Even In Lockdown – School Is Great

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

by Shiv Singh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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www.junglecrows.net

 

 

Connecting with our Scholars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bangalore

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

Saraswatipur

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

All these young people are our heroes.

From New Zealand to India

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

by Michael Hiddleston

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

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AGS Team make it to Taj Mahal

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

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

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Day One – Rugby on Crow Field, Kolkata Maidan

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

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

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

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

 

Learn more about Khelo Rugby

www.junglecrows.org 

Girl Force: Unscripted and Unstoppable

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

by Paul Walsh

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

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Kolkata

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

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

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

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Bengaluru

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

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

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Saraswatipur

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

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Haripur

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

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

Rugby Friends in the Forest

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

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

by Thomas Pothet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Learn more about Khelo Rugby and the Jungle Crows here!

Playing for Gender Equality

First published on LinkedIn Thomas Pothet, Paris based MBA student and volunteer with the Jungle Crows shares some early impressions from Kolkata and how rugby is shaping young lives.

by Thomas Pothet

At first sight, rugby could be seen as a very masculine sport, but the Jungle Crows story in Kolkata, India, is the proof that rugby is not exclusively for boys, that it can be a vector of women’s empowerment giving them the chance to break their social chains.

Jungle crows aims to promote education through rugby to both boys and girls but, as they face many social barriers when it comes to girls, they must enhance their efforts to educate young girls and to empower them. Parents are reluctant to let their girls play rugby as they fear injures or because they consider it as a boy sport or saying that girls should help their mother as part of their “household duties”.

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When it comes to girls, Jungle Crows is trying to both change their social conditions as slum kids but also their woman’s condition. As they grow up and live in an environment where gender inequalities are rooted in every part of their communities, Jungle Crows gives them an opportunity to break the chains that bound them from reaching their full potential. To do so, several strings are pulled, such as rugby training, social projects (planting trees…), educational projects (scholarships, English classes…) and leadership activities.

Jungle Crows is perpetually pushing those girls to empower themselves in many ways.

Through rugby and social projects, Jungle Crows is teaching values such as passion, solidarity, discipline, integrity, commitment, hard work, trust and team work. Those values and skills learned from various projects are transforming those girls into proactive leaders with a collective mindset. Their leadership skills enable them to lead educational/social projects in their own communities. When they come back home, they teach and spread those values within their communities as young leaders.

Even though rugby plays a big part, Jungle Crows DNA remains education which has the capacity to empower women. Therefore, they have developed several educational projects such as scholarships financing, English lessons at the American Center and leadership training. Many girls playing rugby for Jungle Crows are going to school or college as result of Jungle Crows efforts to finance their tuition fees but also to talk to them and their family about education, about how much it brings to someone’s life and in which way it is a key for empowerment.

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Jungle Crows is not only giving the opportunity to those girls to do the same activities as boys but to do it with them, to completely being set as their equal which truly improve their self-confidence.

Girls and boys are training together, playing together and learning together.

Allowing girls and boys to play together is a practical way to teach young boys that boys and girls are equals and can do the same things! When it comes to reduce gender inequalities, empowering girls is important, but it is equally important to educate boys about respecting girls and gender equality.b

Currently, several girls playing rugby for Jungle Crows are also playing rugby at international level representing India in the U18 Indian women’s rugby team. Moreover, many girls gained access to education (middle school, high school, university…) thanks to Jungle Crows scholarship programs and can empower themselves by being educated. Not only did those girls empower themselves, but they turned out to be role models within their communities.

Through its projects, Jungle Crows is planting seeds in Kolkata’s communities to change women’s conditions.

Learn more about the Jungle Crows: www.junglecrows.org

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Right to Play – Jharkhand

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

Contributions from Chotu, Shivanshu & Paul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Winning the Calcutta Cup

In September of 2018 the Jungle Crows won the rugby championship of Kolkata, the Calcutta Cup. Khelo Rugby Coach Akash tells the story from his perspective as the teams 2018 Coach and Captain.

by Akash Balmiki

“Standing in the hall of fame…

The world’s gonna know your name…

‘cause you burn with the brightest flame…

And the world’s gonna know your name…

And you’ll be on the walls of the hall of fame…”

This is the song I keep playing in my head as I head towards the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club ground for the final. I keep reminding myself that the organisation I belong to and the sport I play has taught me to not only train my body to improve my physical strength but also train my mind to excel, to push my boundaries and to achieve the best of my capabilities.

akash a1zWhen I was asked to write down my thoughts on the Calcutta Cup, it took me down memory lane and for a brief moment I re-lived the days which make me the sportsman I am today. I fell in love with the Calcutta Cup when I was a young aspiring player who stood on the sidelines watching my mentors and coaches play during the season. Each match got tougher than the last and with each game the growing passion within the team was an inspiration for me.  I often observed Paul sir and my senior coaches train the team not only on the physical aspects but also to strengthen their will to win, passion and respect for the game. And in that moment I knew, that this is what I want to do and be.

My journey from a spectator to the Jungle Crow’s captain is one I want to share as I am 100% certain that there are many young and talented dreamers like me who given a chance and the right guidance can achieve the maximum of their potential. The foundation of my dream was laid when I was given a chance to play the Calcutta Cup for the Jungle Crows Development team the “Maidan Hazards” in 2012. Each year the season brought along a certain kind of thrill and I took it as an opportunity to display my skills and perform better and better for my team and club. I would see my seniors lift the glorious silver cup which is over 100 years old with the heritage and culture of Bengal beautifully crafted on it. A true example of extraordinary silver craftsmanship and something I wanted to lift up.

Fast forwarding to 2017, I was selected as the captain of the Jungle Crows team. We must fall before we rise; we must stumble before we can run said Abraham Lincoln. It however holds true in my situation as well. We lost the Calcutta cup that season and this setback filled me with more zeal and passion to win the coming year.  That’s the thing about rugby, it doesn’t matter how you fall or how hard you fall, it’s all about how quick you get back up.  Like the arrow needs to be pulled backwards before it is released this set back did the same for me. I knew the coming season was going to be my year to shine and there would be no looking back.

In 2018, I was nominated as the captain once again and this time I was sure that I wouldn’t let my mentor and club down. Right from the start I prepared strategies for our training sessions and would discuss it with my teammates. Even though we have one captain in the team, the thing about team sports is that the captain is only as good as his team. And so, I also consulted and discussed all my strategies with my teammates.

2018 started with a bang for me. There was a lot of travelling including international travels and tournaments where I played for the country as well. With each passing week as the season came closer my practice schedule became more and more intensive. Along with focusing on my own game I was appointed as the coach for the U17 Bengal state team and later the coach for the U19 nationals. This was a lot of pressure all at once for me as I was coaching in the morning and training for my game in the evening almost every day. It seemed like pressure but when I thought of it, it made me extremely happy and confident to know that my club and Paul Sir had placed his trust on me and motivated me to perform to the best of my potential.

Cal Cup 2018 action

Akash makes a long range kick

The prestigious Calcutta Cup was here, and our first match was with CCFC. Jungle Crows and CCFC have always had a kind of love hate relationship when it comes to rugby. Last year we lost the cup to them and this year we were back on the same field to win the glory back. As a captain I always told my team, “for the next 1 hour forget who you are, your name, what you do… everything. Just remember…. WHO ARE WE…CROWS”.  It was a delight as we won each and every game re-establishing the fact that Jungle Crows is one of the strongest and finest rugby clubs.

In the past few years I had observed and realised that the teams that often won matches against strong opponents always played a good defence. This year my team and I trained ourselves all round. We wanted a strong scrum and fast backs. The best part was to see that the whole team had come as one. We trained and played as one team with one aim and that was the Calcutta Cup.

As we entered the finals so did the under 19 boys team. I travelled with the team for the tournament and came back on the day of the finals to play with the Crows. I was on cloud 9 when my mentor and all-time favorite player Zaffar came to Kolkata to play the finals with us. Zaffar was my first coach and to play with him was like a dream come true. Whenever anyone asked me what my short term goal in life was I often said to lift the Calcutta cup as the captain of the Jungle Crows team. I owe a lot of my success as a player to all my coaches and mentors and the best gift a student can give his teacher is to excel at what he has been taught. On the day of the final game, I wasn’t nervous I was exhilarated. I just couldn’t wait to change into my jersey, get on the field and get some mud on me. Before entering the field I looked around and saw my family standing on the sideline cheering for me, I also saw children who I train cheering  for me and along with this amongst the crowd I could see many young talented boys and girls with dreams of being where I am today. In that moment I knew, I not only had to play for myself and my team but also the dreamers and aspiring Crows players watching me.

The pressure was building specially when our opponents Kolkata Police went into the lead. I had to do justice to my club, to my coach and to all the people who have placed their trust on me and the team. And then the winning moment and with that a wave of happiness and gratitude took over and I knew in my heart we had all done our club proud.

cal cup 2018 champions

To all the aspiring sportsmen, to all the rugby lovers and to all the dreamers… all it takes is hard work and indestructible passion for dreams to come true. And as always I stand tall and strong and shout at the top of my voice…. WHO ARE WE… CROWS!!

More Than Just A Try

The empowering change a game can have on a community.

by Ramona Sen, Author and Journalist

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

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

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

sandhya and swapna - 27.07.2018.jpg

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

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

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

sandhya.jpg

Sandhya in action for West Bengal

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

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

swapna

Swapna breaks through for West Bengal

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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