Something To Crow About…..

The Story So Far of the Jungle Crows Winter Camp 2015/16

by Emma Richardson, Trustee and Supporter

Jungle Crows Winter Camp has been running for 11 years now and goodness has it grown! Just on Christmas Day alone the programme attracted 787 children, supported by 66 coaches, and the camp goes on for 11 mornings.  Many children get up before 5am, to travel by chotahathi (small truck) to get to the Maidan.  While this year the temperatures have been milder (I still remember 2012/13 winter when temperatures dropped to below 10 degrees!), it is damp and foggy when the children first arrive.  They have travelled from as far away as Bhattanagar in Howarah and Brooklyn in Khidderpore. IMG_5514

So at 7am, the coaches full of energy, encourage children to play bulldog, dance and skip around for the first 20 mins, simply to get warm.  The coaches then take their groups of circa 25-40 children, let me tell you just organising this is a feat, to begin the serious stuff – having fun!  The coaches stick with the same groups, so they get to know the children, each coach is supported by less experienced coaches and volunteers, most have rugby experience, but a few are simply passionate about putting something back into the community.

Amit started coming to the camps 10 years ago, as a shy boy, today, I watch him coach a group of u10s, full of confidence as a young man, who takes great pride in the trust he has developed, watching the children grow, hoping they too might become Jungle Crows players and coaches in the next decade.

Nanda as a senior coach and has been involved in the Jungle Crows since 2007, and as both a senior player and coach, he takes a leading role in the preparation and coordination of the programme, months in the planning, working with Hari, Shreyas and Pritam.  Nanda’s love of children, and seeing smiling faces clearly motivates him to keep coming back.  He says their smiles, are the best reward, but with a special opportunity to teach rugby skills and maybe even find the next Tiger to join the Jungle Crows within the u14/19s groups?IMG_5065

This year is Sahil’s first winter camp, he was in Amit’s u10 team, and has been completely won over by playing rugby, citing his dream of becoming a rugby player when he is older.   He has already ‘signed up’ to come next year!

The coaches work in the various communities throughout the year, Lovepreet has been involved over the last 4 years; by day 4 he has practically lost his voice, from shouting such passionate encouragement to his young u10 group.  He is committed to the development and education of young children, saying that this programme teaches the children respect for themselves and each other, learning to work in a team and how to behave both on and off the rugby pitch.  At the end of each day, the children are given a breakfast kindly donated by hotels and businesses in Kolkata, let me tell you, it takes a lot of work to distribute 800 bananas, eggs, cakes, and juices.  Some mornings, toothpaste and tooth brushes, with the coaches reinforcing the need to brush teeth twice a day.  These teaching moments, happen at the end of the frenetic morning, when the kids form a circle within their groups, sit in the warm sunshine and listen intently (well the majority do!) to the coach.  There is a calmness by 9.15am, with everyone either tired from the morning’s fun activities or just wanting the chance to catch up with their newly made friends. IMG_5298

This programme does not happen by chance, the Jungle Crows, led by Paul Walsh MBE, requires mammoth planning both in advance and on the day: trucks to be booked and driven, registers to be taken, donations requested and gathered, T shirts to be bought and printed (we distributed over 850 on Christmas Day morning), with a few going without such is the success of the event).

Then by 9.30am, the children start gathering up their belongings, and head back to the trucks.  Each thanking their coaches for a great start to the day, munching on their fruit as they start the journey home.

The coaches have a quick catch up, what worked well, what could be changed and then they find the energy to play a quick game of rugby, because it is this game that binds these young adults together.  The Jungle Crows are an amazing extended family, who like any family work hard and play hard together.  But they, unlike many families, need the support of their city – Kolkata, this 11 day programme costs 6+ Lakhs and the Jungle Crows rely solely on donations and goodwill of the community both here in Kolkata but also from further afield in the UK and elsewhere.

This year we have also run programmes in Siliguri and Bangalore, managed by coaches from the Jungle Crows, who have again gone into the local communities to seek out communities who need the Jungle Crows support. IMG_4929

Even as I am typing, I can hear the children chanting and singing – playground games, it is this happy chatter which keeps me coming back to Kolkata, the Jungle Crows make a difference and that surely is something to crow about?

Do you want to help?  Can you donate your time or money?  The Jungle Crows run programmes throughout the year and need more support! Donations for the Camp can be made on-line in a very easy way, in India through Ketto: https://www.ketto.org/wintercamp or around the world through JustGiving: https://www.justgiving.com/wintercamp2015/

Happy New Year everyone!

Ed’s Note: Emma is also an ace photographer, all images here are hers and she’ll go to any length to grab the best shot!emma123

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.

ac1

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.

ac3

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.

ac4

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.

ac5

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!

ac2

Comando and Akash with the India U20 team playing in Pakistan

Speechless on Arrival…..

Speechless on Arrival…

by Curt Russell – Volunteer Khelo Coach from England

We don’t normally get to go to Khelo practice in an air-conditioned Mahindra Scorpio, so this was a cool experience compared with the burning rubbish we were about to come across. We had an easy drive to the location listening to Hindi songs and chatting about the days events.  But as Howrah Dhapa came into view, two guys who have lived in Kolkata all their lives could not believe what was in front of them. One described the sight as resembling a post apocalypse movie set, the amount of rubbish was unthinkable.

Curt making his way up and into the Dhapa

Curt making his way up and into the Dhapa

As we ascended up ‘mount Everest’ all you could see were mountains of rubbish, with what looked like millions of pigs, literally a ‘pigs sty’.  We eventually came to a halt. As the car engine was turned off the AC slowly became thinner and thinner. We all opened the door without hesitation; the smell hit us like a brick wall. It was horrendous the smell of pigs bathing in rubbish and toxic waste doesn’t need to be explained further.

We started to round-up the children and all that was surrounding us and the thoughts of our arrival were quickly forgotten. The children made this rubbish dump their home, their playground. As we searched around the community, we came across the Khelo kids playing a game called ‘Pittu’. This game consists of 6 small pieces of brick piled up on top of each other, one person has a small football and has to knock over the pieces of bricks and put them back on top of each other, without another person retrieving the ball and hitting that person. They were making the most of their surroundings to say the least. No Play Station or X-Box was insight, but these kids were happier than any child I have seen in England.

We took to the pitch which is no bigger than my back yard at home,with more glass in sight than there was grass. No Nike or Adidas was to be seen, just the bare feet of 20 boys and girls.  We started practice with a warm up drill where the kid’s line up opposite each other, they have to pick up the ball and then run and put the ball down in front of the opposite line. In the process they have to say ball up and ball down, helps in getting them talking which is important for the game.

curtdhapa4

Go Girl….

After we finished warming up the children we split them into two teams and played tag rugby. These children who have been playing rugby for just over one year looked like they had been brought up with a rugby ball in their hands. The match was dominated by calls of ‘ball’ ‘pass’ ‘tag’ which from a coaches point of view is a dream come true. Spectators started to appear, with facial expressions never seen to man. These children, who some barely looked old enough to run, were running at a hares pace with the rugby ball scoring try after try. In the end the match referee and Khelo Coach Nanda lost count of the score and the result ended up in a tie, which was a perfect out come as neither team deserved to lose.

All tied in the end, just the right result!

All tied in the end, just the right result!

As the practice ended I decided to get the spectators involved and get them doing some passing and catching, with this odd-shaped ball which caused so much confusion. 30 seconds into the passing the expressions of confusion turned to broad grins of excitement, enough that would bring a smile to anyone’s face.

The practice was over and back into the AC Scorpio, which we had all forgotten about. Instead of the conversation being of nice cars, nice clothes etc. It was about how happy we were to have played rugby with these children and how happy they were to have us playing and learning with them and enjoying and sharing the amazing game of rugby!

Sanu, Nanda and Zaffar with the Khelo Kids Howrah!

Sanu, Nanda and Zaffar with the Khelo Kids Howrah!