Listening To Our Team

As a part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic we managed to survey 135 of our young community leaders. It’s so important to listen to the team. The results of the survey were first circulated on our social media accounts @khelorugby and were collated before Cyclone Amphan.

by Paul Walsh

We’ve been talking everyday to our young leaders during the lockdown. They are an essential part of our “chain of support” – our mission to support more than 2000 Khelo Rugby players.

We’ve also managed to conduct more formal surveys with those who have access to a smartphone or computer. The latest results are interesting and will help to inform decision making; “nothing for us without us”.

We got 135 sets of results made up from 65 young people in Kolkata, 29 in Bengaluru and 41 from Saraswatipur.

Here we can see answers to the question; “How are you managing your studies?”

Study in lockdown

It is a worry that even amongst these ‘connected’ youth 35% are unable to study, the main reasons include a lack of any space and being busy with household duties. And only 21% are studying online. This is a feature the lockdown has shown us, that the penetration of smart phones is not nearly as high as many of us imagine. These are our most connected young people, yet still few of them access any on-line learning.

We wanted to better understand how everyone was managing under the coronavirus lockdown.

My Post (11)

Almost every family is taking help, mainly this is receiving some sort of ration supplied by local government. These rations are often distributed through local clubs or other voluntary organisations.

Few parents are able to work, which means nearly every family is using their savings to get through the crisis. Some are unable to manage at all. We have found the local Police very helpful in getting supplies organised for families who run out of options.

Our Khelo Rugby young people are busy with household activities. Seems everyone is pitching in to do some shopping, clean the house and cook. Even a few family entertainers around.

Obviously the survey mainly reflects the lives of 135 of our best connected children. We rely on them to watch out for all our players. It is important we support everyone.

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We know this is just a snapshot of these young peoples lives, but it can give us some insight. Good to see 113 reported feeling happy or OK. Suggests this is a resilient group who are staying positive through the lockdown. We’ve followed up directly with those who are stressed or sad.

These are 135 of our best connected youngsters. But it is interesting that even amongst them 17 have no phone at home. And mostly they have just one phone.

We often think that today everyone seems so well connected. The lockdown has shown us this is absolutely not the case for the vast majority of our young rugby players. This is a challenge we’ll need to overcome, staying connected is so important.

And here for a bit of fun is the final post – not unexpected from our rugby crazy children. Our survey has brought several benefits: helping us all to stay connected, informing decisions, making sure we follow the ethos of nothing for us without us.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this. Getting this survey done was a great team effort, thanks especially for Shiv for the questions and getting all the responses.

Our Coronavirus Heroes

We asked all our leaders, coaches and players to nominate unsung heroes from their communities. Family and friends who were going the extra mile to make a positive impact at this time of coronavirus pandemic. Please read on to see some of the stories of these unsung heroes, keeping on and motivating us all at these difficult times. 

Ghanshyam Chhetri, Bangalore: Nominated by Coach Akash. Ghanshyam’s parents are not able to work in the current situation which has made the situation at home very difficult. Ghanshyam works everyday delivering milk to families in his neighbourhood. It’s a 4am start but it means he is able to help his family with the earnings. It also means families don’t have to break the lockdown to get this daily essential.

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Ghanshyam

Rehana Begum, Kolkata: Raunak from Wadgunj has nominated his mother as the hero of his family as she is doing a great job managing their home with hardly any money.

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Raunak with his Mum Rehana

Aniruth A, Bangalore: Nominated by his brother Vinay, Aniruth has organised the distribution of food and groceries to needy families where they live. He has also worked to spread awareness on how to stay safe during the coronavirus lockdown.

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Vinay’s brother Aniruth

Munna Singh, Kolkata: Munna was nominated by Pratap for his outstanding work in turning Decathlon swimming masks into medical protective masks. Munna designed and printed parts to convert the masks using a 3D printer. He has gone on to deliver them  himself to health workers.

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Munna and some of the masks in use

Chandra Sekhar Singh, Kolkata: Aditya from Fatehpur has nominated his father as a hero. He has supported Aditya in every situation. Aditya said, ‘Money is an issue to survive for daily needs and expenses, my father is standing strong to provide us with every essential need. He is trying his best to give us normal life even in this pandemic.’

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Aditya with his Dad Mr Singh

Soobhash Chandra: Soobash one of our senior players from Fatehpur quickly took the initiative of making masks at home. These have now been delivered across several communities in Kolkata. Soobhash has also been a critical part of our “Chain of Support” network making sure no one sleeps hungry.

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Getting ready to deliver home made masks from Crows HQ

Mr Prathap, Bangalore: Vinay has nominated his school teacher Mr Prathap who has identified several places in Bangalore where the government could not reach. He with a group of friends are helping the daily wage workers in these areas with their essential needs.

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Vinay’s teacher Mr Prathap

Mithun Hazra, Kolkata: Nominated by Paul, he is one of our young leaders. Everyday he is using the lockdown time for self improvement and motivating others to do the same. On his social media, he is putting up exercise videos and sharing his thoughts on various topics to practice his English. Through these efforts he is giving energy and inspiration to all of us.

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Mithun

Suren Oraon, Saraswatipur: Rima from Saraswatipur has nominated her father as her hero. He motivates her to play rugby and is working really hard even in the lockdown to manage his family needs.

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Suren Oraon

Sanjay and Jyoti Nag, Kolkata: Shakti from Khidderpore has nominated his parents. His father Sanjay is going out everyday and doing any work he can find to bring some money home for the family. Shakti is amazed his mother is managing the household on whatever little she is getting.

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Mr and Mrs Nag

Shanti Hela, Kolkata: Anurag from Chetla has nominated his mother as a hero specially since she manages the home all on her own. Even during this situation she is not letting Anurag get distracted from his studies, not allowing him do much household work. Anurag’s Mum is using savings and doing whatever little jobs she can find to keep the family going.

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Anurag with his mum

Mukesh Dooms, Bangalore: Nominated by Akash, Mukesh has collected small amounts of money from his family and friends and uses it to take care of 3 families in his community who cannot manage by themselves.

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Bangalore’s Mukesh

Vidya Devi, Kolkata: Sunny from Hyde Road has nominated his Grandmother (Naani Maa) as a hero. His mother is struggling to manage the finances at home but his grandmother is a huge help doing much of the household work like cooking and cleaning. Meaning his mother has less to worry about.

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Sunny and his Grandmother

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– Learn more about our work and how you can support it. –

Tackling Coronavirus with the Jungle Crows

Amidst the lockdown and food shortages it’s been a challenge taking on the coronavirus but we’re doing our bit.

by Paul Walsh

It’s hard to say where we are at in the current coronavirus battle in India. The statistics are around us everyday, and opinions on what they mean proliferate. The lockdown was a shock to the system. The Jungle Crows are all about being together, sharing experiences, playing lots of rugby and enjoying lengthy Khelo Rugby huddles in Kolkata, Jharkhand, Saraswatipur and Bengaluru. It all stopped overnight.

For a few days we were in a daze for sure. We are a community group, together sharing experiences is what has always been our motivator. How to change that into something that could be relevant and of value during this crisis?

Step up Hari who kicked us into life and organised our first morning hangout bringing together Bengaluru, Kolkata and Saraswatipur. With just a couple of lines on a spreadsheet to look at, plenty of talking over one another, dropped connections and not a few arguments we were developing a match strategy. We were playing heads up rugby!

Chain of Support

  1. Our first priority was to connect with as many of our young coaches as we were able. Get them to share how they were and what the needs of each community was. Video reports started to arrive on their own or borrowed smartphones. We could see that having coaches and players from across the city meant that especially in Kolkata we could get a quick handle on how we could make the most impact.
  2. A small informal survey was developed for all of the children who we have on scholarships – more than 100. To be in touch with them, ensure their families were managing and to use this down time to gather more information to help us plan for the future better.
  3. We quickly realised our forte was not going to be in organising and delivering food or getting protection equipment mobilised. We were connected at grassroots, we could identify specific needs and work with those better placed to meet the challenges of say families running short of food or children with medical needs. So we have tried to become an active facilitator.

Global Connections

  1. The Jungle Crows are incredibly lucky to have friends all round the world. Quickly we formulated a plan to see how far and wide we could connect. We could see this being a terrific motivator for all the children. Yes there were these big problems, but it was important to also keep everyone engaged and have something to be excited about.
  2. Our first connect was with the amazing Rocky Khan, what a story he has. The first player of Indian origin to play for the All Blacks rugby 7s team, inspiring and something to dream about and work towards for all our young players.

Mind and Body Fit

  1. This was something we were much more ready for and comfortable with. Akash one of our young India players took the lead. Organising workout plans, setting challenges. We had the role model of CureFit where so many of our young players now worked, they were quickly reformulating their business from group classes to online workouts attracting hundreds of thousands of participants.

And we’ve still plenty of other stuff going on. We have a core team who mostly enjoy their 10am hangout each day. We’re talking to all our supporters and partners, seeing how we can help them out. We can surely connect with more of our young ruggers. It’s all a work in progress, and very much a marathon not a sprint.

Perseverance blog

If you’d like to support the Jungle Crows work, please click here!

 

 

Living with the Jungle Crows

Thomas was with the Jungle Crows as a volunteer, teacher and mentor, here is more on his adventure in India, learning about how critical values are and that there is always hope.

by Thomas Pothet

The very first time I went to the Jungle Crows rugby field with my friend Pritam who I had met at University in Paris, something struck me. It wasn’t the fact that these children were playing rugby under intense heat and humidity like as if it was nothing… it was their discipline.

I was truly impressed by how disciplined the children were. As my 16-year-old brother plays rugby, I have often seen rugby training and how trainers can struggle to keep the discipline but it was different in Kolkata. Even though they had not seen Pritam, their role model, for a couple of months, none of them interrupted their practice to run toward us. They all stayed focus on their training and one by one, without disturbing the training, players came to greet us.

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Thomas and Pritam leading a class on leadership in Kolkata

It was my first touchpoint with Jungle Crows children and I already had learned something by watching their training.

Through Rugby, Paul Walsh and the Khelo Rugby trainers teach values to these youngsters. The values include discipline and respect, but it is also about being passionate, being committed to something, being a hardworking person and being able to take the lead, to become a leader. Knowing that some of these youngsters used to be thugs or street kids, growing up by their own on Kolkata’s streets, I couldn’t feel anything else than admiration toward Jungle Crows work.

What I saw with the Jungle Crows work was not only about rugby. They teach rugby rules, how to play, how to become a coach, but they mostly teach values and how to use these values outside the rugby field.

As I mentioned, Jungle Crows values are not only about discipline, respect, passion and commitment but I also saw them working hard on fighting gender inequalities in Kolkata and this is not the final step of Jungle Crows children’s journey.

Indeed they also expect the children to spread those values in their communities among the younger generation, to show leadership skills by initiating social projects (collecting trashes, planting trees…), and to become role models for their younger brothers and sisters.

To help them in their journey, Jungle Crows is providing leadership training, English classes and is also financing scholarships. It is through education and through these values that the boys and girls are empowering themselves and are becoming leaders in their community.

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Thomas with a group of young Khelo Rugby Coaches at the Crows Nest, Jungle Crows HQ in Kolkata

Coming from poor backgrounds, if it wasn’t for Jungle Crows, many of these young people would have dropped out of their studies and started working. As their family are not educated and struggle financially, mostly they see education as a cost, not as an investment.

Jungle Crows campaigns to show how valuable education is, how education can bring the change they need in their life and how education can make them become a better person.

Before travelling to Kolkata, I read the City of Joy written by Dominique Lapierre, the writer ends his book by saying that Kolkata is a true lesson of hope and humanity. While I volunteered for Jungle Crows, I learned many things about Kolkata and the Jungle Crows children, and I must say that I truly agree with Dominique Lapierre.

I have never felt like that before but, watching the children playing rugby barefoot, enjoying rugby to its fullest, giving their best both at school and on the rugby field, it made me realise that despite their often extreme poverty, these kids are more joyful and hungry for life than ever. I had never seen such poverty, but I had also never seen people with such big hearts and so eager to learn and live.

From my experience with Jungle Crows, whether it was in Kolkata or in Saraswatipur, I believe that everything these children and young leaders are doing is driven by their hope of having a better life tomorrow, their hope of being able to take care of their family and their hope of doing something that they can be proud of.

Somehow, when I was watching Jungle Crows boys and girls, regardless of their religion or differences, giving their best, an unstoppable flow of emotion overcame me. Every time they were playing, I could only be impressed by them and by their achievement.

These kids taught me many things, I believe that they made me more human, more compassionate and a more hard-working person but for and foremost, they taught me a lesson of hope. Thank you.

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If you’d be interested in volunteering with the Jungle Crows, please be in touch over email: info@junglecrows.org
www.junglecrows.net

Rugby Friends in the Forest

“Rugby is the story of a ball with friends around and when there is no ball, friends remain”.

Kichad Rugby 2019 brought together 100s of children from villages local to the Tea Gardens of Saraswatipur and welcomed teams from Kolkata and Jharkhand. 

by Thomas Pothet

If anyone told you about a rugby tournament occurring in the middle of a forest, in India’s West Bengal, would you believe it?

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At first, you would probably ask yourself, who could have such a weird idea of organising a rugby tournament in a forest? Do they even play rugby there?

Well….. it did happen, and I am about to tell you it’s story, the Kichad Rugby story.

Within the Baikhuntapur Forest near the banks of the Teesta River about 25 km from the heaving city of Siliguri, among elephants, goats and cows… is a rugby field in Saraswastipur village where regularly children and teenagers come for rugby practice. This is the place where everything occurred, where about 500 children from different horizons (Saraswastipur, neighbouring villages, Kolkata & Jharkhand) gave their best while playing rugby and enjoyed this special moment to its fullest.

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This was a two day tournament with all the children getting to play lots of games, staying healthy and hydrated under the intense sun, having their breakfast and lunch – all organised by the older players under the steady direction of their Coach Roshan.

These young leaders had many tasks. Not only did they have to manage hundreds of kids as coaches and referees, but they also had to handle everything food related (supply, cooking, distribution…), the clean-up of the area and finally manage a way back home for the kids living outside Saraswastipur.

As well as all the organisation they showed great leadership skills while coaching the U11 and U14 teams.

They oversaw the discipline among their teams, were motivating them and trying to guide them to victory. While the euphoria could have led to a loss of discipline, the tournament was successfully managed without a glitch.

As I was witnessing this incredible event, I was overflowed by the strong values that Jungle Crows is teaching through its mission. Those values were flowing out of the children while playing, out of the young organisers as they were taking their role very seriously and trying hard to succeed.

What I felt was an indescribable mix of emotions to see such passionate youngsters about rugby, so committed to their teammates and coaches, and doing their best to win.

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Passion for rugby was flowing out of them through their pores. They did not only come to win, first and foremost, they came to play rugby, to enjoy it and to improve themselves.

During the tournament I have not seen any player expressing sadness or deception after losing a game. Even in their loss, they gained something as they had the opportunity to play rugby with others, to be part of something bigger than just themselves, to be part of a team.

It was not about which team won or lost, it was about enjoying this moment and learning from each other.

“Rugby is the story of a ball with friends around and when there is no ball, friends remain”.

As I am used to watching my 16-year-old brothers rugby games in France, I was truly surprised not to witness any nagging songs or mockeries from the winning team toward the losing team as it is a common thing in French rugby and can sometime lead to conflict.

The values expressed by Jungle Crows children, both players and young leaders, were about passion, discipline, commitment and humility. Jungle Crows teachings and the youngster’s dedication are what made Kichad tournament a successful and a memorable event.

The emotions and values representing Kichad tournament are engraved forever in hundreds of people’s mind, including mine.

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Learn more about Khelo Rugby and the Jungle Crows here!

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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More Than Just A Try

The empowering change a game can have on a community.

by Ramona Sen, Author and Journalist

The girls from Saraswatipur are disappointed that they couldn’t participate in the Asian Games, the most high-profile tournament for the Indian rugby women’s team. Their hopes were soaring when the team was approved for the preparatory camp and cruelly dashed when the Indian Olympic Association decided to leave rugby out of the final Indian contingent.

“Some of our friends from the other states even left their jobs to come practise for this,” said Swapna Oraon, one of the first from her tiny tea-garden hometown in North Bengal to have taken to rugby.

Her disappointment is understandable. Swapna, Sandhya and many other young girls in Saraswatipur have been given a new lease of life after they discovered rugby. These are girls whose lives had been mapped out since they were tiny tots – scrape through class 10 and get married as soon as possible. Now, with the advent of rugby, marriage is no longer a matter of compulsion; they have the luxury of choice.

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Sandhya and Swapna: disappointed with the Asian Games decision but determined to keep playing

Rugby has put Saraswatipur on the map. “Our village is in the middle of the woods, no one knew it existed. But now we have out-station visitors and many people come to watch us play,” said Sandhya Rai, who attends George College in Sealdah, central Kolkata. She likes the big city, in spite of the serenity she has been used to. “Transport is available so easily in Kolkata. In Saraswatipur, we used to travel a long way to go anywhere and if we didn’t find transport, we would have to cancel plans.”

The game has made the village more cosmopolitan than it could have ever imagined being. Now its young girls wear shorts and dash about a field, like boys, driving the boys to the sidelines. Not that it was a smooth transition from playing doll to playing ball. “My uncle used to constantly tell my mother it was obscene of me to be seen with bare legs. But she’d always tell him to mind his own business,” said Sandhya. The censure isn’t limited only to the older generation, unused to seeing their womenfolk scampering about a sporting field. “Girls my age are married and raising children. They never took to rugby, or they tried and couldn’t play, and now they’re jealous and talk about us behind our backs,” said Sandhya, who is 17.

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Sandhya in action for West Bengal

Do the globe-trotting rugby girls, back from Paris and Singapore, assume that marriage and babies is not for them? Not at all. They like the idea of a boyfriend, preferably an athlete himself, someone who will understand equality. They face no discrimination on the field and don’t think they can ever settle for it in their inter-personal relationships. This, if anything, is the biggest change the game has brought about. For the first time, girls from Saraswatipur can dream of equality. “My husband should never be able to throw his money in my face and tell me I’m dependent on him forever,” articulates Sandhya, firmly. She understands the need to have the wherewithal to make her own life as well as inspire younger girls in the village to follow this not-so-beaten path.

Perhaps there really is something about sport that lends clarity of thought. The girls have learnt to be optimistic but practical about the life that lies before them. Though they’ve grasped an opportunity with all the doggedness of a forward, they see the struggles awaiting them – of having pinned their life’s ambitions on a game that might receive rejection from governing bodies, of making their peace with defeat at international tournaments “because the other team was bigger and stronger”. And through it all is the will to live a life that makes a difference.

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Swapna breaks through for West Bengal

Read more about what we do at: www.junglecrows.net

Little Humans of Saraswatipur

Originally published by Leher, as part of their #LittleHumans blog series here we profile five children from Saraswatipur – hear about them and their ambitions.

by Noah McDaniel

Saraswatipur, a cluster of picturesque villages situated around sprawling tea gardens in the north of West Bengal is about 30 kms away from Siliguri. Positioned on the banks of the Teesta River, on the edge of the jungle, one can’t miss the view of the Himalayas on a clear day. The predominant line of work is at the tea estate – picking and processing tea leaves. From a population of 2000 people, 1500 people are employed by the tea factory, passed down across generations.

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Today, this tucked away little village is being known for more than just its tea. News from the region boasts of the burgeoning young talent on the rugby field. In 2012, Father George Matthew was transferred to Saraswatipur to head a local parish. He noticed the athletic potential of the children and reached out to the Khelo Rugby team, to bring the program to the village. Within a few weeks, two coaches moved to the village and the program was set up within a month. Ever since, the program has seen unprecedented success with the children of Saraswatipur playing for the West Bengal state and national Indian rugby teams.

Khelo Rugby brings adventure, challenge and excitement to the lives of children. Present in Kolkata and parts of West Bengal, this program has also made its way to Afghanistan and Pakistan, reaching out to children from disadvantaged communities by incorporating sports as a social development tool. Managed by youngsters themselves, Khelo Rubgy is building this program with scholarships and a curriculum of social issues.

This week, we bring you stories of Little Humans from Saraswatipur for whom the rugby field is now second home.

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Eliyas is a very smart 8th grader, studying at the Rajaranga National Hindi High School. He excels in all of his classes, but Hindi is his favorite.

Yet, Eliyas’s passion is playing rugby. He has been playing for 4 years and never misses practice. His favourite positions are center back and flanker and he is always chosen to throw the ball in during line outs. He brags that he is the best passer on his team and can pass accurately to his left and his right.

When he finishes 12th grade, Eliyas wants to move to Kolkata. He has heard many stories of the city from friends and family who have been there.

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Sonali is 12 years old and is in the 8th grade at Katalguri Junior High School. She loves History because she wants to learn about how people lived a long time ago. Her mother says she is very dedicated to her studies, but waits eagerly each afternoon to play rugby.

Sonali joined Khelo Rugby in 2013. She was a little shy at first and would sit on the sidelines and watch the others play. But soon enough, she mustered the courage to play, dove right into the game and never looked back. For Sonali, although playing rugby is great fun, the most important aspect of her practice is fitness. When she turns 18, Sonali wants to join the Air Force and she knows that being physically fit is a critical component of this. She admires those who have volunteered to serve their country and wants to follow in their footsteps.

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Debaraj lives in a small hut with his parents right on the edge of the tea fields where both of his parents work. Debaraj has big plans for his future. His favorite subject in school is English and when he grows up he wants to become an English teacher.

He knows he has to study hard to achieve this goal and studies English for hours every day. But, it’s hard to find the time to study. The power goes out frequently at his house in the evenings and often elephants wander through the village looking for food and destroying the thatched huts in which people live. Debaraj recalls one night when an elephant came to his neighbour’s home and began ripping off chunks of the roof to try and get the rice he smelled inside.

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John Paul has swag, both on and off the field. In the mornings, he takes a bike to school along with the older Saraswatipur children. Most students take 30 minutes to get to school, but John Paul brags cheekily that he can make it in 20.

Both his parents pick leaves at the tea garden, but when he grows up, John wants to be a forest ranger like his uncle. Saraswatipur has weekly run-ins with wild elephants that can be quite dangerous. John’s uncle plays a crucial role in protecting the elephants and their habitat while also keeping them from hurting people in their search for food. John wishes to grow up and help protect his family and friends from the elephants and ensure that the elephants can still safely live in the jungle.

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Rehan is a shy, young, 10 year old boy who lives in the tea garden village of Saraswatipur. His day starts at 5 am every day when he gets up to do his chores and help his mother sweep, clean, and feed their livestock. After he finishes, this 5th grader packs his bag and heads to school. Rehan’s favorite subject is Bangla because he loves reading novels. Once school gets over at 3 pm in the afternoon, Rehan walks home and sits down to do his homework. Once he finishes, he rewards himself by watching Hindi serials on TV.

Although Rehan is a reserved person, he’s quite the opposite on the rugby field. He was introduced to Khelo rugby by a friend 3 years ago and has been playing rugby ever since. Speed is essential in rugby and Rehan is fast enough to play every position on his team.

When he graduates from school, Rehan dreams of following in his sister’s footsteps and moving to the big city. A few years ago, Rehan’s sister was offered a position working for Decathlon in Kolkata and Rehan hopes to work with her when he grows older.

-Thanks to Leher for agreeing to let us publish these stories on our blog – learn more about Leher from their websitefacebook or twitter!

Young Leaders in Action

Duke of Edinburgh Gold Team from Scotland in India

by Rory Higginson

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Starting line-up: Nanda (host), Anna, Hugo, Lauren, Pedro, Sophie, Rory, DP (host)

As the plane touched down I started to get anxious. What was I doing bringing my Fettes team mates all the way to Kolkata in India to a place almost the polar opposite to where we are all living? Would they appreciate the hot, hot weather, the chaotic travel, the dusty, dirty streets or the food?  None of them had done anything like this before and I was now worried this was going to be a disaster.  However 45 minutes later, after we collected our luggage and left the arrivals and were met by a smiling Paul and Hari who would be our companions for the week and DP our driver, who even gave me a hug I knew it would be OK.

We immediately went to our guest house and dumped our stuff before heading to lunch with Tiger and Ajay – our introduction to food in Kolkata was hot and spicy Chinese.

In the afternoon the Jungle Crows under 18 team were playing the rest of the Jungle Crows in a practice match before the U18 all India tournament the following week. Pedro and I took the opportunity to join the training and play with the team. I almost lasted the first half, but totally shattered from the journey and the heat, with the sweat streaming from my head into my eyes, hardly able to see what was going on I made the earlier exit. Pedro, from Hong Kong was more used to the heat and he managed all of the first half. It’s a great experience playing with the team as they are so enthuastic and although we were so much bigger in height and body mass they were not afraid to tackle and came straight for us, and my goodness they are fast…so fast. We wished them all the best in the All India Tournament.

ft2After a quick sleep we headed out to dinner. DP our driver met us at the guest house and walked us to the New Market – the market is so very old so we don’t know why it is called new. See the pictures we found here, this is how it looked in 1945.  Think this was quite a surprise for everyone as it was so busy and there was so much to see.

Dinner was great, somehow we had managed to get a table in the coolest restaurant in Kolkata – 1658  …….we all enjoyed the food which was a mix of Indian, European and Asian so something for all.  After dinner DP met us to take us back to the guest house and although DP’s plan was to make two journeys we persuaded him otherwise and all 6 of us squashed in for the 5 minute journey.

We all crashed after such an eventful and enjoyable first day but excited about what the week would bring. Some of the highlights included………..

Working With The Children

ft3Sunday there was no resting as we were met at 8am and headed out with all the stuff we had brought with us to our first training session at Salt Lake Dhapa. When we got there it was obvious that the Khelo coaches had been here often as the children were very familiar and treated us all as good friends. They knew the games and were skilled. They loved our hula hoops, as this was new and fun.  There was quite a crowd of children so we split them into three groups with Lauren, Anna and Sophie coaching the younger group and Hugo, Pedro and I coaching the older groups.

Over the rest of the week we went to Brooklyn, Siliguri, Howrah, each Khelo Community was completely different but all had expectant children eager to meet us, be coached and have some fun. When we found something they were good at they just didn’t want to stop and loved the positive praise.

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Night Train to Siliguri

ft5That night we were getting the night train to Siliguri and we had been told we had a luxury coach. We had also been warned to sleep on our possessions and not to go to the toilet alone so it was with some trepidation that we boarded the train. Our luxury coach was interesting – it was a compartment with two sets of triple bunk beds separated by a table. The compartment had no door so as people walked down the corridor they could look in. However, it was luxurious as it did have a fan!!

It was a new experience for all of us and we had lots of fun but not that much sleep.

The Elephant

Meeting an elephant was a totally unplanned experience – when we were up in the village of Saraswatipur we could see an elephant in the distance. When the locals saw our surprise at seeing it one of the them brought it over to us. Seemingly it lived outside the village in the forest. For most of us it was the first time we had seen a wild elephant –  it was furry (a surprise) and very friendly and obviously used to people as it would play with our hair and legs with its trunk.  The girls got to ride it and it was very photogenic as we all got to take photos with it.ft6

The Sun Rising on the Himalayas

ft7We visited Darjeeling on our way home from Siliguri and Paul and Hari asked us to get up at 4am for a special trip – we did and made a journey up a rocky, sketchy road to the top of a hill where there was a lodge. We stood on the balcony with lots of other locals waiting to see the sun rise on Everest. It was really cold – a surprise as I was in my shorts! As we had just been boiling in Darjeeling. Despite our poor choice of clothing and although we didn’t see Everest we did see the most breath-taking sunrise over the Himalayas. Well worth the early morning trip and when the sun came up it was a lot warmer 🙂

Diwali

ft8We were lucky enough to be in Kolkata during Diwali which is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Christophe who runs Terra Indica works with Calcutta’s street children, providing them access to education and vocational training in woodwork and carpentry, many of them also play rugby with the Jungle Crows. Terra Indica has the most amazing roof terrace looking over all of Kolkata and Christophe was persuaded to have a party – we all dressed for the occasion. The roof was all lit by candles and we had fireworks. We also had great Indian music and were taught how to dance – not sure we were much good at it but we did have fun.ft9

Painting the Jungle Crows Nest

ft11The organisation that manages the Jungle Crows and Maidan Hazards rugby teams and supports all the Khelo programs is called the Jungle Crows Foundation and they had just moved into new offices which were on the top floor of a school. The school didn’t use the top floor as it was so run down and they didn’t have enough teachers for so many classrooms. ft12It is a great facility for the Jungle Crows as it not only gives some office space but also can provide some accommodation for the Khelo coaches and any visitors. It also has shower and kitchen facilities. When we were in town they had the official opening and we helped prepare for it by painting the school yard and outside walls to make it more welcoming for visitors and kids.

ft13Outside the school is a field so some of the training can take place here and on the open day we had about 100 kids turn up to play sport – we had brought some hula hoops and play tunnels with us from the UK and the kids loved them.

ft15We had such a fantastic trip and felt we really had made a difference and had learnt a lot about ourselves. Our hosts Paul and Hari who coordinated our whole trip were absolutely fantastic and along with all the coaches gave us a really memorable experience that none of us will ever forget. Thanks to everyone!!!!

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Hula Hoop Team!

Chai and Charcha

New Initiative to support our Khelo Rugby Children

By Zaffar Khan

“We love when Coach Uncle comes to training and everything is ready, I do not like waiting and he makes sure we do not wait,” said ten year old Mala from Salt Lake Dhapa, a rubbish dumping ground on the outskirts of Kolkata.

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Early days at Salt Lake Dhapa

Now with over two thousand children enrolled in more than 30 communities with over 100 hours of coaching every week we felt it was a good time for Khelo Rugby to step up and add a new dimension in for 2014. 

We’re always thinking about what we can give back to the children that train and play with us? What can we do to better support their communities? So we went back to the drawing board and thought through the children’s situations. The initial idea of Khelo Rugby came from within the community and from our personal life experience growing up in these communities. At first this was just the need for organised sport and having someone around for life in general. When most of us were growing up we did not feel or think much about sharing our problems with our parents because we did not have a space or environment to do something like that. A space where one could be free to release, a space where one will not be judged, a space where problems are not heard only to be solved but where someone is always there to listen to you, someone who would try to understand and say everything will be all right.

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Coaches Nanda and Ajay conducting a Chai and Charcha session

In 2014 we’ve launched “Chai and Charcha” a pilot programme that in a way formalises work that our Coaches already do. Chai and Charcha literally translated would mean something like tea and a chat. The concept is that the Coaches will have more regular sessions with the children where they can sit down and share a little of what is going on in their lives. We’ve started in Kolkata and we are training our seven Community Coaches to better understand their job as role models and specially as mentors for their Children. We know this is a long process and it will take time for the Community Coaches to learn how to deal with difficult situations but we also know the Coaches come from the same communities as the children and they have a better and much deeper understanding of the community and situations faced by the children.

The Coaches are being trained under professional and qualified counselors and psychologists in confidence building, mentoring, active listening. We know they know how to be a good friend to the children so we hope these new skills will build on this. This isn’t a one month process and it won’t always be an easy journey so we are giving the Coaches plenty of time to feel comfortable in developing these skills.

Head Khelo Rugby Coach Nanda commented, “ We’re excited to get these new skills, we know it will take time to learn everything and it will be tough but we are willing to spend the time needed if it will bring better things for the kids.”

Our first “Chai and Charcha” workshops have taken place and our Coaches are happy to be learning new things and there is a real buzz to see something they have informally been doing get recognised in this way and taken on.

And after two and a half years of constant hard work and sweat we hope we can bring even more good things to the children of Khelo Rugby.