Spirit of Rugby Live In Kolkata

On 10 December we brought together ten NGOs to play rugby in Calcutta as part of our mission to spread the game and share the “Spirit of Rugby” with more and more children. We played a lot of rugby but also took some small steps on a bigger mission, that of equality and justice.

by Nidhi Gelani

“If you want the ball, don’t stand and wait for them to give it to you…..go and get it!” These words kept ringing in my mind long after I heard coach Turi motivate a young girl who was standing on the side line, disheartened that the boys in her team weren’t passing the ball to her. Well, it’s one thing talking about equality, gender inclusion and to create a gender fair environment but it can be a different thing in the field.

At Khelo Rugby we work directly with underprivileged communities in and around the city, we also collaborate with various other non-profit organisations. We decided to use the banner of “Spirit of Rugby” to introduce a whole new community to rugby. And as part of this took the step to coach 100s more children across the city. By using tag-rugby we aimed to make a more level playing environment between those few organisations that already played and those comparatively new to rugby. Each team was also required to have at least three girls on the field at all times.

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10th December was also the International Human Rights Day which just added an extra value to the tournament. We had loads of girls and boys out playing together reinforcing the beliefs that Khelo Rugby stands up for – the equal dignity and worth of every person.

“Gender inclusion to combat gender inequality.” We had mixed teams to instill the value of equality among the children. While seeing this I was vividly reminded of this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt which is at the heart of 7o years of the Decalration of Human Rights: “Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. […] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Every word of this is filled with meaning and is a call to action for all of us.

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“Change” is not just a word with 6 letters, but a word which has caused war and is also the reason behind reconciliation. Well, it’s also a word we use so commonly that the depth of it has been lost. Here, in Khelo Rugby we believe in motivating the children we work with by planting seeds of change which are nurtured by their own will to excel and grow. We start small, close to home in the environment the children are most comfortable in. Weaving concepts like gender equality and human rights within our tournaments and daily sessions.

“Passion” is another big part of Khelo Rugby. Being a part of the team for almost 6 months now I am a strong believer in this.  On the morning of the tournament, at 6:30am our team of coaches and young leaders reached the field to carry out the necessary arrangements before the tournament. They were welcomed by heavy rainfall and cold winds making the whole event questionable. Till about 7:30 we were all hesitant whether to carry on with the planned event or not as the rain decided to keep pouring. That is when we saw the children who had arrived on the field warming up and eagerly waiting for the games to begin completely ignoring the rain and cold winds. That is when I realised that the zeal to play beats the challenging weather as well. Once the children had changed into their playing jersey, warmed up and were ready to play there was no looking back.

At 8am we began the tournament and to my surprise it went just as planned. The tournament was organised and executed by our group of extremely talented and motivated young leaders. At one point where we were thinking of calling off the event the enthusiasm and sports spirit displayed by the children on the field was a complete treat to watch. 10 charities from across the city participated with a total of 120 children playing enthusiastically on the field. The breakfast for all the children was generously sponsored by local restaurant Hakuna Matata. A team from the restaurant joined our children on the field which was great to see. The onlookers were all so surprised and amazed to watch young children running about the ground playing some excellent rugby completely oblivious of the shivering weather.

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We were also host to 26 students from Auckland Grammar School visiting India from New Zealand. Both sets of youngsters were eager to shake hands and be involved in the games. The AGS students were each given a team to look after, a few volunteered to referee as well. The children were thrilled to have visitors as they helped the teams warm up, play and also spent time playing games while waiting for their matches to begin.

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The children from the participating NGOs were trained and chosen by our group of coaches and hence each coach had an almost nail-biting experience when their teams played. All in all, the passion for rugby, the enthusiasm of children, the support and help from our visitors, determination and planning of our young leaders not only made this tournament a success but also helped overcome the challenge of bad weather it was a great and fulfilling experience.

The team from Don Bosco Ashalyam lifted the winning trophy followed by the Future Hope team who were the runners-up of the tournament. The Decathlon Foundation team were the Plate winners and Loreto Rainbow the Bowl winners.

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A dodgy beginning to the tournament ended with a happy bang! The day ended with the senior coaches encouraging the children and complimenting their remarkable efforts. A brief prize distribution ceremony was conducted where a few prizes were given away to the children by our visitors.

And finally, what comes to our mind when we talk about Rugby and New Zealand… yes definitely Haka! But our Khelo children are not far behind… we too have our own Haka!  The boys from the Grammar school showcased some extraordinary Haka on popular demand followed by our very own Khelo children winning over hearts with their very own Khelo Haka.

A life changing impact is created when a lot of small efforts add up. These tournaments are the small steps Khelo Rugby takes to ensure we give our children the right guidance, making them responsible citizens. Engaging our children in such tournaments is the Khelo way to take small steps in acting for equality, justice and human dignity!

 

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Spirit of Rugby Nepal

The story of Khelo Rugby’s Himalayan rugby odyssey.

by Akash Balmiki

This story starts a long way from the Himalaya’s near the Everglades jungles of Florida. In 2015 I was selected to represent Khelo Rugby and the Jungle Crows at a United Nations Sports for Development programme at the IMG Academy in Florida. At IMG I met Prateek who was from Nepal, he worked for an NGO named Childreach and we became friends because we were both passionate about sport.

As always I talked a lot about rugby with Prateek. He’d no knowledge of the game at all, but we could both see how much fun it would be to take the game with the odd shaped ball to the children of Nepal. Jump to 2016 and the story is taken forward by colleagues Paul and Hari when they meet up with Prateek in Kathmandu during the Hong Kong Vandals rugby tour. By this time Prateek and the work of Childreach has been taken over by the terrible effects of the 2015 earthquake – villages destroyed, lives broken and communities devastated.

A rugby visit to Nepal was just within reach but it needed one more piece of the puzzle to make it all possible and that was World Rugby’s Spirit of Rugby programme. A grant awarded to the Jungle Crows to take their Khelo Rugby project further afield, this was just the incentive needed to make my rugby odyssey to Nepal a reality.

Planning was able to start and in October 2017 our Nepal rugby journey began. I was very lucky to travel with my Khelo Rugby teammates Turi, Kirpa and Barkha – together we were able to keep motivating and encouraging each other. We all joined up for the first stage of the trip in Saraswatipur where we ran through our plans and finalised roles and responsibilities. We were to focus on teaching the children tag rugby along with the 5 core values of rugby. I along with my Khelo teammate Turi conducted a few of our BASIC Training sessions (Being A Smart and Innovative Coach). We were joined in Saraswatipur by Prateek and his colleague Shamsher – it was great to be able to show them what we had so far achieved in Saraswatipur.

Our journey proper began from Siliguri. We were all very excited to be taking Khelo Rugby to Nepal, to be sharing it with a whole new group of children. The first leg of the journey was a marathon bus ride from Kakabhitta to Kathmandu which took around 16 hours. It was a challenging journey as travelling in the mountains is never easy. We reached Kathmandu safely and were warmly greeted by the Childreach team.

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In Kathmandu we were joined by a group of  4 talented and experienced volunteers from “Coaches Across Continents”. We discussed our plans with them and shared our experiences as well. We then embarked on a 10 hour journey to Dolakha which kept us on the edge of our seats as the mountain roads were difficult and yes, scary too!

The school we worked with first had been destroyed by the earthquake in 2015. Childreach Nepal had helped to reconstruct the school and build new toilets for the children of the school. I had been apprehensive in case of any language barrier with the children but soon discovered the influence of Bollywood movies and songs meant all the children had good Hindi.

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First day at school we saw many boys and girls playing football, this was a good sign and they were very excited to learn rugby, a whole new sport for them. The shape of the rugby ball made some children smile, some laugh and some ask questions. Well, it took me back to when I started playing as a young boy fascinated by the shape of the ball. After a brief nostalgic moment I explained to them why we were there and began our first session – “Khelo Khelo” as we say.

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One of our challenges was to teach the children the five core values of rugby namely, “Respect, Discipline, Passion, Solidarity and Integrity”. We took up one value each day. We focussed our session around that value. We played games and a lot of rugby and at the end conducted charcha sessions explaining the meaning of each value and what it meant to us in practical terms. The team worked really  hard to teach 68 children about these values through games and open discussions. The challenge was made much easier by children who were very talented and quick learners. They grabbed the topics easily and also learnt the game fast. At end of the week we organised a Spirit of Rugby Tournament. I must admit, it was a treat to watch young boys and girls play such good rugby. I was really happy and proud of our team for having been able to teach good quality rugby to children playing for the first time.

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After a great experience at Dolakha, we headed back to Kathmandu. After a week of intense training we finally got some time to relax but it was just a short stop as very quickly we were on our travels again. One more village awaited, more traveling, more children and more rugby.

Our next destination was Sindhupalchok, a village about 8 hours from Kathmandu. This village was also destroyed in the earthquake and had suffered more damage compared to Dolakha. We started with a group of 48 young boys and girls eager to learn rugby. Our session plans remained much the same but with a few newer challenges as the coaching team grew bigger as we had more volunteers wanting to be involved in sessions. The days were packed with intense training and by the time we hit our beds we were all very quickly snoring!

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The second tournament went as planned and with this we came to an end of another beautiful journey. We headed for Kathmandu and spent a day visiting the local shops buying gifts for friends and family back home.

At the end of this project I can firmly say that I have learned so much more than I could have imagined. These camps made me a better coach and a more responsible one. I really feel I have grown with the project. I started off as a small kid playing rugby and now I’m a Khelo Coach leading 100s of youngsters on their own rugby journeys. Rugby is a part of who I am today and to be able to take this across borders and share it with the children of Nepal has given me immense happiness. I am incredibly grateful to all my teammates for putting together such a successful and impactful Spirit of Rugby adventure.

Cheers to Khelo Rugby – you can watch a short movie of our Himalayan rugby odyssey here – enjoy!

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We in the Jungle!

Originally published on his own blog “Off-Season”, Harry A Johnson is a Watson Fellow scouring the world for the most innovative uses of sports as a vehicle for social change. Here he writes about his experiences visiting Saraswatipur for our Kichad Rugby Festival.

By Harry A Johnson Jnr

Some may argue this point, but to my knowledge, the POLYTECH High School Boys Basketball team from 2009-2013 has to be the most dominant team of all time in the Henlopen conference. During my four years at POLYTECH, we did not lose a single game in our division –completing a streak of 65 straight games– and only lost two games in the conference over my three years as a starter (go ahead and correct me if I’m wrong). Our team’s mantra quickly became “We in the JUNGLE!!,” describing our high speed, in your face style of basketball that suffocated other teams. Less than one day after arriving in India, I was once again in the jungle. However, this time I was on a rugby field surrounded by trees standing 100 feet tall and the under constant threat of elephant attacks. More surprisingly, I felt right at home.

The first program that I am exploring here in Kolkata, India is Khelo Rugby. This sports-based social development initiative uses rugby as a vehicle to counter a number of social issues (ie. poverty, homelessness, lack of access to education) and works to ensure that Indian youth grow up with the best of opportunities (a more in-depth review of the program will come soon). The program works in over 45 communities throughout India. During my first 24 hours here I got to accompany the program on a trip to Saraswatipur, a group of villages in Siliguri — a small town in the jungle foothills of the Himalayan Mountains.

About Khelo and Saraswatipur: 

Saraswatipur is a tea estate made up of a cluster of 4 villages. The lives of children growing-up in these villages are embedded in the larger context of life as a tea garden worker. This is because more than 90% of the people have Adivasi tribal backgrounds meaning they were brought in as indentured labourers to work in the tea gardens at the start of the century. The villagers live in basic conditions, make meager wages (85 rupees/day= $1.33/ day), have limited access to the outside world and a lack of employment opportunities beyond the tea garden. In addition, the village is plagued by rampant alcoholism, illiteracy, lack of schooling, poor sanitation practices, lack of safe drinking water, oppression by Tea Garden owners and the constant threat of wild animal attacks (e.g., elephants, leopards).

Damage from an elephant attack

Khelo Rugby began in Saraswatipur in March 2013. Since then, Khelo has trained more than 500 children in the sport of rugby. Along with rugby training, Khelo has conducted youth development camps, provided various sports-based opportunities (e.g. participating in Rugby tours and Rugby tournaments organized in India), secondary school scholarships, and work opportunities. The program has 26 children from Saraswatipur in the Khelo Scholarship program and 4 former players (2 girls; 2 boys) are currently working with Decathlon, an international sports brand.

Khelo took a unique approach to developing the program in Saraswatipur. When Khelo first arrived, the program purposefully introduced the sport of rugby as a “girls sport” so that parents would not exclude their daughters from participating. Four years later, it is evident that Khelo’s deception was actually a self-fulfilling prophecy. The girls from this small practically unknown village have dominated girl’s rugby throughout the entire country of India. These are some of the Saraswatipur Leopards (Girls team) accolades:

  • U-18 All-India Nationals 2nd Place (Runner-Up)

  • September 2016 All India Senior Nationals 3rd Place (Plate Winners)

  • August 2016 All India Georgiadi International 7’s 1st Place (Winners)

  • August 2016 All India Senior National 7’s 3 rd Place (Plate Winners)

  • May 2016 U-18 All India National 7’s 2 nd Place (Runner-Up)

  • 6th Place (Leopards Boys team)

  • January 2016 West Bengal State 7’s 1 st Place (Winners)

  • September 2015 Junior All India Nationals 1 st Place (Winners)

  • July 2015 All India National Rugby 7’s 2 nd Place (Runner-Up)

  • June 2015 Calcutta Rugby Tournament 1st Place (Winners)

  • February 2015 National Games, Kerala Entire Bengal team comprised of Saraswatipur Leopards

  • November 2014 U-18 All India Nationals 2 nd Place (Runner-Up)

This past summer 5 girls from Saraswatipur were selected to the U18 Indian national team which participated in the 2017 Paris World Games and another four girls were selected to the U20 Indian national team which played in the Asia U20 rugby tournament. More importantly 3 players have gone on to college and to the programs knowledge they are the first three in what may be centuries. Khelo’s work continues to expand as the program is currently fundraising to build a youth center in the village.

Above is a short documentary on one of the girls from Saraswatipur who played on the India national team

My Experience: Saraswatipur Rugby Festival

The focus of my trip to Saraswatipur was to help in the coordination and execution of a rugby tournament for kids aged 14 and under. The tournament was then followed by a cultural celebration in honor of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This quickly turned into a cultural exchange between the people of Saraswatipur and myself. As I walked around the town, I was met with unapologetic stares that did not seem to cease over my stay. Although I was taken aback by the attention, I slowly realized the stares were a sign of interest and curiosity. It was hard to communicate with many of the villagers because they have their own language which is a mixture of Bengali, Nepali, Hindi, Bihari. Anyone born outside this village will struggle to follow this mix. Fortunately, some of the villagers knew a small amount of English. (English is known throughout India because it is the language of government, law and medicine.) As I engaged with those around the town, it was evident that the beauty of the landscape was a reflection of the people of the land. I felt at home as I was welcomed into home after home, chased around by small children and shook well over 200 hands during my three day visit.

The tournament went on without a hitch. Over 335 children from Saraswatipur and neighboring tea estates participated in the tournament and both first and second place teams were honored with live chickens. Paul Walsh (Director of Khelo Rugby), Brian Wolf (Bard Graduate and former member of the Khelo Rugby team) and I were surprisingly honored as chief guest in the cultural festival following the tournament. The villagers packed a Shamiana (bamboo built structure to house the event) that the youth built the day before and we enjoyed a display of the cultural roots of Saraswatipur. Four days into my trip I was asked to speak in front of a crowd of over 300 villagers. Looking back, it is amazing that I wasn’t at a loss of words. I stood up and told the people they embodied the  foundation of the trip I had just barely begun. Their village was a prime example of the power of sports, and their ability to combat social ills with century-old roots, increase access to opportunity, and change both individual lives and the world at-large. To conclude the ceremony, the Chief minister of the region stood before us and thanked Paul Walsh and Khelo rugby for “Bringing opportunity to their village.” I looked over at Paul and chuckled thinking all of this came from a simple introduction to a “girls sport;” Rugby.

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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