Scoring a Try for Peace

by Paul Walsh

Manifesto of Peace 

RESPECT ALL LIFE
REJECT ALL VIOLENCE
SHARE WITH OTHERS
LISTEN TO UNDERSTAND
PRESERVE THE PLANET
CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF COMMUNITY

Earlier this year we decided that Khelo Rugby would attempt to unite our small Khelo communities in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan with a shared sporting experience as part of the United Nations Global Peace Games.  Though separated by borders and 1000s of miles apart we hoped that seeing other children playing and coming together for the same cause would help foster the spirit contained in the Manifesto of Peace for our Khelo Rugby children.Peace Games

The United Nations International Day of Peace falls on 21 September and in order to support this initiative the UN has for several years promoted the idea of organisations holding Peace Games.  These Peace Games are intended to enable children and young people to come together and learn a little more about what Peace means and share a fun and sporting experience that declares their support for the ‘Manifesto of Peace’.  In advance of the Games organisers are encouraged to discuss with children what they feel the term peace means to them.

Though the title Global Peace Games may sound rather grand and the idea of being part of a Global event a little intimidating, the event itself needs to be low cost (self funded) and held at a grass roots level so it can relate to all the youngsters that participate (and be affordable to folks like Khelo Rugby!)  The Peace Games are more normally associated with football and were in fact founded in 2001 by the NGO Play Soccer (http://www.playsoccer-nonprofit.org).

Once registered we received a message of support from Wilfiried Lemke who is the UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace and a message from the President of Fifa. We did tweet the CEO of the International Rugby Board to see if he would also like to send a message but he was obviously a little busy that day or more likely thought we were a bit mad.  Saying this it would be nice to see the global rugby community come together with some shared campaign in this way and perhaps in 2014 the IRB might be persuaded to be involved, it only takes a short letter which acts as the message of support – #TryForPeace.

Peace Games Kolkata

Peace Games Nawab Ali Park, Kolkata

So with our registration in place and clutching our messages Khelo Rugby set out to share and promote our own Peace Games.  First out of the blocks was Kolkata with a 12 team tournament held in Kidderpore at Nawab Ali Park on Sunday 22 September.  And very exciting for us that Amirul was able to bring a team all the way from Saraswatipur to play in the tournament.  This was the first time most of the Saraswatipur children had ever been away from their village and great that they were able to do this with a visit to their Khelo brothers and sisters in Kolkata.  12 teams, 120 odd children, biryani, bananas and more than 100 signatures on the Manifesto of Peace – all the ingredients for a great day of sport and fun. And though it’s not about the winning we did have some winners with the Cup going to the super quick children of Salt Lake Dhapa, winning out over the other super quick children of Saraswatipur.

Wazeeri and his 'Try for Peace' message - superb!

Wazeeri and his ‘Try for Peace’ message – superb!

Just two days later and it was the turn of Fort Abbas in Pakistan to fly the flag for Peace. And what an incredible effort! While sticking to the remit of a grass roots tournament Wazeeri and his team of young volunteers did a super job in delivering the message of “try for peace” to 100s of children.  20 Schools from across the local area took part in a mega-sized day of rugby action. To support them Wazeeri had organised 20 team managers, 10 coaches, 8 touch judges, 4 referees and 15 tournament marshals. 

Sunsets at Fort Abbas

Sun sets at Fort Abbas

 

And as the sun set on the desert location the Pashtoon Fighters had the skill and stamina to win out over Government Primary School 270 in a very close 5-0 match. Government Middle School 263 placed third. As children and volunteers made their way home all involved were able to reflect on an incredible effort to promote the message of peace and come together through rugby.

Khelo Khelo Pakistan!

Peace Games Fort Abbas, Pakistan

The Afghanistan leg of our Peace Games will happen a little later this month with our own Zaffar in charge of organising. We are very much looking forward to seeing the event Zaffar puts on and I know many of our children and the Khelo Coaches in India and Pakistan are excited to see the Afghan children in action.  Zaffar will be writing about his Peace Games as soon as they are completed!

It was a tremendous effort to make the Peace Games in Kolkata and Fort Abbas such a success. Special thanks go to Hari in Kolkata and Wazeeri in Fort Abbas who really led by example and who I know are both really committed to the children and the message that the games attempted to deliver.  HUGE thanks to to all the volunteers who took part and made the days events to remember.

For me it was great to see how powerful sport can be and how it can bring together young people under a common message.  This isn’t in itself life changing stuff, but by each of us taking a small step, in what is surely the right direction, we can make a difference.

JAI HO FOR PEACE

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