Even In Lockdown – School Is Great

Innovating and persevering through lockdown to keep our Khelo Rugby teams focussed and engaged. In the end knocked off course by Cyclone Amphan.

by Shiv Singh

Set at the beginning of 2020 our theme for the Month of May was ‘School is Great’. Much of our monthly theme work is set up and planned for delivery outdoors and in groups from across our communities. School is Great has often also featured a rugby tournament to raise awareness and give a focus. This year none of that was possible, no problem, change of plan!

We’ve been having lots of virtual meet ups since coronavirus lockdown began so we decided to take this route for School is Great. Though the majority of the children we work with do not have online access we attempted to set up small groups to push the theme as far as we could into communities. Coaches organised and encouraged phone sharing and borrowing. We began with an online workshop for 5 coaches, the plan was that these 5 would then each deliver a similar session for 5 groups each, working with each group to extend access as best they could.

Discussion points were decided by the first group, pictures and slides worked out and notes created. This project would be delivered in Kolkata, Saraswatipur and Bengaluru.

Shakti Nag from Khidderpore delivered 2 sessions on School is Great for 12 young leaders, one group from Kolkata and one for Bengaluru. Shakti used the zoom app and explained the theme to the young leaders using a presentation. He felt using visuals helped in getting the attention and made a better impact. He encouraged everyone to share their thoughts and got positive feedback for his sessions. This was also good English practice for Shakti which he used to deliver the session in Bengaluru.

Sonam Shaw did the workshop with 12 young leaders divided into 2 groups. As all the young leaders didn’t have online access, Sonam did the workshop in an open space following all the social distancing norms. She used drawings and examples to explain the theme and build the discussion. She kept everyone attentive and made them share their personal experiences which helped in building rapport. Sonam made sure all the safety measures were strictly followed.

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Subrata Bhowmick did the workshop with 4 young leaders from Jain Kunj using whatsapp video calling. To make everyone comfortable and open up Subrata started his session by sharing stories from his own school life. The group discussed what they liked and disliked about school and talked about how they can do better in their studies and encourage others to do so also.

Sandhya Rai used zoom to deliver her session to 5 young leaders from across Kolkata. Sandhya explained the importance of school using a presentation. The session was very interactive and everyone shared ideas that they could use to discuss School is Great with children in their own communities.

Lachmi Oraon and Rima Oraon from Saraswatipur conducted their workshop with 8 young leaders each. They made notes from the workshop and used it for the delivery. They used Hindi and Sadri to discuss with the young leaders the importance of school. They got positive feedback from the young leaders as they understood the idea of the discussion and participated actively in it.

In total we managed to involve around 70 young coaches for the workshops. Feedback was positive with most of the youngsters taking part reporting that they understood and appreciated the School is Great message. The coaches leading the workshops have also identified that being involved in these workshops will help them in future to plan and make sessions with the children more interactive. Good results all round, only knocked off the rails once the cyclone struck, we’ll be back!

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www.junglecrows.net

 

 

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.

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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. –

Connecting with our Scholars

Using the time of lockdown to deepen our understanding of our scholars and to see how we can better support them in the future.

By Shivanshu Singh in Kolkata, Akash Balmiki in Bangalore & Roshan Xaxa in Saraswatipur

Khelo Rugby has been under lockdown for a month now. With all outdoor activities suspended we’ve had to come up with different ways to be in touch with all our rugby crazy youngsters. Whether it is through our ‘chain of support’ to ensure everyone is safe and well, video calls with friends or rugby stars, posting exercise videos, sharing our best dance moves or just catching up on the phone our priority has been to stay connected.

We have also taken this opportunity to carry out a survey with 175 of our scholarship students – in Kolkata, Bengaluru and Saraswatipur.  We’ve used direct calls and also discovered google forms which can be operated through smart phones. The technology meant we could survey students sitting at home during lockdown. They were able to respond using their own phone or a friends.   

The idea behind conducting the survey was to take this chance to learn more about the youngsters, their family backgrounds and how their community is coping during the coronavirus pandemic. This is a situation that none of us has ever experienced or come across in life and we could see good communication was going to be important.

The survey was conducted between 5th April to 15th April.

Kolkata

60% of the students said they would not be able to continue their studies if their scholarship were to stop. Every student comes from an underserved background with their parents being drivers, butchers and other daily wage jobs to run the family. 63% of students have 4-5 members in their family living in a single room house. 95% of respondents said their families were supportive of them playing rugby. Many felt the scholarship was important as it convinced the family to let them keep studying. 72% of our scholarship students are first generation school goers from their families. When asked about what they want to do after they complete their education, the most common answers were Fitness Trainer, Sports Manager, to join the Police or Army and Hotel Manager. 

For 13 of the students responding their Class 12 exams have been postponed without completion, a particular worry. 86% of parents can no longer go for their regular jobs which for most means they are not paid. 60% of families are getting a food ration from the local municipality through a club or counsellor, the other 40% are using their savings to manage. In all cases the families said that they would face difficulty if supplies were stopped or once savings run out. 

“There are a total of 8 members staying in my single room house. I usually go to my friends factory to sleep at night. My father who works at a butcher shop is not getting much business. My mother is using our savings to run the family.” Khelo Coach Ashfaque. 

Though the lockdown has created many problems for everyone it has also brought a slight happiness to some of our youngsters as they are getting time to spend with their family. Normally this is not possible as parents had jobs with long hours and few if any holiday time.  Most days for our Kolkata children are spent helping their mothers in the kitchen, studying when they can, doing online classes & video conferences, with social media and games a regular distraction.

Bangalore

Survey with 42 young leaders, 68% of whom are first generation senior students from their family. 45% of the students have 5-6 members in their family and 55% live in a single room house. 100% said their parents support them playing rugby. Many also play kabaddi and kho kho apart from rugby. Seventeen are Decathlon trainees and most want to study beyond class 12 and work part time to support themselves and their family. All talked about taking one step at a time and wanting to finish their graduation. They would then think about their career choices depending on their marks and interest areas – though jobs in sports and fitness were mentioned as preferences. Karnataka is strictly following the lockdown, in 78% of the families parents are not able to go to their regular jobs. Respondents are spending time with their family, watching television, using social media and doing self studies to try and keep up with the school syllabus.

Saraswatipur

We had 35 of our scholarship students go through the survey from Saraswatipur. For 90% of children the main source of income for their family comes from working in the tea gardens. 45% of the young leaders who took the survey had 6 members living in a two room house mainly made out of wood, paddy straws and tin sheets. All of the students are a first generation school student and wants to do well in education and rugby. When asked about their interests 95% wanted to be better at or learn English and basic computer work. All 35 have 100% support of their family to play rugby and feel they are role models for more hundreds of children who train under them. At the moment none of the family members are able to work as the tea garden is closed and anyone entering the village from outside is sent away to the local hospital for a check-up. 92% of families are getting a ration to support themselves from the church, forest department or local politicians. They have all helped in distributing the ration for the village.

Everyone is focusing on their fitness and helping parents in their household work.  Lots are involved in cooking and working on the fields to help with growing vegetables. Fishing is also possible as the river is near by and parents are happy if a good catch of fish comes home. This family time is welcome as children and parents don’t always get much time together in the day. The tea garden has now partially opened and some family members have started going to their  jobs. Rugby training stays closed keeping the safety of children in mind. 

Conclusions

Using this time to better understand our scholarship children and the challenges they face was very useful. We see these children all the time but normally we are racing to a practice or thinking about an urgent problem. For all three of us, this was a good chance to step back and think much more about each youngsters situation. We know this will help us as we work with the children in the future.

It was nice to see that though the scholars come from different states and have many tough problems day to day, they all share a love for rugby which they are missing very much. When asked about how badly they miss playing, everyone had the same answer, that they cannot wait to get on the field once the lockdown is lifted. 

Ada Milby, the first female member of the World Rugby Council, “Sport helps to connect people and communities through the creation of heroes.”

All these young people are our heroes.

From New Zealand to India

Auckland Grammar School 6th former Michael talks about the India Immersion Programme 2019-2020 and the Jungle Crows

by Michael Hiddleston

The Auckland Grammar School India Immersion Programme is a structured and interactive experience, which provides students with an opportunity to develop personal leadership skills in a foreign culture through interacting with those at the margins of society. This year marks the 10th anniversary since the Programme was introduced at Grammar, and it is almost identical to the previous programmes, lasting a month and taking 21 students across India. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to grow our relationship with the Jungle Crows in Kolkata – a group who has been there from the start. Below is a refection on our time with the Crows in December 2019.

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AGS Team make it to Taj Mahal

When we arrived off the plane into Kolkata we were a group of twenty one excited and naive students. India was almost entirely different to anything any of us had ever experienced and it was sure to bring many new challenges. Thankfully from the moment we left the airport the Jungle Crows were there and ready to guide us – making a very foreign environment that much easier to navigate.

What we quickly found between the two groups was a shared love of rugby. Our first real interaction with the Crows occurred at the touch rugby tournament in the Maidan where we got stuck in with some warm up drills, playing, and even reffing at times. It was pretty incredible to see the positive impact rugby has in the community. Not only bringing large groups of kids together but also providing them with the opportunities and support to find success in their passions. One of the highlights of the day was the fifty-strong exhibition game held towards the end of the day. Despite our loss, few memories can compete with the sight of a twenty-five man backline charging down a dusty field in the late afternoon Kolkata sun. 

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Day One – Rugby on Crow Field, Kolkata Maidan

After getting to know some of the Crows on the first day we split into smaller groups on day two for a personalised tour of the city. Again, this was an incredibly special opportunity and we experienced a variety of different things ranging from flower markets to zoos, however perhaps the most special of these was those boys who visited the homes of some of the Jungle Crows. What made these tours so special for us was how it gave us a chance to see the city through the eyes of locals. We saw and experienced things we otherwise never would have, and it made our time in Kolkata that much more special. Our time with the Crows culminated in a Kolkata quiz at the local Rangers Club. It was a fantastic way to round off and say thank you to guys we’d gotten to know so well over such a brief period of time.

We were delighted to have a first for any tour and be invited to a wedding and that to off Nanda to Antara. Nanda was one of the first Crows to visit Auckland Grammar as part of the exchange we have, and we were very happy to be able to join in with his celebrations.

It was tough to leave Kolkata – a city that has imprinted its own unique joy on our hearts just like the groups that have visited before us.

Vicky and Sukumar then accompanied us for the next three days through Darjeeling and Sariswatipur helping us navigate trains, mountain drives and swims in freezing cold water. They really were the most incredible tour guides and made our travel that much easier. This sums up our experience with Kolkata and in particular the Jungle Crows – absolutely incredible hosts who despite their own busy schedules took time to show us around and look after us like brothers. They helped make our trip something unique and special, and for that and all the incredible work they do we cannot thank them enough.

 

Learn more about Khelo Rugby

www.junglecrows.org 

Happy Diwali – Khelo Sporting League

On Diwali Day we played rugby and shared messages around the Khelo Rugby theme of the month “Girl Power”.

by Shivanshu Singh

The last Sunday of every month we bring all our young Khelo Rugby coaches together as a part of our Khelo Sporting League (KSL). Each month can be organised in a different way, to suit the theme we are working on, to share ideas or just to meet up and play.

Our Khelo Rugby theme for October was ‘Girl Power’, we’d enjoyed a great day of rugby earlier in the month on the International Day of the Girl and this KSL was a chance to review the month of activity. We had about 50 of our coaches out on the morning, they’d all worked during the month to get more girls out playing, to hold charchas on the theme and to share ideas about why this initiative was important. The coaches come from all over Kolkata, and since they don’t always meet routinely, KSL also presents a good opportunity for a catch up.

Between games the coaches talked about slogan posters they’d worked on in their communities. This sharing of ideas in the group is an important activity – both in terms of discussing an important social issue but also in building up the confidence of the coaches by making an informal presentation. Developing such skills is an integral part of the Khelo Rugby journey and nothing beats skill development as practice.

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The posters highlighted some of the issues the girls themselves face, they were able to talk about how they have overcome some of these or share the challenges they still face with a supportive group. Although all living in the same city, the communities the children are from are often very diverse. The problems children face are many and can be quite different from one place to another. Having the chance to discuss these with their peers is an empowering experience. The essence of charcha.

This was also Diwali and the chance of meeting up with so many rugby crazy friends was not to be missed. Sharing Diwali greetings over rugby and breakfast was fun also!

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Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable

For 2019 the theme of the International Day of the Girl was “Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable”. Khelo Rugby is working to play it’s part creating opportunities for our unstoppable female athletes.

by Paul Walsh

It was absolutely brilliant once again being part of our girls rugby tournament on October 11th. Rightly this has become a big part of the Khelo Rugby calendar with our girls looking forward to playing in and organising the day.

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Kolkata

With more than 500 girls playing across four locations and I’d think another 100 organising, the tournament is a great way to mobilise and encourage our girls to take action. Khelo Rugby has always operated with the attitude of “let’s make it happen” and this is a good example of this. When we first came up with the initiative to have a girls only rugby event, the only question was why we hadn’t done it earlier. Each year I can see more and more benefits from the tournament and making the focus of October on our girls.

The tournament itself has become a focal point for everyone in Khelo Rugby, setting a clear target and getting everyone working together towards a common goal. Coaches need to get their teams organised, bring out the next generation of girls to play, brothers encourage sisters, sisters encourage sisters, each community wants to play well.

2019 was the first time we co-ordinated four tournaments on the same day, and seeing the photos ping in was special. It seems almost everyone now gets to see social media so we tried to quickly share images from each location so the girls could feel a sense of unity even if they were 100s of miles apart.

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Bengaluru

More than 45% of children in Khelo Rugby are girls and this tournament has been a catalyst to achieve this. As a team we always need to be focussed on ensuring we keep levels of participation from our girls up. In this we absolutely need to keep taking what is the tougher path.

India’s female rugby players are an incredibly strong and resilient community and should be celebrated at every opportunity. It was really special to see three of India’s rugby stars being showcased at the recent “We the Women” event in Kolkata, specially since it included Jungle Crows star Sangita. Our Khelo Rugby girls can feel proud to be a part of this.

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Saraswatipur

I promised myself I would keep this article short so I won’t go over all the reasons why girls are perhaps the single most important part of our planets future. You’d have to be sleeping under a rock not to have seen the impact Greta Thunberg is having across the world. It’s hard to believe it was four years ago I wrote my blog “Who Wants to Change the World?” – the messages of how 600 million girls will bring change are still valid. Our girls play rugby, but this is more than just a game, like 11 October was more than just a tournament. The impact belief and empowerment can have are very real. It’s “More Than Just a Try.”

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Haripur

We’ve still much work to do and we’ll keep a special focus for the rest of October, but our efforts shouldn’t rest. This is a full time commitment. We’ll have charchas in communities for the rest of the month, taking time to discuss and think about what we’re doing, how we can do more, achieve more. The girls want to share more messages through posters and slogans, so we’ll showcase those to more children at our end of month KSL (Khelo Sporting League) get together.

We enjoyed 11 October as the #DayoftheGirl but for real change to come we need to support girls everyday.

Tiger v Leopards – the Spirit of Rugby

Under dark monsoon skies in Kolkata the India Women’s rugby team demonstrate incredible sporting spirit.

By Paul Walsh

India’s rugby community has a pounding heart in Kolkata where senior Men’s and Women’s teams play for the Calcutta Cup, hundreds of children fly around the Maidan and the monsoon especially means rugby season. Sticky muddy fields may not be ideal for the game but it does mean cricket is off the agenda for a short time at least. 

As a sport rugby is said to have a unique spirit. Most players know there are a set of values by which rugby is played and governed. It is not always easy to separate one sport from another in terms of what can be a hard to define spirit. Most sports participants try their best, follow the rules, at the highest levels finding a winning angle can cross the boundaries of fair play but most players don’t look for this. 

And then an event comes along that makes you realise that whether it is rugby or any sport there is a terrific sporting spirit in the heart of every athlete. 

The context of my own interest in the Spirit of Rugby is through the social development programme of the Jungle Crows, the rugby club I helped found 15 years ago in Kolkata. For 3 years now our Khelo Rugby has been a part of World Rugby’s Spirit of Rugby programme. The Spirit of Rugby recognises a select number of projects around the world and supports them from World Rugby HQ in Dublin. Khelo Rugby is so far the only project representing Asia and we’re proud to have been shown such faith.

One of Kolkata’s showcase rugby tournaments is the “Georgiadi Rugby 7s” hosted each year by the prestigious Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC). Rugby has been played in Kolkata since 1872 and the Football in CCFC actually refers to the oval shaped ball rather than the round ball.

The Georgiadi Cup is named after a Greek of the same name who was the custodian of the CCFC grounds for many years, a stalwart of the club from another generation honoured with the Cup being named after him. This year saw 20 Men’s teams and 8 Women’s teams entered into the competition, which kicked off at 9am on a bright Saturday morning in July.

Rugby 7s is an abbreviated form of the full 15 player game, played over two halves of 7 minutes with only 7 players on a full size pitch. Lots of space, this is a game for speedsters, while retaining the full contact nature of the game it suits strong fast players with plenty of stamina. A team may play 3 or 4 games in a day so a quick recovery is needed to maintain the pace and keep up a winning streak.

This year the tournament was excited to welcome the senior India Men’s and Women’s teams. They had been in a camp in Bhubaneswar preparing for the upcoming Asia 7s to be played in Jakarta. The Georgiadi would provide the ideal match conditions to test the two squads. The South Africa Coaches in charge of the India teams were excited for the games ahead.

Both the Men’s and Women’s India teams got away to winning starts, pretty much as you’d expect, cantering through the opposition on day one. Day two saw all the teams re-ranked based on their performances on day one. This meant the two Men’s teams entered, India A and B, would face each other in a semi final. As a courtesy to the teams and to prevent their two teams going at each other the coaches decided to withdraw the India Men’s teams leaving the field clear for a local club to take the title. The final would be contested between two local Kolkata clubs, our own Jungle Crows and hosts CCFC. In the lead up to the final the monsoon skies turned dark and what had been a light Kolkata monsoon for one afternoon at least turned into a flood. The rugby carried on, the ground cut up, players turned muddy and the advantage of small flighty players became less as the wrestling contest in the mud increased in importance. In the Men’s final the Jungle Crows ran out 17-0 winners, a close fought contest with both teams muddy, bruised and congratulating each other at the end.

The Women’s final was scheduled as the last match of the day, this would see the India team take on a team made up of young players from a group of villages near Siliguri in the North of West Bengal, part of our Khelo Rugby programme. It was great to see them in the final. The team was named after their village and the most common big cat, the Saraswatipur Leopards.  What was about to happen stunned the crowd and eventually saw a show of sporting spirit most found hard to describe. 

The final kicked off under lights, the field was muddy but the rain had stopped. The India team was made up from the best players in the country, from Maharastra, Delhi and Odisha, even a Leopard was in the squad. Saraswatipur were immediately on the attack and the opening minutes saw a break in the India defence, the Leopards Swapna sprinted 70 meters to score the first try under the posts which she also converted, 7-0 to the Leopards. The crowd went a little crazy, those not paying too much attention to the game were suddenly fully focussed. Was the most incredible upset on the cards?

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Half time team talk for the Leopards

Half time and the Leopards led 7-0. The pair of South African Coaches looked calm but they must have been thinking what the consequences would be of the national team losing to what on the face of it were a bunch of kids from a village. Albeit the rugby crazy village of Saraswatipur, these were girls who had played a lot of rugby, won tournaments, led by the their canny coach Roshan.

The second half saw the India team intensify the pressure, they kept the ball well and started to attack using their superior size on the smaller Saraswatipur team. The India Tigers were showing their class. With just minutes left the Tigers scored in the corner, with no conversion the score was 7-5, the Leopards still ahead of the Tigers.

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India star Neha attacks

With time almost up, India had the ball in the Saraswatipur corner, could the girls from the tea estate hold on? A long blast from the referees whistle, some of the supporters thought it was over but this was a penalty for India. Time was up, but the penalty would be taken. India piled in, the corner was dark under the lights, the players muddy but no doubting the next signal and whistle from the referee – try to India. A crushing 10-7 loss for the Leopards who trooped back to their Coach crestfallen, they’d held out for almost the entire game, but a famous win wasn’t to be. Applause rang out for both teams, and nobody doubted the commitment either team of Women had shown.

The biggest sporting gesture was yet to come. The India team were called up to take their winning medals and receive the trophy. India Captain Vahbiz had different ideas, took over the microphone and proceedings. Grabbing a handful of medals she started to distribute them to the India players while at the same time calling up the Leopards. This was a medal ceremony the like of which none of the crowd gathered under the dark monsoon sky had ever seen. Each of the India players took their medal, and hung it around the neck of a Leopard. With a big hug and a smile each player in turn recognised their opponent. 

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All smiles – Tigers & Leopards

Time for the trophy and Vahbiz wasn’t interested in lifting it for the plaudits, this was for the Leopards. The girls lined up together all smiles, the three coaches joined them – two from South Africa and one from India. This was something very special. A terrifically competitive game had ended in a final play win, that had been exciting, but the actions of the India team lifted the drama to a different level. This was a great sporting moment, not between highly paid superstars but amongst hardworking committed rugby players, who’s passion for their game see them sacrifice and sweat just to get the chance to play. Two remarkable teams of Women had shown that rugby really is a beautiful game and demonstrated what the spirit of the game is all about.

Find out more from our website!

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Khelo Rugby Family: Crows & Leopards

Right to Play – Jharkhand

It’s been 3 months since we started Khelo Rugby in Jharkhand full-time. We’ve 100s of children playing, have held a super tournament and are working with the children to consider their own lives and futures.

Contributions from Chotu, Shivanshu & Paul

On 6 April 2019 we held our second rugby tournament in the rural Jharkhand block of Jarmundi about 100km north of the city of Asansol. This is a flat landscape dotted with small hills rising out of the red earth. Life is clearly tough in the small villages that dot the countryside, for many access to electricity is at best patchy and for most water needs to be drawn each day from wells.

We were invited to Jharkhand by Terres Des Hommes the international NGO who have been working in this area for many years delivering rights based projects along with the locally based NGO Sarita. After working with TDH in Kolkata they selected the Jungle Crows and our Khelo Rugby project as a good fit to support their work in Jharkhand.

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Following a short trial at the end of 2018 where we tested out the children’s appetite for rugby, by January we we had the green light to begin full-time. We packed the car full of rugby gear, crammed in several coaches and with a lot of laughter and nearly ten hours on the road the set up team was in Jharkhand and the odd shaped ball was flying.

Once everyone’s initial excitement was over a small team of Chotu, Kishan and Karan stayed on and were soon busy zipping around on their cycles running practice for 100s of children. We’re been based in the small village of Haripur, just off the main highway and though electric is not always available and the well is deep the boys soon developed a routine. Reports of coaching in Jamatad, Simra, Daldali and Jeevan Joti were soon cluttering up the whatsapp.

The tournament was electric with special guests from Kolkata and a small audience of curious and enthusiastic villagers. Over 200 children were crammed into small school buses to reach the venue and for most this was the first time they’d played with children from neighbouring villages and in teams containing both boys and girls. The standard of rugby was a credit to the coaching team, with the standout performances coming from the under 10 boys and girls. It was interesting to note these weren’t children who spun into whirling easy celebrations, they remained reserved even when they’d played tremendously and won silverware. Winning, losing and playing in such an organised way with a team of friends was perhaps something they’d not experienced too much.

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Our project with TDH is about the right to play and we have taken a steady approach in our work with the children in Jarmundi. Like Khelo Rugby everywhere it is important to develop a trusting relationship with the children and their communities. We best do this with regular practice and giving children the chance to play in a safe and controlled environment. With a light touch we want to understand the children and encourage them to talk about their lives.

Following the tournament Chotu set up a small training programme for some of the older children where they were given the chance to work on skills around team work and leadership. A gentle introduction, just small steps in these children’s journey to become leaders and role models themselves. Much more about instilling confidence in these super young people.

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Khelo Rugby is all about equipping young people with skills and experience, with rugby as a motivating catalyst to achieve this. Having seen the smiles and enthusiasm of tournament day the entire team is excited by the journey that is just beginning.

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On Tour – Rugby, Trekking and More Rugby in India

By Rupert Melville-Ross

Having heard so much about the Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby and after spending some months planning our trip we finally arrived in Kolkata on 7 December where we were met by the indomitable Nanda who delivered us to our hotel through the smog and late afternoon chaos of Kolkata.

After checking in at the hotel we were glad to get back amongst the atmosphere of the streets in the nearby New Market area and the next morning to Crow Field on the maidan for the Saturday rugby academy.  We were greeted at Crow Field by hordes of enthusiastic kids and shook hands with each and every one of them.  Ollo then handed out the rugby kit which Culford school had kindly donated to the charity and which the lads proudly wore for the rest of their training session.

We were then invited to play a game of touch rugby with some of the older girls who proceeded to teach us a rugby lesson.  They had some great skills and were too good for an old bloke like me who hadn’t played rugby for years.  It was great fun and wonderful to see all the kids playing with huge smiles on their faces.  It was also a surprise to see the older boys wearing rugby boots and playing full contact rugby to a good standard with scrums and line outs.

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Lots of children…Crow Field, Kolkata

From Crow Field it was a scramble back to the hotel and then to the airport for our flight up to Siliguri with Nanda and Suku.  At Siliguri we met up with the remainder of our trekking gang, Roshan, Kisan and Nipen and were driven up the long and winding road up the side of the Himalayan foothills to Darjeeling.  After a brief stay in Darjeeling we drove further into the hills through strange pine forests to the head of the Sandakphu trail at Maneybhanjan.

After dealing with various formalities in Maneybhanjan we set off up the road to the gompa at Chitrey and then on foot for the first day of trekking along the border with Nepal.  It was a fairly gentle introduction wandering in the sun through parched meadows and rhododendron woods where the Indian lads saw snow for the first time which meant a fair bit of messing about while it was flung about and stuffed down the back of people’s shirts.  By lunchtime it had clouded over and after rice and dhal served to us by a grumpy old crone (the sister of a friend of a friend as it happens, not that she seemed remotely interested) and where some poor chap in another group was bitten on the leg by her dog, we wandered through the mist up to our first lodge at Tumling.

The time before dusk was filled by a stretching session in the gloom led by the pink Nanda (so named on account of his pink earmuffs and rucksack) followed by flinging a mini rugby ball around which regularly disappeared down into the ravine on the India side of the trail.  As night fell we retreated to our dormitory on the top floor of the lodge.  It was extremely cold by our standards but I pitied the poor Indian boys who would never have experienced cold like it and hid in their beds each evening in the unheated dormitories, emerging only for food.  Poor Nipen in particular was stunned into silence; Atty’s coat came into its own, however.  The only slightly warm place at Tumling was a room which a monk used as his shrine where Ollo and I sat contemplating life with the monk and his several dozen candles.  Otherwise, we cowered in our beds only emerging to carry out our evening ablutions under the stars on the crenellations alongside the nearby track.

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A Pink Nanda

It was still very cold the following morning (ice on the inside of the windows) but the cloud had stayed away so we awoke after not much sleep to stunning views of the sunrise over Kanchenjunga and the surrounding mountains.  After staring at that for a while and taking far too many photos we had a rudimentary breakfast then packed up and headed off for the next day’s trekking.  It was a longer and harder walk than on the first day, especially as we had to descend through the bamboo and rhododendron forest into a deep valley and up the other side.  Kanchenjunga was our companion for much of the day and after a couple of hours we caught our first sight of Everest flanked by Lhotse and Makalu in the distance.  The lads were much more vocal once they had warmed up in the sun and their superior fitness (to mine at any rate) began to show.  I was glad that Nanda the pink guy seemed in no rush and was permanent back marker throughout the trek, often with me.

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View of Kanchenjunga

During the trek we began to hear some of the lads’ stories which were deeply humbling and gave us a sense of how successful the foundation has been in transforming young people’s lives and of how it is constantly renewing itself with young talent coming through from the most unpromising of beginnings.  It was a privilege to spend time in their company and to learn how far they had travelled, both literally and metaphorically.  It made all of us English guys in the party reflect on our good fortune.

We spent another uncomfortable night at Kalipokhri, this time in a cold tin hut.  We did have supper and breakfast (rice pudding) in an adjoining wooden hut with a friendly family who did their best to make us feel comfortable.  The only fire in evidence was the one they used for cooking in the corner of the hut, I have no idea how these people survive the bitter winter temperatures at an altitude of well over 3,000 metres without a proper fire and insulation (they seem to prefer to leave their doors and windows open at night).  Theirs is a hard life.

We were greeted by another fine dawn on our final day of trekking up to Sandakphu.  The views again made the effort more than worthwhile.  It was a hard steep slog in the thinning air up to the top and Atty became the first (and only) person to lose his breakfast on the way.  Everyone seemed to get stronger as the trek went on though which meant that by lunchtime we were all up at Sandakphu, a strange place perched on a hill at about 3,700 metres, but the views were fabulous.  After some lunch most of the team rested up while Jim, Crofter and I continued on (without heavy bags, what joy) for an afternoon stroll with more incredible views along the ridge towards Phalut and back again.

The first two nights of the trek might have been cold but Sandakphu was beyond freezing.  Layering up with every single item of clothing in the bag plus two blankets and two heavy duvets failed to work, I was frozen to the bone.  Thankfully it was worth it as the dawn views of the Himalayas from Jomolhari in Bhutan in the east across to Kanchenjunga and then the Everest range in the west were out of this world.  The Crows flag was duly unfurled in celebration before we retreated back down to the lodge for hot chai and eggy bread.

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Makalu at Dawn

The journey in Land Rovers back down from Sandakphu was a bit of a nail biter, two hours of being flung round precipitous corners hanging over deep mountain valleys was not good for those with a moderate constitution.  It was good preparation for being driven by Suku in Kolkata, however, and we all made it down in one piece and after a lunch in someone’s house which had been miraculously rustled up (the lunch, not the house) we headed off back down the mountain through the tea plantations and on to traffic choked Siliguri and then to Saraswatipur where we arrived in the dark.  After dumping our kit in the village church we headed off down the lane to Aunty’s house where Roshan also lives with his rugby trophies for some welcome beer and food around the fire.  It turned out that Aunty’s parrot was called Rupoo, no prizes for guessing my new name for the rest of the trip…

That night we all bedded down on mats on the church floor and slept the sleep of the righteous.  The church doubles up as a school so we were greeted in the morning by hordes of cheeky kids in the playground outside.  Jim led a morning stretching session with the kids which caused much hilarity.  After an Aunty special for breakfast we then embarked on a walk across the river plain and then through the jungle with rugby balls and a gang of teenage kids who were keen to show us round.  This took up most of the morning and ended up on the village rugby ground which is flanked by the jungle and tea plantations on two sides and the village on the other two sides.  An impromptu cricket match followed with stumps and bats rustled up from somewhere; a feature of the game was people crossing the pitch carrying firewood collected from the neighbouring jungle.

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Jim’s Morning Exercises

Late afternoon was Crows rugby with the guys and girls who had accompanied us in the jungle plus dozens more.  Again the standard was good, especially among the girls, some of whom had superb handling skills and were a match for the boys.  It was also great to see Kisan and Nipen come alive in a warm place with a rugby ball in their hands.  Once again we joined in, this time on a full sized pitch which was a real challenge for me.  The best thing about the whole thing was the way all of the kids embraced the game, playing with real verve and with beaming smiles on their faces.  It was also terrific to see so many girls taking part, I suspect that the idea of girls doing anything other than being at home and raising a family will have been anathema to the older generations in the village.  Instead they have the opportunity to take part and play in rugby tournaments across India, something they would not have dreamed of only a few years ago.

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Jungle Rugby

Kisan kindly invited us all to eat with him and his family in the next village that evening.  As we sat round the table by the light of the fire scooping up our food with our hands I reflected on the kindness and generosity of all of our hosts at Saraswatipur, they all welcomed us into their homes with open arms and seemed genuinely pleased that we were there.  We were sad not to be able to spend longer at Saraswatipur, we all loved it there and it was a wrench to leave.

Much of the next day was spent returning to Kolkata where we arrived in time for the annual children’s party hosted by the governor of West Bengal at the spectacular Raj Bhawan, formerly the viceroy’s residence.  It was again great to see so many kids from orphanages and deprived areas of the city enjoying themselves, even just for one afternoon.  It was also good to see all the young leaders from the Jungle Crows taking on the responsibility for looking after the children and making the event run smoothly.  They were all a credit to Paul Sir.

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Governor of West Bengal with the Jungle Crows

Our final day together as a group was spent back at Crow Field for more academy rugby, a bit of culture and then a visit to one of the slum areas near the docks for some impromptu rugby with a bunch of scrappy but enthusiastic kids who again embraced the game and the opportunity to play.  They then insisted on giving us all a tour and proudly showed off their homes and very surprised families, in particular their poor mothers who were not expecting us and had to rustle up tea for us all.

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Hyde Road 

We had an awesome time in India, thanks in the main to all of our Indian hosts who went out of their way to look after us, especially the wonderful Nanda.  Yes Nanda and Antara, if that invitation to come to your wedding in 2020 still stands we will all be there.  Careful what you wish for…

We were all moved by the great things that the foundation does and the opportunities it has given to so many people, it is a wonderful thing.  You can count on our continued support and we will spread the word.  Khelo Rugby!

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On Tour – The Team!

www.junglecrows.net