Khelo Rugby Programme on our latest initiative.

Although girls make up about 20-25% of our regular Khelo Rugby participants we’ve long wanted to increase this percentage and give them more of a chance in playing. Funny our parent Jungle Crows Women’s team is in a lot of ways more successful than the Men’s team, having won a couple of national tournaments, so we know the great potential for girls in our sport.

My first dedicated training in a girls school was this morning at Shri Shikshayatan School in central Kolkata.  At the same time I was excited and nervous to be taking this training. I’m not really used to dealing with sophisticated school girls!

At 8.00am there was only one girl there, not a very good start! But very soon a good group of girls turned up and we kicked off on our training session.  Starting with fun games and activities to keep everyone interested we then moved into a quick game.  Not bad 15 minutes after seeing a rugby ball something like a game was going on. We worked a bit on passing after that and even had a cheerleading song in between – they’re a talented bunch at Shri Shikshayatan.  Good session with plenty of fun and learning, helped out by one of our volunteers from UK Curt who did a great job.Image

This is the second girls school we’ve taken Khelo to. Our plan is to introduce Khelo Rugby in at least 12 schools across the city in the coming two months. We also aim to educate the teachers of the school about rugby.  We have planned workshops for them to help them understand the game and the Khelo programme.  Once we get all the schools playing we’ll host a rugby festival to bring them all together and include some of our other communities.

We hope with these efforts to encourage more girls into rugby and sport, develop a  mainstream element within Khelo Rugby and increase the Khelo community across Kolkata even further.  Exciting times for us!

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