We are….Spirit of Rugby

Sharing the news that Khelo Rugby has been selected as a Spirit of Rugby partner by the global governing body of rugby World Rugby

by Paul Walsh

We were delighted when Khelo Rugby was named by World Rugby as one of five global “Spirit of Rugby” partners on 6 April. This was a brilliant announcement to be able to share with all our children, colleagues and friends.

6 April is also the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) so we were able to incorporate our good news into the existing small event we had planned on the Maidan in Kolkata. About 100 Khelo Rugby children were joined by Jungle Crows trustees Dr Hassan Iqbal and Chef Shaun Kenworthy and guests French Consul General Damien Syed and British Deputy High Commissioner Bruce Bucknell. After our games we displayed the #WhiteCard which symbolises support for the worldwide peace through sport movement.Spirit of Rugby 6 April 2017

The other four organisations named Spirit of Rugby partners were:

World Rugby acknowledged the work of all five awardees, “The work of the Spirit of Rugby partners is closely aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by using rugby to tackle key issues such as health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, sustainable cities and communities, climate action and partnerships for the attainment of the SDGs amongst others.”

The Spirit of Rugby partnership is all about working within the framework of the global rugby values. Rugby is pretty unique in setting down values by which the sport is played and managed. The values identified by World Rugby and within which we work are: Integrity, Respect, Solidarity, Passion and Discipline.

When we started Khelo Rugby we didn’t expect anything like this, but we did sit down with the values, thinking about them and how they could be a good guide for us. Now getting this recognition from World Rugby really means a lot and has given everyone involved in the project a real boost.

Khelo Rugby started when one of our Jungle Crows players – Zaffar – wanted to do something to help a local community. We knew our game was something special and we knew that sharing it we could do some good. Throwing that rugby ball about gives us all a big buzz, seeing the children’s faces light up is a huge motivation. It hasn’t been a straight road to this point and we’ve still a lot to do, but it is nice to get this recognition.

Within our coaching group we’ve been talking about the Spirit of Rugby this week. Thinking about how it relates to the children we work with. How it relates to our own idea of Growing up with Rugby. We’re talking to the Khelo Rugby children to help them understand what Spirit of Rugby means and sharing with them that they are now part of a global network that includes children in Brasil, Madagascar and Scotland – how exciting is that!

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Akash’s Rugby Journey

Community Coach Akash Balmiki tells the story of his journey growing up with a rugby ball by his side.

By Akash Balmiki

My name is Akash Balmiki. I am 21 years old and live in Kolkata, West Bengal. I have been raised in a simple and humble family consisting of 5 members. I have two elder brothers, mother and father. My father works as a sweeper and my mother is a home maker. I am currently a community coach for Khelo Rugby and a player for the Jungle Crows Rugby Club. From a young age my parents have taught me the importance of living happily with very basic amenities and minimal facilities. Right from the time I began to walk and run, I had a good liking towards sports, especially outdoor sports. I attended Government school in Kolkata but I could not afford continuing my education because of financial difficulties at home. The sport of rugby has made a big impact in my personal life.

I got introduced to the sport of rugby in the 2008 Jungle Crows winter camp. One of my neighbours told me about a fun-filled event that takes place at the Kolkata Maidan during the winter holidays. I did not know anything about rugby and had never seen a rugby ball in my life. The Jungle Crows winter camp was a life changing experience for me. Before the camp, I was very shy and hardly had any friends. After the camp, I had 20-30 friends and I thoroughly enjoyed their company. The winter camp assisted me to open up a bit, have fun and learn a new sport. Each day of the camp, we got yummy breakfast. The coaches were very caring and ensured that everyone had a lot of fun, ate a proper breakfast and drank lots of juice. Since the 2008 Winter Camp, I have continued to be addicted to the sport of rugby. I would attend every Jungle Crows Academy session which was initially held near the Calcutta Rangers Club. It was even more fun during the monsoons because we would all be covered in thick muck and my mother’s scolding would not hamper my enthusiasm.  After all these years, my mother has also understood the role that rugby played in my upbringing.

From 2008-09 I never missed the Crows Academy which helped me to develop the core skills and techniques required to play the game of rugby. My first coach was Akhtar Sir who always emphasized on fitness, discipline, hard work, respect and being punctual for every session. The values I learnt back in 2008 have imbibed in me till this very day. All the coaches of the Jungle Crows were amazing and always pushed me to achieve my best on and off the field. In 2010, Khelo Rugby started to organize training sessions at a field barely a few metres from my house. I attended Khelo sessions from 2010-11. At the Crows academy I continued to work very hard to improve my game and physical fitness. I also realized that the food I eat played an important role in my health. I stayed away from junk food, oily food and consumed very little sugar. Till today I avoid tea or coffee. Looking at my game improvement, Paul sir gave me an opportunity to play for the Maidan Hazards, the development team of the Jungle Crows. I played for the Hazards for 2 seasons, 2012 and 2013. We had a great group of players who did exceedingly well and we even managed to defeat some seasoned teams in the Calcutta cup and other rugby tournaments which we played in.

In September 2013, I got a call from the Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU) to attend the India camp for the U-19 Asian Championships. I was very nervous and it was the first time I was leaving my home in Kolkata to go to another place. My team mates assisted me to get my passport done in a short span of time. The India camp was very good and I made it to the Indian National U-19 rugby team. It was a huge achievement for me and I got lots of encouraging positive wishes from my team mates of the Hazards, Jungle Crows and Paul sir. The U-19 Championship in 2013 was held at Lahore, Pakistan and it will always remain a very memorable experience for me. Wearing the India jersey for the first time and listening to the national anthem being played gave me goose bumps. 2014 was the year when things were getting one notch higher and I was assuming more serious roles as a rugby player and coach.

Early in 2014, I got an offer from Paul sir to work as a community coach for the Khelo Rugby project. I loved working with children and it was a very good life opportunity for me. I took it up with full heart and till this day continue to work in the many communities of Khelo Kolkata spreading the joy of rugby. In 2014, I achieved another personal dream and milestone by making it into the Jungle Crows team. All my role models like Tudu da and Zaffar da played for the Crows and it was a dream for me to represent the Crows team. I continue to represent the Crows and have played in all tournaments for them from 2014 till date. In my first season for the Crows, we won the Howrah Rugby 7s, All India U-20 championship, Georgiadi 7s, Centenary Cup. We were also the plate winners at All-India rugby nationals and stood runner-up in the popular Calcutta Cup. In June, 2014 I made it to the senior India national team that played in the Division III 5 nation’s championship at Pakistan. We lost against a formidable Uzbekistan team in the semi-finals, 17-23.

In 2015 I got selected to take part in the 2015 UNOSDP Youth Leadership Programme at the IMG Academy at Florida, United States of America. The 13-day camp was dedicated to giving youth leaders from around the world, a practical training on the best practices in the field of sport for development and peace in order to better use the power of sport to make positive changes in their communities. The experience was very good and helped me to get more insight on how to become a better coach at Khelo Rugby.

In May 2015, I represented the India team for the Asian championship held at Tashkent, Uzbekistan. I loved this tour and Uzbekistan was a completely different experience. The country is very beautiful, the people were very warm and friendly and the food was lip smacking good. It made me realize that the real beauty about a country is the people. Uzbekistan gave me that very welcoming experience which I will always cherish. Coming back to India, we trained really hard to do well in the All-India nationals in October 2015 and were rewarded for our hard work with the plate winner’s trophy. In Feb 2016, my Jungle Crows team-mate Sarfaraz Ahmed (Tiger) and I represented the India Rugby 7s team at the Asian 7s tournament in Dubai, UAE. It was nice to have a team-mate and brother along with you on a national tour. We had a good tournament which started with a convincing win against Qatar but lost to a technically superior Chinese Taipei team.

Khelo Rugby has a cultural exchange program with the Auckland Grammar school, New Zealand. In July 2016, my colleague Harinder and I travelled to Auckland for a 21 days program at the Auckland Grammar school. New Zealand is by far the most beautiful country that I have visited and I am really thankful to the Jungle Crows for providing me with this opportunity to learn in a rugby crazy nation. I came back even more recharged and committed to sharing what I learnt with my fellow colleagues and the Khelo children.

Just over a month back, I attended my 5th India camp for the Asian 7s tournament at Doha, Qatar. The camp was held in Delhi for 3 weeks and we used to train thrice a day. We did fitness training, had Gym sessions, rugby skills training and a couple of friendly matches. Every player wishes to represent the national team. To play for the country, one has to follow important things like discipline on and off the field, respect your coach and follow his game plans. One has to also respect each team-mate and bond as a team. The tournament at Doha, Qatar was not a successful trip for the India team. We lost the first two matches and only narrowly beat Pakistan by a small margin. Doha, Qatar was a good place. I liked the food especially their shwarma’s and burgers. They have very good sports facilities, probably the best rugby pitch I have played on so far. Having good sports facilities is very vital in attracting youngsters to the sport. At the Doha 7s, I also got the opportunity to meet rugby legend Ben Gollings and have a very small but meaningful conversation with him. It was inspiring to talk even for a few minutes to such a top player and share a selfie with him!

In India, playing for the Jungle Crows, we are privileged to have a very well maintained rugby pitch in the centre of Kolkata at the Maidan.  I guess a major part of why we continue to produce good players every year is because of the good facility that we have at our disposal.

For my personal growth, I am extremely grateful to Khelo Rugby. Becoming a community coach is the best thing that has happened in my life. I get to spread smiles to thousands of children which is a very nice feeling. I am also thankful to Shaila Ma’am and Rubickon English classes who painstakingly and patiently taught me verbal and written English.  The ability to speak in English has improved my confidence even more. Compared to my previous international trips with the India team, in the trip to Qatar I was much more confident at immigration and striking conversations with random strangers in public.

I want to be a role model to the 100s of youth that I train in rugby on a daily basis at our Khelo Rugby communities and the Crows Academy. Being a coach is a very big responsibility as I have to keep learning new things and develop my own self in order to assist another person to do better. I strongly believe that every person is capable of achieving any goal in their life if they work hard and are sincere in their dedication towards achieving the goal. An aspiring rugby player has to put in a lot of work in improving his/her rugby skills. A player has to be very patient because good results take time to achieve. I have seen a lot of aspiring athletes take supplements and drugs to enhance their physique. It is best to stay away from these harmful chemicals. A person’s body is best built by eating natural food and a dedicated fitness regime. An athlete has to be careful of what they eat and stay away from intoxicants like alcohol and cigarettes. There are other important components that makes one a good player. One has to respect your team mates, rugby is a team sport. If you learn to play and work together as a team, then only can your team win laurels. I have literally grown up with rugby and I strongly feel that as many children as possible should have the chance to grow up with rugby.

 

Our Madcap Winter Rugby Camps

How our Winter Rugby Camp has grown and grown over the years to include more children and support the development of more and more coaches and leaders.

By Paul Walsh

Christmas Day 2016 saw 1064 children playing on or around what we call Crow Field on the Calcutta Maidan. And even more exciting than the chance for these children to play and have fun on a winter’s morning was that most of the event was planned and delivered by 117 trained young coaches, all committed to their safe and fun enjoyment. This was the 12th year of our Jungle Crows Winter Rugby Camp and 2016 saw it bigger and better than ever. From day one – 24 December to day nine – 1 January the average morning attendance was 959 children and 109 coaches.calcutta7

1443 children from 26 different communities from across Calcutta played. All part of our Khelo Rugby project which takes sporting and other social development opportunities into places it doesn’t always reach. The planning and delivery of the camp is an integral part of the experience and our young Khelo Leaders drawn from across Kolkata did an inspiring job learning a huge amount in the process.

We were superbly assisted by Chef Shaun who managed to bring a little competitive spirit into who could deliver the top breakfast as well as win a tug of war versus a team of 12 year olds! Shaun was up every morning providing hot tea and orchestrating the breakfasts. Also calling in each day, inevitably on his way back from surgery was Jungle Crows Chairman Dr Hasan Iqbal to give cheery encouragement.

calcutta3And we’re indebted to those hotels and companies that supported the camp by delivering more than 15,000 bananas, 6000 boiled eggs and innumerable frooties, cakes and small gifts for the children. Turning up and playing with the children in the early morning after long hotel ‘party season’ shifts was great to see, take a bow; Indismart, Taj Bengal, Oberoi Grand, Decathlon, Balaram Mullick, Paris Café, Novotel, Kookie Jar, TIL, Swissotel, Bangalore Biere Club, Wow Momo, CDE, Hyatt, Savourites, Kutchina, Mio Amore, ITC Sonar and Hakuna Matata.

When our Winter Camp started 11 years ago there was no greater aim than to get a handful of children up and out and playing on a winter morning. And fundamentally this is still at the core of the camp. Giving children a motivation to play and enjoy our fantastic Calcutta winter mornings. But we can also now see how the camp has many more positive impacts. As a super way to engage with our Khelo Rugby children and teach them new things. As a practical hands on management training experience for the young coaches. As a great fun CSR project for a whole load of organisations. The Winter Camp provides a valuable focal point to all our work with children and communities.calcutta1

The growth of the camp has been phenomenal and now attracts volunteers, visitors and supporters from around the world. And it doesn’t just happen on the Calcutta Maidan. We’re now in our second year in Bangalore: five mornings with 150+ children each day, second year in Siliguri: five mornings with nearly 400 children each day and for the first year in Uluberia supporting Decathlon’s work there with three mornings of camp and over 150 children each day. That’s over 2000 children in the camps with 35% of them girls.

In 12 years living in Kolkata I have only been away from the Maidan on Christmas morning once, this makes me a little bit crazy for sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because I just love these madcap winter mornings.

Click here and you can watch a brilliant little film on the camp made by our mate Rohan!

And if you would like to read the full detailed report on the camp please be in touch and we’ll send you a copy.

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SCORE for Health & Hygiene

How the children of Khelo Rugby worked together to SCORE for Health & Hygiene

by Milindo Chakma

On any given chilly morning or sunny afternoon you will find Khelo children running around to score a try, can be in Brooklyn or Boistala or any of our 25 Khelo Rugby locations in Kolkata. India today is still one of the major countries where half of the urban population are living in slum areas. Most of the Khelo communities we work with are in these slum areas. There are many many health related issues for the children growing up in these slums, specially in the monsoon season.

Diseases such as dengue, malaria, typhoid take many lives in the rainy season. “Health and Hygiene” was selected for the month of September as the theme for our Khelo Rugby Program. The main objective was to work with the Khelo children to help them better understand issues around personal hygiene – such as washing hands with soap and eating healthily and raise awareness about monsoon diseases such as dengue and malaria both for the children and their communities.

At Khelo Rugby we try to work on different social issues affecting communities by using fun games, rallies, street plays and charcha sessions. We encourage the children in Khelo to came up with their own innovative ideas to deliver these messages. We want the children to be leaders in their own communities and pioneer what we do together. The Health and Hygiene month was a tremendous example of this, with children devising their own posters, organising rallies and getting out and about in their own and neighbouring communities to share the messages they had devised. This is neatly summed up in this 90 second film featuring some of their activities.

SCORE: Since we work with young children, the medium we choose to deliver key messages is very important. Shashi one of our young leaders from Howrah Philkhana designed an info-graphic poster “SCORE”.  In the graphic the word “SCORE” is used to convey important messages on the wider topic of health and hygiene. The meaning of SCORE is short, catchy, sweet and meaningful.

Sleep Safely – Use a mosquito net. Sleep for 8 hours. Early to bed, early to rise.
Clean with Soap – Wash hands with soap. Take bath daily. Keep nails trimmed to keep germs at bay. Erase germs with soap.
Open your Eyes to Your Surrondings – Keep your home and surrounding area clean. Use dustbins and empty dustbins regularly.
Remain Fit – Play Sports. Walk, jog, run. Exercise regularly. Encourage your family to stay fit.
Eat Healthy – Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat boiled and well cooked food. Drink plenty of water. Avoid salty snacks and soft drinks.

This excellent infographic from Shashi gave our coaches and young leaders great support in delivering these important messages.

September at Khelo Rugby was all about health and hygiene. It is important our young leaders and children are fully engaged and leading the way on our monthly themes – they have to be owned by them.  Through awareness campaigns, cleanliness drives, charcha session and the SCORE infographic we were able to support children in taking a small step forward in living safer lives.

Something To Crow About…..

The Story So Far of the Jungle Crows Winter Camp 2015/16

by Emma Richardson, Trustee and Supporter

Jungle Crows Winter Camp has been running for 11 years now and goodness has it grown! Just on Christmas Day alone the programme attracted 787 children, supported by 66 coaches, and the camp goes on for 11 mornings.  Many children get up before 5am, to travel by chotahathi (small truck) to get to the Maidan.  While this year the temperatures have been milder (I still remember 2012/13 winter when temperatures dropped to below 10 degrees!), it is damp and foggy when the children first arrive.  They have travelled from as far away as Bhattanagar in Howarah and Brooklyn in Khidderpore. IMG_5514

So at 7am, the coaches full of energy, encourage children to play bulldog, dance and skip around for the first 20 mins, simply to get warm.  The coaches then take their groups of circa 25-40 children, let me tell you just organising this is a feat, to begin the serious stuff – having fun!  The coaches stick with the same groups, so they get to know the children, each coach is supported by less experienced coaches and volunteers, most have rugby experience, but a few are simply passionate about putting something back into the community.

Amit started coming to the camps 10 years ago, as a shy boy, today, I watch him coach a group of u10s, full of confidence as a young man, who takes great pride in the trust he has developed, watching the children grow, hoping they too might become Jungle Crows players and coaches in the next decade.

Nanda as a senior coach and has been involved in the Jungle Crows since 2007, and as both a senior player and coach, he takes a leading role in the preparation and coordination of the programme, months in the planning, working with Hari, Shreyas and Pritam.  Nanda’s love of children, and seeing smiling faces clearly motivates him to keep coming back.  He says their smiles, are the best reward, but with a special opportunity to teach rugby skills and maybe even find the next Tiger to join the Jungle Crows within the u14/19s groups?IMG_5065

This year is Sahil’s first winter camp, he was in Amit’s u10 team, and has been completely won over by playing rugby, citing his dream of becoming a rugby player when he is older.   He has already ‘signed up’ to come next year!

The coaches work in the various communities throughout the year, Lovepreet has been involved over the last 4 years; by day 4 he has practically lost his voice, from shouting such passionate encouragement to his young u10 group.  He is committed to the development and education of young children, saying that this programme teaches the children respect for themselves and each other, learning to work in a team and how to behave both on and off the rugby pitch.  At the end of each day, the children are given a breakfast kindly donated by hotels and businesses in Kolkata, let me tell you, it takes a lot of work to distribute 800 bananas, eggs, cakes, and juices.  Some mornings, toothpaste and tooth brushes, with the coaches reinforcing the need to brush teeth twice a day.  These teaching moments, happen at the end of the frenetic morning, when the kids form a circle within their groups, sit in the warm sunshine and listen intently (well the majority do!) to the coach.  There is a calmness by 9.15am, with everyone either tired from the morning’s fun activities or just wanting the chance to catch up with their newly made friends. IMG_5298

This programme does not happen by chance, the Jungle Crows, led by Paul Walsh MBE, requires mammoth planning both in advance and on the day: trucks to be booked and driven, registers to be taken, donations requested and gathered, T shirts to be bought and printed (we distributed over 850 on Christmas Day morning), with a few going without such is the success of the event).

Then by 9.30am, the children start gathering up their belongings, and head back to the trucks.  Each thanking their coaches for a great start to the day, munching on their fruit as they start the journey home.

The coaches have a quick catch up, what worked well, what could be changed and then they find the energy to play a quick game of rugby, because it is this game that binds these young adults together.  The Jungle Crows are an amazing extended family, who like any family work hard and play hard together.  But they, unlike many families, need the support of their city – Kolkata, this 11 day programme costs 6+ Lakhs and the Jungle Crows rely solely on donations and goodwill of the community both here in Kolkata but also from further afield in the UK and elsewhere.

This year we have also run programmes in Siliguri and Bangalore, managed by coaches from the Jungle Crows, who have again gone into the local communities to seek out communities who need the Jungle Crows support. IMG_4929

Even as I am typing, I can hear the children chanting and singing – playground games, it is this happy chatter which keeps me coming back to Kolkata, the Jungle Crows make a difference and that surely is something to crow about?

Do you want to help?  Can you donate your time or money?  The Jungle Crows run programmes throughout the year and need more support! Donations for the Camp can be made on-line in a very easy way, in India through Ketto: https://www.ketto.org/wintercamp or around the world through JustGiving: https://www.justgiving.com/wintercamp2015/

Happy New Year everyone!

Ed’s Note: Emma is also an ace photographer, all images here are hers and she’ll go to any length to grab the best shot!emma123

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.

Roni

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