Chai and Charcha

New Initiative to support our Khelo Rugby Children

By Zaffar Khan

“We love when Coach Uncle comes to training and everything is ready, I do not like waiting and he makes sure we do not wait,” said ten year old Mala from Salt Lake Dhapa, a rubbish dumping ground on the outskirts of Kolkata.

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Early days at Salt Lake Dhapa

Now with over two thousand children enrolled in more than 30 communities with over 100 hours of coaching every week we felt it was a good time for Khelo Rugby to step up and add a new dimension in for 2014. 

We’re always thinking about what we can give back to the children that train and play with us? What can we do to better support their communities? So we went back to the drawing board and thought through the children’s situations. The initial idea of Khelo Rugby came from within the community and from our personal life experience growing up in these communities. At first this was just the need for organised sport and having someone around for life in general. When most of us were growing up we did not feel or think much about sharing our problems with our parents because we did not have a space or environment to do something like that. A space where one could be free to release, a space where one will not be judged, a space where problems are not heard only to be solved but where someone is always there to listen to you, someone who would try to understand and say everything will be all right.

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Coaches Nanda and Ajay conducting a Chai and Charcha session

In 2014 we’ve launched “Chai and Charcha” a pilot programme that in a way formalises work that our Coaches already do. Chai and Charcha literally translated would mean something like tea and a chat. The concept is that the Coaches will have more regular sessions with the children where they can sit down and share a little of what is going on in their lives. We’ve started in Kolkata and we are training our seven Community Coaches to better understand their job as role models and specially as mentors for their Children. We know this is a long process and it will take time for the Community Coaches to learn how to deal with difficult situations but we also know the Coaches come from the same communities as the children and they have a better and much deeper understanding of the community and situations faced by the children.

The Coaches are being trained under professional and qualified counselors and psychologists in confidence building, mentoring, active listening. We know they know how to be a good friend to the children so we hope these new skills will build on this. This isn’t a one month process and it won’t always be an easy journey so we are giving the Coaches plenty of time to feel comfortable in developing these skills.

Head Khelo Rugby Coach Nanda commented, “ We’re excited to get these new skills, we know it will take time to learn everything and it will be tough but we are willing to spend the time needed if it will bring better things for the kids.”

Our first “Chai and Charcha” workshops have taken place and our Coaches are happy to be learning new things and there is a real buzz to see something they have informally been doing get recognised in this way and taken on.

And after two and a half years of constant hard work and sweat we hope we can bring even more good things to the children of Khelo Rugby.

Rumble in the Jungle

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

by Zeeshan Ali, Khelo Rugby Community Coach

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

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Starting out from Kolkata by train – excitement building

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

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Looking smart!

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

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

Amirul takes the whistle!

Great play and Amirul on the whistle

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

Owen ready to referee

Owen ready to referee

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

Fast and Furious Action

Fast and Furious Action

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

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

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

Kolkata Crows

Kolkata Crows