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!

Who Wants to Change the World?

by Paul Walsh

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(Article first published in The Telegraph, Calcutta and reproduced here with permission)

“Want to change the world? Invest in an adolescent girl.” – the United Nations Foundation.

Over the winter our Jungle Crows Foundation ran winter rugby camps for children in Calcutta, Saraswatipur and Bangalore. In Calcutta this was the 11th year of the camp. Combined more than 1800 children took part, on the biggest day in Calcutta we had more than 900 children out playing on the Maidan. Looked after by more than 80 volunteer Coaches and fed each day of the 11 mornings a hearty breakfast by one of 14 local hotels and restaurants who stepped forward to support the initiative. Get along to junglecrows.org and you can watch a short film about it.

Over the course of the camp we too realised that girls are pretty damn important in facilitating change. I mean it wasn’t the sudden dawning of something pretty obvious, but a sense that involving more girls in our work really did make a difference to the experience for everyone. We tried hard to get more girls to this year’s camp, organising safe transport, reassuring parents. And it worked partly, 35% of the children playing each morning were girls, this was certainly an increase on previous years and you could sense it changed the atmosphere of the camp.

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This year in the Jungle Crows we are driving forward with an initiative we are calling the Year of Play. The same film referenced above tells you more about that, but the first objective of this programme is to involve more and more adolescent girls in our work. The UN says girls are the key to, “eliminating poverty, achieving social justice, stabilizing the population, and preventing foreseeable humanitarian crises.” That’s quite a lot of responsibility, but having been brought up by a young Mum on her own I can also report how it’s not an unrealistic expectation. We all know girls in our society face many more hurdles in growing up than boys, whether it is marriage at too young an age, isolation due to community customs, denial of education or the threat of trafficking. Most of us will be able to recount experiences where we have at least heard of young girls denied their full chance in life. And this denial of rights is bad for all of us, for all of society. Girls are real change makers in our world, they are the catalyst around which a better world can be created. Today there are more than 600 million girls aged 10-19 growing up in developing countries, just imagine the change they could create if given the right chances.

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We reckon PLAY and sport can be pretty powerful in encouraging and supporting this change. This is what our Khelo Rugby Community programme is all about. Working with children directly in the communities they live in. Community support is essential to any change and if we want to get more girls playing we need to have the support of their families, elders and schools. One way we can change attitudes is by involving girls in high profile visible events of which they are the centre of attention. This was why when we had the chance to partner with the British High Commission for a Sport is GREAT event we chose to do girls rugby. It really was an incredible day with 160 under 14 girls all playing tag-rugby to a very high standard. The final was particularly close and featured a mixed Calcutta team versus a team from Saraswatipur – the tea garden village we work in near Siliguri. The girls from Saraswatipur won, which was a super achievement for them and really showed how they have bloomed with Khelo Rugby.

VIV_0285After the girls rugby myself and the Deputy High Commissioner Scott Fursendonn-Wood raced over to the British Council where we were part of a panel discussion on how sport can play a central role in social development. The debate was high quality and really showcased some of the great social development work going on in Calcutta with sport at its centre; from engaging with school drop outs through Kolkata Goalz to the huge impact of Special Olympics Bharat with so many positive stories in between.

The benefits of play and sport are well known to most parents and in so many ways it is even more important that we work to extend these benefits to include all girls. I think we all know how play and physical activity is a key to a healthier life now and as children grow up. Research has also shown that active children learn better, develop keener memories and have better concentration. Play boosts self-confidence, lessens stress, helps us make new friends, develops team work, is good for goal setting, and I can go on!

And so this is why in the Jungle Crows we’ve adopted the hashtag #PowerOfPlay for 2016, please do use it if you think PLAY can be a positive in children’s lives. And for all the girls in your life please encourage them to get out and play, and then you too can be a part of supporting 600 million girls who are going to transform our world.

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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

Lovepreet’s Bengal Jungle Adventure

Saraswatipur – Challenges and Opportunities through Khelo Rugby

By Lovepreet Singh Gill

My name is Lovepreet Singh Gill and I have lived my whole life in Kolkata.  I started playing Rugby more than 3 years ago starting from the Winter Camp organized by the Jungle Crows Foundation and I have really loved playing and training with my team – the Jungle Crows.  The founder of our club is Paul Walsh and with him we now we run the Khelo Rugby program for children from disadvantaged communities. I am involved as a full-time coach in the program, in which I go to the communities to do rugby coaching and have some fun with the kids, while helping them to have a good way of life.  I have also been involved in Netball and I have been doing the same in the schools while teaching netball. On Saturday morning, we also have our Rugby Academy sessions were children from all over come to learn proper rugby. Having been involved with the Khelo Rugby project and Academy for a while, I received a fresh challenge in October 2014 from the foundation.

Me and some of the Saraswatipur children

With some of the Saraswatipur children

Just shout; “KHELO KHELO”

I was selected to manage our Khelo Rugby programme in the North of Bengal in a very rural village called Saraswatipur. The nearest big town is Siliguri and that village was right in the middle of the jungle! The previous coaches were Sanu and Amirul, and as their time in the village was over, Paul requested me to do some work there. I was little bit scared when I heard from my colleagues that lots of wild elephants are there in that jungle!

The three and a half months that I was there was amazing and I found any number of really talented children. Not only in Rugby, but even in other activities like dancing, football, volleyball etc. The children were very enthusiastic and they were really good at catching new games. The participation of the girls in rugby in Saraswatipur is more than in the town.The senior girls team were already very good in the game and all the credit goes to Sanu and Amirul who made it possible through their hard work. I didn’t have too many difficulties while coaching them because all the boys and the girls were listening to each and every thing through my coaching sessions!

Victory In For the Girls!

When I heard that the All India Under 19 girls 7’s tournament was coming up, myself and Sukumar (who joined me for a month and helped me a lot) had planned to do plenty of good training sessions with the girls – using drills, developing their fitness and working on their other weaknesses. The girls worked very hard and came runners-up in the All India tournament. On that day, I felt really proud that I was able to coach such talented girls and to win in only their second tournament outside was indeed a great achievement for them.

All India Runners-Up

Saraswatipur: All India Runners-Up

Jungle Adventure at Saraswatipur

One day I planned with the local boys that we will go deep into the jungle where the villagers are allowed to hunt for birds and pigs, we were about 10 boys and they all were excited about it. Next day in the morning, I was excited but nervous about facing the elephant, still I heard a voice in my heart – “lets go, we will see what will happen!” I took my catapult and lots of parle-g biscuits in my bag and we all arrived at the jungle for a day of lot of fun! We came back and on the same night, a jungle elephant came into the village! It was the first time I had seen a jungle elephant in the open and all the people (including me) were shouting “hurrrr hurrr” so that the beast would go back to the jungle!

Friendly Village Peacock!

Friendly Village Peacock!

Winter Camp 2014 at Saraswatipur

Like every year, in the last week of December, Jungle Crows Foundation organized a winter camp at Kolkata and at Saraswatipur in which more than 400 hundred kids participated. The main motive of that camp was to have fun with kids. This time I got the opportunity to do the Winter Camp in Saraswatipur and make it successful. Parvez was there to help me and previous coach Sanu also came along. Before the winter camp started, we organized a one day workshop with young boys and girls about how to become a good leader. We had given the tasks to them to create new fun games which we can apply in the winter camp. After that, we selected the best young leaders who will do coaching in winter camp and this time we said to the young leaders that, in this winter camp, the main focus is to teach boys and girls in the age group of 13-16 about proper rugby.

Through the blessings of god and hard work of young leaders, the Winter Camp went excellent! All the young leaders and the kids said that this was the best winter camp they had!  I felt so good, no one can imagine that! It was all possible due to my mates –  Parvez and Sanu. Big thank you to them.

I have been back in Kolkata for some time now, in my home and felling happy but I miss Saraswatipur a lot. For a number of days, I was there and I didn’t miss my family at all much because the boys and girls there gave me so much love and respect that I will never forget. Miss them all a lot. But I have so many great memories from my time in the jungle and village, I will cherish them forever!

Winter Camp Saraswatipur

Winter Camp Saraswatipur

 

Roni Flying High With Rugby and the Jungle Crows

Talking Rugby Futures: as part of our series to bring out the stories of the young people impacted by the Jungle Crows Foundation today we talk to Roni about his journey and experiences.

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How did your tryst with rugby begin?

As a child, I was very fat and would fight a lot. Other boys from Bhavani Bhavan – Tudu, Abhishek, Ritu, and Masudul were playing rugby for Jungle Crows… they called me for a game just to prove my strength. So, this is how I, my friend Pritam and other boys started playing rugby. I was 11, when Paul and Christoph were the coaches, and they would train us separately, as the other boys from Don Bosco Ashalayam knew the sport well and played better than us.

On Saturday mornings, the kids have training, so Tudu and Masudul would force me to go and practice along with them.

Did you experience any difficulty in playing rugby?

I was very shy and wasn’t involved with much physical activities. When I joined rugby I got to meet a lot of new people from different backgrounds. Initially, I would only talk to Pritam and boys from Bhavani Bhavan. But, by playing I became friendly with others; Pankaj and Tarok from Ashalayam became my best friends.

As for the difficulties, I was plump, lazy and wasn’t involved with much physical activities, so that was an issue I had to deal with.

My parents weren’t supportive of me playing rugby – they believed it had no future and would do no good to me – especially after injuring my finger.  They made me promise that I wouldn’t play and stopped giving me bus fair. But, Tudu and Masudul would help me, they lent out their cycles, so that I could ride to practice, they also helped me with the game.

When my father had gifted me a cycle, I would lie at home saying I was going to school or going for football practices, instead I would go to the ground for rugby training. When they started getting hints, they would lock the cycle or try other tricks to not let me play.

They gradually accepted it and later supported me, because at that time, Tudu had just made it big and playing at the National Level, he went to UK, and his pictures would be there in the newspapers. My parents realised that rugby could be good for me as well. And, then I got selected to play for Jungle Crows in the All-India Under 20, so then they realized that I was playing well and they could see I was working hard for it.

Roni as part of the Crows U16s

Roni as part of the Crows U16s

What impact has rugby had in your life?

I can’t describe the impact it has had. It’s now a major part of my life. Like I drink water and eat every day, I need rugby to live. I am working in hotels now. So, whenever I meet any guest from UK or France, I speak with them about Rugby, Calcutta Cup, and tell them that even I play rugby in Calcutta. I proudly speak about Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby with them.

When I moved to Mumbai for my work, I played for Maharashtra Police only for my passion. But, my schedule was very hectic, so I could hardly play at all. I missed playing rugby in Mumbai. When Jungle Crows lost the Calcutta cup to CCFC, I was very upset and wanted to come back to Calcutta.

I was passionate about rugby and still am. If I get a chance to play rugby now, I will grab that opportunity. Rugby is in my blood – I think everyone who has played rugby will say this.

We heard that you are travelling for work?

It’s more like training for me, ‘cause I have not finished my 2 years training in Mumbai. I am getting a very good opportunity to work in one of the best hotels in Dubai – J. W. Marriott Marquez. First 2 years I will work as a server, first 2 years I will be a trainee captain, so they will teach me about working in a team and developing it, the difficulties you face as a team leader, how to deal with the guests and clients, etc.

What inspired you to take up a career in hospitality?

One day, after a game of touch rugby, Paul handed me leaflets with ‘IIHM’ written on it. I didn’t know what it stood for then. He would ask me what I would like to do after my schooling, and I would tell him about my plan to pursue an Honours degree in either English or Bengali and play rugby and think about my career later. Paul would tell me to that I might be late in making my choices about my career and handed over the leaflets to me and asked me to go through it and read more about it.

As a kid I would cook a lot, and tell my mother that I will become a chef. But, the courses are very expensive and my parents wouldn’t spend that much on my education, ‘cause they how I am as a student. I did what Paul told me to and spoke to my friends about it. Everyone told me that IIHM is a reputed institution for Hotel Management. I am from a Bengali medium school, so I was under the impression that I won’t have to go to college and could do whatever I wanted to and would always hear “HM toh easy hai… sab pass kar jate hai.” (HM is easy, everyone passes in it).

That time I was doing well in rugby, but unfortunately, I didn’t have a passport and I got selected for Jungle Crows senior team and, could play alongside my heroes Zaffar, Tudu, and the other boys. This was a like a dream for me, and I guess, also for many other boys who have been a part of Maidan Hazards. I then thought that I could concentrate on playing for Jungle Crows as well as on my studies and got back to Paul, and told him that my father won’t spend that kind of money. So, he told me that the money aspect would be managed, and my father would just have to pay a small sum.

Funnily, when I went to apply in the college, the receptionist asked me to pay the money and I was clueless as to what money she was talking about. Then I told her to speak to Paul and Shaun (Chef Shaun Kenworthy) but, they were busy, so I messaged Paul. I was asked to wait outside until things were sorted, which was annoying. Paul came and gave me money to apply, and after he came, everyone was treating me like a celebrity.

How has your relationship with Paul Walsh been like?

Paul is like a father to me, and even the senior boys – Tudu, Ritu, Masudul, and all treat him like their father. Tudu would always tell me to bring something for Paul, whenever we would go outside, even if we go out to play; this would make him very happy, because he doesn’t have anyone in Kolkata and whatever he does is for us and not for his own self. He has left his work and continued to work with us. So, I really respect him for this, he’s doing so much for rugby, for us. Probably now, my relationship with Paul has become more friendly. Paul is like a father to me and, I obey him a lot. In fact, whenever he suggests something to me, I take it as an expert opinion.

After my graduation I got 3 job offers- 2 in Calcutta and 1 in Mumbai. I decided to go with the one in Calcutta, for the designation and pay, as well as it would be more convenient for me. But, Paul was insistent that I should go to Mumbai, as it will boost my career. He would ask me every day about it. So, would Tudu. It was very annoying… like both never wanted me to live in Calcutta. But, I later realized that going to Mumbai was indeed a very good decision.

What is your best moment in your Rugby career?

I still remember this: it was in Mumbai and we were playing for Under 20 rugby. Curtis Russell and I were playing together against Bombay Gymkhana. I scored my life’s first try, which was a good one… I had dodged few players and even tackled some in that game and, those days I used to weigh 90 kilos, so that try actually came as a surprise.

Another moment, which I distinctly remember is a match against Future Hope. Tudu passed the ball to me and I could see a few players running towards me. But, then Tudu called out to me and assured that he will tackle the boys harder. That moment I realized that these boys aren’t only my team mates – they are my brothers.

Scrum time....

Scrum time….

And, your worst or most embarrassing moment?

It would be, when I was playing for Maidan Hazards, Ajay was with me… it was the last minute of the game and it was a really close match against YRC (Young Rugby Club). YRC had many strong players then – Mesu and Noa were playing for that team – they were very big, whereas we at Maidan were small and everyone’s age would be around 16-17 years old. So, at the last minute we gave 2 good tackles and were about to win, just then Ajay missed an easy tackle, allowing them to win. I felt bad on losing and I fought with Ajay over the matter, told him things which were wrong and shouldn’t be said, and as a result we wouldn’t speak with each other.

What do you think about the future of Jungle Crows? How would you like to contribute for the future of Crows?

I tell Paul that my travelling for work is only for a better future of Jungle Crows. By travelling I can speak with people about Crows, broaden our networks, so that we get more support. If I stay in Calcutta, no one will be benefitting. While I was in Calcutta, I was playing, learning and even earning. I was leading the boys as well. I have gained from Crows and should move up from this position. By doing so, I am giving my other brothers in the team a chance to play and make some progress.

When I come back after few years, I can help Jungle Crows mentally, financially, or else all I can provide Crows with is man power.

Tudu is the biggest example, he always shares his experience with the boys and whenever he comes back from UK his bags were packed with jerseys, shoes and all the essentials for others to have a safe and good game. So, like him I want to help crows.

What is your advice to the young rugby players?

I am going to speak only about Crows; I cannot advice some other rugby player as I’m not good at it.

I have seen many boys in Crows who play for fancy shoes, jerseys, working in Crows, etc. instead of concentrating on the game and developing a career. People should think how they can get a job through rugby or Jungle Crows, which will eventually help everyone rather than settling down in Jungle Crows. for instance Masudul, he now works for the Kolkata Police, which he got through Crows.

Do you think sport is a good preparation for life?

Yes, it definitely is. People should play a sport.

I was very lazy and plump as a child. I would opt to be a wicket keeper in Cricket, as I would have to run less. I would not enjoy running. If I hadn’t got involved with professional and competitive sport, I would have been playing video games and Gully Cricket, which wouldn’t take me far.

But, after getting into rugby, and having this association with sports, I have developed a passion. After playing, I would go back home and think how I played earlier that day, areas I should focus on and how I should play in the future. Through sports, I have understood myself better and become mentally and physically fit.

What would be your biggest achievement?

When I was playing very well, I never got my passport and didn’t get a chance to play for the national side. But, I’m happy my brothers – Arun and Commando got a chance to play for the national side.

An achievement in rugby was when Paul named me the captain for the Under-20 All India squad.

But, another achievement for me would be when I got into college, I managed to do well, although I was from a Bengali medium background and the course was designed entirely in English. And, I even landed with good opportunities to work in the one of best hotels.

I’d be glad if someone walks in the same path and follows me from Crows. That would be an actual achievement.

It’s time for some controversial questions. We’ve heard that you are known to make up stories. How true is this?

Yes, that’s true. I love to cook up my own stories. And, to top it, I’m very talkative, so you can imagine the combination. Many people have told me this that I exaggerate to an unrealistic extent. Even, at home I hear this!

 If you could give a nasty tackle to anybody from Jungle Crows, who would it be?

I have already given one to Tiger; it was so bad that he couldn’t remember a thing. And, if I have to give a tackle now, it will be Tudu, because he is the one who has taught a lot of things in life, especially rugby, and he’ll be happy to see me excelling as a player.

roni touch

#KheloKhelo Bangalore

Khelo Rugby has Landed in India’s Garden City of Bangalore

By Zaffar Khan

Khelo Rugby and the idea of it being in Bangalore, well, when it was suggested to me my only thoughts were that it’s a big city and should we be taking Khelo Rugby there? (I’ve now been here since October!) South India according to research has the highest literacy rates and the best level of employment in India. Every time I’d heard any news about Bangalore it would be for some kind of marathon run happening or some multi-national company opening their new office in the city. It just did not come across as a city where the idea and the fundamentals of Khelo would fall into place. Keeping that in mind India always surprises everyone, even its own children and it turns out that Bangalore is just like any other city in India (while of course being totally unique also) though it seems one of the differences is the media and people on social media show less of the disadvantaged side of society here. The first time I was in Bangalore was eight years back for a Rugby 7’s tour with the West Bengal state team. I then remember the empty roads, green atmosphere and clean air and most important the roads which did not have much traffic on them.

My First Monday late afternoon in Bangalore

My First Monday late afternoon in Bangalore

Talking about traffic I now live in Sarjapur, almost on the outskirts of the city. To cover a distance of eighteen kilometers in Kolkata it usually takes me more or less one and half hour. I had the first experience of Bangalore traffic, when on my second day I promised my friend that I would meet him at MG Road in two hours max on a Monday evening, I soon realized I was sitting in the bus for the past  three hours and we had not even reached half way. I soon told myself that this is not going to work and I should stop promising people. Well untill I got used to the traffic timings. I have got a cycle now and I make it to MG Road in less than ninety minutes. My greatest achievement in the past one month has been beating a brand new red mini cooper on a fifteen kilometer race #BangaloreTrafficZindabad (#longlive Bangalore traffic).

With Khelo Rugby our aim is not to just photocopy the project to new places like Bangalore, but to learn from where we have had success like Kolkata. In Kolkata #Nanda #Hari and the gang have done a great job so we need to look at those good things but also see what works elsewhere. So we try to learn from Siliguri where #Amirul and #Sanu have done fantastic ground breaking work, Pakistan where #MuzamilWazeeri keeps raising the bar for all of us – all the time, and other places where we are using sport to be more than just a part of the pitch. We’re learning again now from Sarjapur, Bangalore. Sarjapur is a rapidly growing area which has many government schools, which are often lagging way behind. For example I had a conversation with the Sapthagiri School Principal where we have recently started to work and she said, “our school and neighboring schools in Sarjapur had lots more children a few years back but children are now dropping out of school and we do not know how to control that. I think it is because Bangalore is developing and people are finding easy low money jobs and children tend to just drift into the money making business. I think it’s not a good idea to leave education without completing it”

Saptagrhi School Khelo Day

Khelo Rugby Day @ Sapthagiri School

We have often faced issues like “school dropouts” in the Khelo communities we work with, particularly in Kolkata. Our community coaches who work with these communities are able to discuss this with children and often have experienced first hand the same pressures. We speak to the children who are going through a rough phase to help them understand the importance of education, being a big sister or brother able to listen, understand and guide. I personally was a school dropout, when I did not do well in my class seven school exams but I am happy I had a family who pushed me and encouraged me to get back into education and I am eternally grateful to them.

I call it the "Little School"

I call it the “Little School”

At the moment in Bangalore we are focussing on the government schools who we can really support . The idea behind working with government schools is that most of the time they do not get attention or opportunity in terms of sport and outside opportunities. Our aim during 2015 is to have over one thousand kids playing rugby every week in Bangalore. We will also start to implement workshops on health and hygiene, carry out sports development in government schools, tell them about our own child protection policies and keep a close eye on every child we work with so that he or she can achieve what they deserve. This is just the start but already we are working with over 180 children every week.

I have also managed set up a “Brothers and Priests” team just to keep us safe from the evil eye 😉 – a longer story for another day!

St. Patrick School Brothers and Priest Touch Rugby Team

St. Patrick School Brothers and Priest Touch Rugby Team

As always we are always looking for people who are interested in coaching children and are eager to make a difference to the communities they live in. You do not have to be a rugby coach to be part of the process, if you can bring smiles to the faces of the children or keep them busy in something creative and interesting you are the right person for the job. Please do get in touch with us through our Khelo Rugby facebook page or through the email address: info@junglecrows.org.

Keep Smiling….Be Happy….Play Rugby

Rumble in the Jungle

Khelo Rugby in the City gets together with Khelo Rugby in the Countryside

by Zeeshan Ali, Khelo Rugby Community Coach

To mark our India Independence Day we thought it would be a great idea to introduce two of our Khelo Rugby communities – the city children of Kolkata to their country brothers and sisters in Saraswatipur. We brought together 8 Kolkata children, 2 from Salt Lake Dhapa, 2 from Bijoy Basu, 2 from Bhawani Bhawan and 2 from Nawab Ali Park and set of late on 13 August night on the Darjeeling Express from Sealdah Station.  Myself, Owen (a UK volunteer), Sanu and Amirul were responsible for making all the arrangements and though it was a late night train, the excitement meant none of us really slept properly.

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Starting out from Kolkata by train – excitement building

After a long 10 hours train journey, we reached Siliguri.  From there Father Mathew George of Salesian College drove us through the forest to Saraswatipur. During the ride through the jungle all the children were astounded by how beautiful it was, extra green and lush because of the monsoon rains.  It was a completely different level of experience for the children who had all been born and brought up amidst the huge buildings and busy streets of Kolkata. After the one hour drive we reached the village, which is surrounded by tea plantations on all sides – so now the Kolkata kids found out where tea came from!  We were warmly welcomed by everyone in the village, especially Amirul who everyone in the village knows very well after he lived there while setting up the Khelo programme. After a quick wash and freshen up the Kolkata kids were keen to get out and practice and see where they would be playing.

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Looking smart!

The children were astounded seeing the size and conditions of the field. These kids hardly get to play on such a lush green field in the city. We started training. Soon there were children coming from all over Saraswatipur and the surrounding villages to watch the new children playing. And before we knew it, we had 6 teams playing with all the children mixed up.  It’s always amazing how quickly kids break down any barriers and get playing together especially when they have a great sport like rugby in common.

Personally it was a second time for me to Saraswatipur, and I could see that the children’s rugby skills had continued to improve. I could clearly see that rugby had really captured the Saraswatipur children and the city boys were amazed and knew they’d have some tough games the next day.  The day ended with the Kolkata kids having made 100s of new friends and was followed by a good dinner and a good nights sleep.

Amirul takes the whistle!

Great play and Amirul on the whistle

Independence Day dawned and we observed a traditional flag hoisting by Father George. Then a few races were organised for the very small school children who weren’t taking part in the upcoming rugby tournament. Once all the races were over we kicked off with the first match of the tournament. There were 8 teams in the junior league including the team from Kolkata, and there were 4 teams in the senior league. The field was a bit muddy and water logged in some places but it didn’t affect the spirit of Khelo amongst the kids. The day was filled with great games of rugby and a high level of skill from every player in every team.

Owen ready to referee

Owen ready to referee

Although the Kolkata team had much more experience than the Saraswatipur players all the games they played were close.  I don’t think we expected them to be pushed quite as much as they were and it took all their experience to win through the tournament.  The Khelo spirit was in abundance and the day was a real festival of rugby for the children.  In the end the Kolkata Crows lifted the cup, but only after a tough final match.

Fast and Furious Action

Fast and Furious Action

In the senior league Saraswatipur Cyclone won the cup by defeating Nirpinia Thunder. After the prizes were given out, lunch was organised for all the children – thanks to the Jungle Crows Foundation for this

After spending amazing days in the village it was time for us to leave and head back to Kolkata. Just time to catch a movie and do some shopping in Siliguri. All the children were very sad they had enjoyed their time together so much and made loads of new friends. But then it left a smile on the Saraswatipur children’s faces when they got to know that Amirul and Sanu were going to stay back in Siliguri and train them regularly.  The Crows Foundation is sponsoring Sanu and Amirul to pursue their further studies in Siliguri, so they’ll study and also carry out Khelo Rugby sessions. After saying bye to everyone we left, eyes were filled with tears and faces illuminated with big smiles at the same time. The Kolkata children were really touched by the warmth they had encountered from the villagers. They want to go back again and play with them, the sooner the better.

Thanks to everyone who made the trip possible and especially thanks to my co-organisers Owen, Sanu and Amirul.

Kolkata Crows

Kolkata Crows