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

 

 

 

Playing for Equal Rights

Across our Khelo Rugby communities on 22 April we were focussed on equal rights, leadership skills and rugby of course.

By Peter Fernandes

Three community rugby tournaments on Sunday 22nd of April were the culmination of six weeks work in our communities on the theme of ‘equal rights, equal opportunities.’ Bhawani Bhawan, Salt Lake Dhapa and Fatehpur saw some 230 children come together in tournaments planned and organised by our young Khelo Coaches. For six weeks our coaches and young leaders had been delivering charcha on ‘equal rights, equal opportunities’ with a focus on gender equality. Bringing so many children together was a perfect way to complete this project.

The tournament was a good platform to get an understanding on how much the children had learnt and understood about the theme. Children from each community had to produce an artwork or poster based on the theme and explain the same to children from other communities at the tournament. With lots of rugby squeezed in between this was a high tempo fun way to share learning.

Children displaying their creative posters

 

As well as work around ‘equal rights, equal opportunities’ this was another live skills development for our young coaches who managed the whole event –

  • Assign roles & responsibilities among the team members
  • Ground cleaning and setup
  • Organising drinking water & refreshments
  • Toilets / changing rooms arrangements
  • Transport for teams
  • Playing kit, rugby balls, cones, whistles, poles, flags
  • Tournament scheduling and match fixtures
  • Theme delivery using posters
  • Prizes and trophies

A total of 21 communities participated in the tournaments. At Bhawani Bhawan, Howrah Pilkhana defeated Hyde Road in a closely fought final with the score 5 tries to 4. At Fatehpur, KPT Colony took the top honours defeating the team from Khatal 3-1. At Salt Lake Dhapa, Chingrighata defeated the hosts Dhapa 4-2. The quality of rugby at all the locations was superb and the children had a great time. Break up of locations and teams was:

BHAWANI BHAWAN FATEHPUR SALT LAKE DHAPA
B.N.R Brooklyn Arupota
Bhawani Bhawan Behala Belgachia
Chetla Fatehpur Boistala
Hyde Road Garden Reach Chingrighata
Howrah Pilkhana KPT Colony SL Dhapa
Kidderpore Khatal
Nawab Ali Park Jainkunj
P.G. Hospital
Wadgunj

Highlights of the day were the young leaders doing a great job in organising the tournament, displaying good team work and cohesion. All the children were well looked after. It was very special that so many children got the opportunity to visit the homes of their rugby friends, see where they live and in the process make new friends. The 3 locations had a total of 50 matches and 180 tries were scored!

Let_s score a Try!

The charcha sessions delivered by the children were excellent. It was encouraging to see the level of knowledge displayed by the children on gender equality and how they firmly believed that they can make small differences in their own communities. Every child was of the firm belief that both boys and girls should be given equal chances in order to excel in life – hear, hear to that!

Children displaying their knowledge on gender equality

Playing Together from Kolkata to Karachi

Our Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum brought together sport for development children in Kolkata and Karachi

by Shreyas Rao

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace – IDSDP (6th of April) always provides good opportunities within Sport for Development organisations like the Jungle Crows Foundation to try new initiatives and bring refreshing ideas into our projects.

Sport for Development events across the world provide a focus to the day and help in building new ways to engage young persons in different ideas and initiatives through sport.  With this in mind, we had the ‘madcap’ idea of seeing if we could get children from our communities in Kolkata to interact with children in Karachi through a video conference on 6 April.

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Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum – Kolkata meets Karachi

Britain is GREAT, an initiative of the British High Commission has given us the opportunity to create and deliver several events under the Sport is GREAT banner. Using our Khelo Rugby programme we have held events in Kolkata and Bhubaneswar. Our Sport is GREAT work kicked off with a  Rugby World Cup themed children’s tournament in Bhubaneswar and most recently saw a rugby tournament in Kolkata just for girls. For this we had more than 160 girls from across our Khelo locations in Kolkata and Siliguri come together to play and listen to an inspiring talk from Shubha Kenworthy.

Our thinking was that we wanted to do something a little different to mark IDSDP in 2016 and the video conference was something we felt could be very special for all the children involved. We were fortunate that the Kolkata offices of the British Council and Deputy High Commission shared our enthusiasm. Kolkata partners for what we called our Children’s Forum were identified by including Future Hope and Durbaar who both participate in the Football for Development project Dosti. And though we would have liked to link up with our own Khelo Rugby children in Lahore logistics meant it was better to connect with Dosti children in Karachi.

On the day of the event, 30 children arrived very excited at the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata dressed to represent their respective organisations. After a brief ice breaker session, the children all seated themselves anxiously at the conference room eagerly waiting to meet new children in Karachi.  After a few redials the children were all soon immersed in free-wheeling, fun-filled banter about various aspects of their life, opening their hearts and their minds listening and talking about each other’s lives and engaging in an engrossing exchange.

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Children representing Future Hope, Durbaar and Jungle Crows meet in advance of their Kolkata – Karachi link-up

I was delighted to be the moderator and followed a plan along the following lines, while encouraging the children to set the pace and be in control of their own conversations:

  • Introduction – from each side: their names and what sport they played.
  • A brief chat about their city and community.
  • Language and culture – sharing each others different and same languages.
  • A discussion about their own sporting experiences and favorite players.
  • Challenges the children have faced while growing up and how sport has helped in these.
  • Exchange on passions and hobbies.
  • Fun chat over the hypothetical question – if I was in India for a day…. or If I was in Pakistan for a day…
  • A round of Anthakshari between the children based on their common love of Bollywood songs

To make things simple, it was agreed at the start that the interaction would take place in Hindi. While it was the girls who dominated the discussion in Karachi, the participation was relatively equal from both boys and girls in Kolkata. Sport helped ease the tension even through a video conference – we started with a debate about whether Ronaldo or Messi was the better player. Of course Messi won, with the discussion going to a vote in both Karachi and Kolkata! Other highlights for me included the children teaching each other their respective languages – Bengali and Pashto, laughter and agreement on their love of Biryani and telling each other about their famed city landmarks.It was also great to see how the children could think criticaly even at such a young age, always surprising us with their maturity about issues and their enthusiasm about learning about each others culture. They were also sensitive enough to be politically correct – with a girl from Pakistan saying that she would love to play “Holi” if she ever visited India. The sports kits of girls was also a topic for discussion with the girls from India quite curious about what girls wore when they played outside in Karachi. At which, a little girl in Karachi nonchalantly stood up and turned around to show everyone her name printed on the back of her full sleeved track, implying that they were all indeed present in the room with their sports kit on. Several of the Kolkata children were pleasantly surprised that the girls even got a chance at sport. Towards the end, there was a lot of light banter about Bollywood and varying and similar tastes in music, fittingly ending in a fun game of Anthakshari between the two teams!

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Karachi Dosti On the Air

This experience turned out to be  incredibly memorable for everyone involved; children and adults alike. With such an event it is quite hard to comprehend its significance. But it was noteworthy that all the children participating came from disadvantaged communities and generally lacked any regular access to technological resources. Yet, the children showed much maturity in the discussion, steering clear from populist prejudices and preconceived notions. The exchange of thoughts seemed to have enabled the children to refresh their minds from any narrow vision of the “other”, the “enemy” or other such identities that can be indoctrinated from a young age.  It was clear that at the most basic level, children know no hatred, their curiosity is genuine, and the bonds they form are pure. It was incredibly heartening to see, in the end, a couple of them came near the screen and intently waved at each other.  Alas, their hands could never meet but a peculiar yet innocent friendship took form.

One thing was clear, it was only the medium of sport that made something like this even possible to imagine. Sport creates unique channels of interaction; it provides an opportunity for opening new passages for dialogue. At a time when debate about nationalism is becoming ever more loathsome and petty, such events help elevate the plane of debate. Sport with its broad visions of equality can open up so many new doors everyday and guide us towards a renewed global movement.  It is indeed a rare privilege for sport for development organizations around the world that they can facilitate such unique initiatives, that they can dream beyond borders and provide experiences beyond boundaries!

It is worth concluding by noting that the views here are expressed on my experience as a moderator. I will also be compiling more thoughts from the children themselves, and I am sure that is bound to spring many surprises.

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Author Shreyas captures a selfie with the children in Kolkata and Karachi!

Power of Play

Reviewing the Winter Camp and looking forward to the Year of Play

By Shreyas Rao

The Jungle Crows Foundation has been conducting its annual Winter Camp at the foggy environs of the Kolkata Maidan for the last 11 years starting from the year 2004. It is normally an event that lasts about 10 -11 days and involves engaging hundreds of children from several disadvantaged communities for a couple of hours each morning. Rugby is the principal sport and the camp involves the participation of the children in several play based activities developed around the central sport of rugby. The legacy of the Winter Camp has been well established through several journeys over the years of youth being transformed from a life of meager future to successful players and individuals who are able to take control over their lives.charge

The Camp has been growing in size due to the growth of our Khelo Rugby project which is getting involved with more and more communities across Kolkata. The objectives of the Camp and the Khelo Rugby project revolve around the idea that play can be a huge positive, a belief that all children, irrespective of their socio-economic background, deserve to develop themselves through the medium of play and this supports them in fulfilling their potential. In a society rift with inequality and casteism, the programme aims to aid children break through the dogma of predestination by providing a support structure based around play, in an environment that is inclusive, non-threatening and aids in self-discovery. The 2015-16 Winter Camp engaged more than 800 children on an average each day from 22 different communities, who were attended to by a team of 75+ volunteer coaches. It turned out to be the biggest camp we’ve ever organised, the biggest anything we’ve organised actually!coaches

This Camp involved a lot of planning and turned out to be a huge logistical effort – one of the benefits to all of us this. We had to ensure all the 800 children had a safe transport facility to and from home, a fun-filled Camp session, some basic kit and a healthy breakfast each day. As we prepared ourselves to gain a momentum into the Camp, we felt that it was important to develop a higher objective, so as to create a sense of direction to all the effort and have an over-arching goal. Thus, was born the idea of “Year of Play” – the concept of utilizing the Camp to create a platform for the year ahead, to start our own movement towards the Power of Play.

It is quite easy to be cynical about an initiative like this as it is for a short period without guaranteeing any sustainable or measurable impact on the lives of all the children involved. Yet, it contains within it, an essence of an ideal world, a consistent effort for equality and a belief of a new social reality. It is this feature of the Camp, that I believe, makes children participate each day in consistent numbers and compels the volunteer coaches to forfeit their Christmas holidays for this noble cause. Waking up early on a cold smog filled winter morning at Kolkata can be quite a task but the noise and laughter of hundreds of children enriches the heart of any soul who wishes to lay oneself bare to the experience. It was in such an exhilarating atmosphere that we wanted to take the first small step towards initiating the idea of our Year of Play.happy

Within the Khelo Rugby project team, we have developed a set of fundamental principles that we keep in mind as we develop our programmes with children. It basically revolves around teaching children to value their own lives, teaching them something new each time, appreciating them, developing their self-belief, acknowledging their rights, providing them emotional support and working towards building non-threatening platforms for them to succeed in their lives. The medium of play helps us to break several cultural barriers along the way in realizing these principles. It provides an environment where the engagement can take place in a very spontaneous unpretentious way.

Taking forward from these fundamental principles we felt like we needed to develop the theme further and use the New Year’s Day to delve, discuss and initiate the activities of the coming year. Perhaps, we were looking for “resolution” of our own. We have become so used to objective singular New Year “resolutions” that the concept itself has become drenched in mindless euphoria. As an organization, we had to ensure that the “resolutions” involved the hopes of others with a spirit of equality and justice. We needed to provide space for the rights of the children of the world. In that sense, we felt that one of the ways to “resolve” for a better tomorrow was by working towards initiating a movement on the topic of PLAY. Not just in a superficial way by playing or teaching someone a game but by acknowledging that the Right to Play of children in the world is directly connected to the various movements of social justice and freedom. That war, violence, hatred and greed eventually effects the way or the amount a child gets to play, to learn, grow and fulfill human potential. That the Right to Play is under threat from the inequality and ecological destruction that is manifesting all around. While there was the theoretical challenge of having to articulate our vision to our children, our team and to the world outside, there was the other challenge of practically implementing it as a visual display of our thoughts.rugby

The idea came about of creating the word “PLAY” on our Maidan Crow Field, involving all the children and volunteers who participated in the camp. The preparations began a day earlier by marking out the field through outlines and cones. As the day started, the coaches were encouraged to hold open discussions or a “Charcha” over the topic of Play with the children, trying to make them understand what it meant to them in their lives. We then moved onto the Herculean task of arranging all the 900 odd children in the formation of the four letters, with all the coaches keeping a vigil and making sure everything was in order. It turned out to be a lot easier than expected and when the formation was finally done, our team was brimming with a sense of achievement. A few slogans were chanted on the theme of Play, a mass wishing of Happy New Year took place, great photographs taken through some daredevilry up trees, breakfast distributed and finally all returned home overwhelmed by the feat!tug

Having managed to accomplish the feat, our next challenge was to elaborate the idea into a framework of ideas that could be practically implemented in various forms. We felt that such an important and universal idea needs to be laid out on a canvas in a way that we can paint our future plans and goals. After open discussions, we managed to create a fundamental framework:

  • Providing opportunities to as many children as possible to have a safe play experience.
  • To promote the participation and support for girls and their participation in their own journey of self-discovery through play.
  • To bridge gaps and fight inequality by being inclusive in all our endeavors.
  • To aid in the development of the culture and market for sports so as to develop play as a worthy effort for participating children.
  • To establish platforms for advocacy that can minimize the hurdles for success through play.
  • To innovate and create new designs for play spaces and play grounds, such that it stimulates play based activity in all communities.
  • To acknowledge rights of children and launch a fight against child abuse by creating awareness among children themselves through the medium of play.
  • To acknowledge that the children are the future and the next year needs to provide the basis for better years to come, a better tomorrow full of hope and promise because our children deserve that.

So, we at the Jungle Crows Foundation, are going to try our best in our own small way to develop our program around these points. For all of us who have been a part of the Winter Camp, it has been very memorable as we soak in the positivity, delve on the negative points and look to better ourselves for the future. At the same time, we invite development organizations and governing bodies worldwide to join our endeavor, for what lies ahead of us is a huge task. Year after year is turning out to be more harmful for the lives of children as the threat of both man-made and natural disasters looms large. So the idea of play and its universal appeal has become more relevant than ever before. We need to believe in it, for sake of ourselves and the children.  It will involve debunking a lot of myths, reshaping our identities, re-learning our histories, re-assessing our self-worth, introspecting deeply on our delusions and liberating ourselves to a brighter future. However, and most importantly, it involves engaging ourselves in the simple safe, fun-filled, powerful activity of PLAY.

Let us all cheer for a Year full of PLAY!!play

When The Crows Visited The Kiwis

Jungle Crows Adventure in New Zealand

by Nanda Lal Majhi and Sarfaraz ‘Tiger’ Ahmed

The Jungle Crows Foundation (JCF) has played host to students and teachers from Auckland Grammar School three times over the last six years or so. See a post on their last visit to Kolkata here on KheloKhelo.

This year the tables were turned and two Jungle Crows got the chance of a lifetime to spend four weeks in Auckland. Khelo Rugby Community Coaches Nanda and Tiger tell their story.

Tiger and Nanda to NZ

Tiger and Nanda Ready to Fly

Nanda: I was very nervous to get on a flight; it was a new country and new people I did not know what to expect. I was happy I knew Ben Skeen our host from his past visits to Kolkata. I think I had packed half the clothes in Kolkata because everyone told me it’s so cold in New Zealand and for sure it was cold for me. I think the moment I stepped out of the plane and the cold air hit my face I took a step back in the plane, lucky Tiger was there to push me back into the ‘Ice Age’. Ben picked us up from the airport and we drove in his car. At times looking out of the window I thought what kind of land is this, I had never seen such a beautiful place full of green nature, it did remind me of the Kolkata Maidan in the rainy seasons where my club the Kolkata Jungle Crows practice.

Tiger: We got on the flight from Kolkata and had our transit in Singapore where we met a Sri Lankan guy who told us that we should not take anything like food, plants or even dirt to New Zealand, not even the mud on our shoe soles. I remembered that years ago Virender Shewag from the Indian Cricket Team had been stopped at the Auckland Airport in New Zealand for dirty shoes. So you can imagine what me and Nanda ended up doing…yes we were in the Singapore airport toilet cleaning our shoes and the people around us thought that we have gone mad. We’re laughing now when we talk about it, but in that toilet ready to get on the plane we had a real panic.

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Day 2: NZ v Aus

Nanda: I didn’t understand everything in New Zealand and one of the funniest things which happened with me was when I was at Ben’s home and tried to turn of the light in front of the Garage one day before going to bed. I think I pushed every switch in the house to turn the light off but it would not turn off. And every time I moved away from the light after some time it would turn off by itself but then as I moved closer to it, it would automatically turn on. This carried on for a good ten minutes until I realized it must be some sort of motion sensing system and unable to defeat it, and a bit confused I went to bed.

Tiger: We spent most of our time at the incredible Auckland Grammar School. We were just amazed by the schools educational facilities and even more by the sporting facilities. In total twenty eight sports are being played in the school and the children had the full right to choose any sport they want to play. Mr Tim O’Connor the school Principal was such a down to earth guy….one day we saw him picking up the garbage left over by the children. It showed that everyone was equal and what mattered was the school and not the position.

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Nanda, Tana, Tiger

Nanda: We were so lucky to be spending time with the boys who had travelled to Kolkata and their families, they were so kind to us. We had such a good time with each family and they really took care of us. I would really like to visit them again one day, it will be nice. I loved how all places in New Zealand are like small villages it reminded me of my village. My village has only four thousand people in it and the funny thing is I am the only one who has a passport. When I got back I showed them the pictures of Auckland and they were so curious.

Tiger: One of the biggest reasons I am in love with New Zealand and would like to visit again if I get the opportunity is how people look at sport and specially Rugby. I have been lucky to also visit England but it was different in New Zealand it felt like Rugby was not only a sport it was a part of life. I hope one day we get to make it something like this in my city of Kolkata.

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Nanda:  We moved to live with different families every 4-5 days and our stays with all the families will be one of the most memorable parts of our trip. We had such a wonderful time and every family and its members made us feel at home and took really good care of us. We visited so many places with them and got to do so many different things like going for fishing, getting to drive a boat, going to the All Black vs Australia match, meeting Tana Umanga – “VERY SPECIAL”, skiing in snow planet, going up Sky Tower, caves visit, playing football with the boys who had visited Kolkata and the list goes on. We will always remember them and keep these wonderful memories in our heart.

Nanda and Tiger: Our experience has been such a positive one. We have learnt so much which we will use in our work with the Khelo Rugby children and share with the people we work with and we know they will pick up so much positive from it. We have so many new ideas for our Crows Academy and our Khelo Rugby children. Just how everything is managed in Auckland Grammar, all the sports and academics working together is really special to see. And how all the boys and teachers get on and respect each other is very different to here in India and we liked this friendly but respectful attitude everyone has.

IMG-20140820-WA0009We would again like to thank Auckland Grammar School, its staff and children for welcoming us. We would also like to thank the families for letting us experience a bit of Kiwi family life which is great, the boys were just fantastic and last but not the least from all the Jungle Crows family here in India a really special thanks to Ben Skeen for all the hard work and support he put in to making the trip happen.  We will be waiting with open arms for the next group of boys and teachers to come visit our City of Joy Kolkata.

IMG-20140823-WA0005Both Nanda and Tiger come from difficult backgrounds, Tiger left school when he was ten years old because of a fight in school. He started to work and abandoned his home for one and half years, his relationship especially with his Father was always a bitter one. On the other hand Nanda had a stable upbringing but the financial condition of his family meant he would not have much opportunity to play any sport or let alone travel to a country like New Zealand. He left school at the age of twelve to work as a paper box maker to pack biscuits. After joining the crows and getting jobs as part of the Foundation’s Khelo Rugby programme they both now have their families respecting them for who they are and have become respected within their communities. Both Nanda and Tiger have played 7’s Rugby  for India. Both are also now looking to work out how they get back into education.

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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.

It’s Our Khelo

Reflections on what Khelo Rugby is all about….

by Zaffar Khan

I have been reflecting a little this week on how far Khelo Rugby has progressed since we had this small idea three or so years ago. We’ve just now added Netball to the Khelo mix and this seems a good time to think about how we have done and what we have achieved and as 2014 approaches how we need to do more.

For me it has been a really special journey. Khelo really was a small germ of an idea that I had no thought would grow into something that really is working to be a positive influence in children’s lives. There are so many things that affect a child as they grow up and many of them are way beyond ours or their control. Our ambition with Khelo has always been to encourage and work to support a child so they can have some control over how they grow up. We want them to see positive role models, people who they can connect with and learn with. We want them to have the confidence and knowledge to be able to make good decisions – whether this is about using soap or staying in school.

Our Community Coaches are all committed to the children they Coach and committed to their own self development which is vitally important. We’ve been lucky enough in this to be supported by some really tremendous people around the world. Currently we have Coach Tiger (many of you will know him and his pace from Jungle Crows) in the UK courtesy of the Russell family and their local rugby club Bream RFC. He’ll learn so much in the UK and get the chance to meet lots of interesting people which will all make him a better Khelo Coach and even more of a role model.

It is inspiring how hard our senior boys and girls work and the effort they will put into something for very little if any personal gain. For example young Parvez who really pushed himself to break through his quiet nature and work with the Netball Development Trust girls was a revelation. When I think how shy he was when he first came along to play rugby and now, he is an incredibly good player and a young man committed to his sport. And between all this he still makes time to work as a daily labourer carrying and fetching in the huge Kolkata vegetable market, and we’re proud of this and proud of his rugby and know he will just keep growing as a person.  Our job at Khelo is to encourage more youngsters to reach to their potential and make positive contributions to their communities.

Just now we have the Winter Camp. In it’s 9th year the camp has grown into the most manic and enjoyable event you could imagine. On the first morning we had over 210 children at the camp, on the 2nd morning 243. And each day more than 40 senior players, boys and girls turned up to make the camp happen. That is an amazing thing, more than 40 boys and girls got up to be on the Maidan by 6.30am to coach and play with their brothers and sisters.

But often it is just the small things that make change. I know that small steps is what it often takes to crack big problems – just one person not dropping rubbish adds up, and if we can get 200 children at the camp to think about this we are starting a change. Like if we can get one member of the family using soap to keep clean, and one more family member picks up this habit from them, and one more from them, suddenly we have a whole community living more hygienically and safely. And if it was at a rugby practice that they understood the importance of using soap, then even better.

My good friend Tudu always says that he wants to see every child growing up with a rugby ball. Well so do I and so does the Jungle Crows Foundation.  And this is what Khelo Rugby does.  And at the same time it works to ensure children get something good from their rugby. “Growing up with Rugby” then suddenly seems an incredible purpose.

OK we now have to add netball and who knows soon enough we might be adding other sports to this, but the benefits and outcomes will surely be the same. Sport for development is really buzzing at the moment and we’re really excited to be involved in this family and other initiatives like the Global Rugby Collaborative.

Disadvantaged children in India need all the support they can get and with a rugby ball under one arm Khelo Rugby is making rugby work for 1000s of children across India today.

Looking forward to 2014!