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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Listening To Our Team

As a part of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic we managed to survey 135 of our young community leaders. It’s so important to listen to the team. The results of the survey were first circulated on our social media accounts @khelorugby and were collated before Cyclone Amphan.

by Paul Walsh

We’ve been talking everyday to our young leaders during the lockdown. They are an essential part of our “chain of support” – our mission to support more than 2000 Khelo Rugby players.

We’ve also managed to conduct more formal surveys with those who have access to a smartphone or computer. The latest results are interesting and will help to inform decision making; “nothing for us without us”.

We got 135 sets of results made up from 65 young people in Kolkata, 29 in Bengaluru and 41 from Saraswatipur.

Here we can see answers to the question; “How are you managing your studies?”

Study in lockdown

It is a worry that even amongst these ‘connected’ youth 35% are unable to study, the main reasons include a lack of any space and being busy with household duties. And only 21% are studying online. This is a feature the lockdown has shown us, that the penetration of smart phones is not nearly as high as many of us imagine. These are our most connected young people, yet still few of them access any on-line learning.

We wanted to better understand how everyone was managing under the coronavirus lockdown.

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Almost every family is taking help, mainly this is receiving some sort of ration supplied by local government. These rations are often distributed through local clubs or other voluntary organisations.

Few parents are able to work, which means nearly every family is using their savings to get through the crisis. Some are unable to manage at all. We have found the local Police very helpful in getting supplies organised for families who run out of options.

Our Khelo Rugby young people are busy with household activities. Seems everyone is pitching in to do some shopping, clean the house and cook. Even a few family entertainers around.

Obviously the survey mainly reflects the lives of 135 of our best connected children. We rely on them to watch out for all our players. It is important we support everyone.

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We know this is just a snapshot of these young peoples lives, but it can give us some insight. Good to see 113 reported feeling happy or OK. Suggests this is a resilient group who are staying positive through the lockdown. We’ve followed up directly with those who are stressed or sad.

These are 135 of our best connected youngsters. But it is interesting that even amongst them 17 have no phone at home. And mostly they have just one phone.

We often think that today everyone seems so well connected. The lockdown has shown us this is absolutely not the case for the vast majority of our young rugby players. This is a challenge we’ll need to overcome, staying connected is so important.

And here for a bit of fun is the final post – not unexpected from our rugby crazy children. Our survey has brought several benefits: helping us all to stay connected, informing decisions, making sure we follow the ethos of nothing for us without us.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this. Getting this survey done was a great team effort, thanks especially for Shiv for the questions and getting all the responses.

Our Coronavirus Heroes

We asked all our leaders, coaches and players to nominate unsung heroes from their communities. Family and friends who were going the extra mile to make a positive impact at this time of coronavirus pandemic. Please read on to see some of the stories of these unsung heroes, keeping on and motivating us all at these difficult times. 

Ghanshyam Chhetri, Bangalore: Nominated by Coach Akash. Ghanshyam’s parents are not able to work in the current situation which has made the situation at home very difficult. Ghanshyam works everyday delivering milk to families in his neighbourhood. It’s a 4am start but it means he is able to help his family with the earnings. It also means families don’t have to break the lockdown to get this daily essential.

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Ghanshyam

Rehana Begum, Kolkata: Raunak from Wadgunj has nominated his mother as the hero of his family as she is doing a great job managing their home with hardly any money.

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Raunak with his Mum Rehana

Aniruth A, Bangalore: Nominated by his brother Vinay, Aniruth has organised the distribution of food and groceries to needy families where they live. He has also worked to spread awareness on how to stay safe during the coronavirus lockdown.

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Vinay’s brother Aniruth

Munna Singh, Kolkata: Munna was nominated by Pratap for his outstanding work in turning Decathlon swimming masks into medical protective masks. Munna designed and printed parts to convert the masks using a 3D printer. He has gone on to deliver them  himself to health workers.

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Munna and some of the masks in use

Chandra Sekhar Singh, Kolkata: Aditya from Fatehpur has nominated his father as a hero. He has supported Aditya in every situation. Aditya said, ‘Money is an issue to survive for daily needs and expenses, my father is standing strong to provide us with every essential need. He is trying his best to give us normal life even in this pandemic.’

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Aditya with his Dad Mr Singh

Soobhash Chandra: Soobash one of our senior players from Fatehpur quickly took the initiative of making masks at home. These have now been delivered across several communities in Kolkata. Soobhash has also been a critical part of our “Chain of Support” network making sure no one sleeps hungry.

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Getting ready to deliver home made masks from Crows HQ

Mr Prathap, Bangalore: Vinay has nominated his school teacher Mr Prathap who has identified several places in Bangalore where the government could not reach. He with a group of friends are helping the daily wage workers in these areas with their essential needs.

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Vinay’s teacher Mr Prathap

Mithun Hazra, Kolkata: Nominated by Paul, he is one of our young leaders. Everyday he is using the lockdown time for self improvement and motivating others to do the same. On his social media, he is putting up exercise videos and sharing his thoughts on various topics to practice his English. Through these efforts he is giving energy and inspiration to all of us.

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Mithun

Suren Oraon, Saraswatipur: Rima from Saraswatipur has nominated her father as her hero. He motivates her to play rugby and is working really hard even in the lockdown to manage his family needs.

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Suren Oraon

Sanjay and Jyoti Nag, Kolkata: Shakti from Khidderpore has nominated his parents. His father Sanjay is going out everyday and doing any work he can find to bring some money home for the family. Shakti is amazed his mother is managing the household on whatever little she is getting.

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Mr and Mrs Nag

Shanti Hela, Kolkata: Anurag from Chetla has nominated his mother as a hero specially since she manages the home all on her own. Even during this situation she is not letting Anurag get distracted from his studies, not allowing him do much household work. Anurag’s Mum is using savings and doing whatever little jobs she can find to keep the family going.

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Anurag with his mum

Mukesh Dooms, Bangalore: Nominated by Akash, Mukesh has collected small amounts of money from his family and friends and uses it to take care of 3 families in his community who cannot manage by themselves.

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Bangalore’s Mukesh

Vidya Devi, Kolkata: Sunny from Hyde Road has nominated his Grandmother (Naani Maa) as a hero. His mother is struggling to manage the finances at home but his grandmother is a huge help doing much of the household work like cooking and cleaning. Meaning his mother has less to worry about.

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Sunny and his Grandmother

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– Learn more about our work and how you can support it. –

Tackling Coronavirus with the Jungle Crows

Amidst the lockdown and food shortages it’s been a challenge taking on the coronavirus but we’re doing our bit.

by Paul Walsh

It’s hard to say where we are at in the current coronavirus battle in India. The statistics are around us everyday, and opinions on what they mean proliferate. The lockdown was a shock to the system. The Jungle Crows are all about being together, sharing experiences, playing lots of rugby and enjoying lengthy Khelo Rugby huddles in Kolkata, Jharkhand, Saraswatipur and Bengaluru. It all stopped overnight.

For a few days we were in a daze for sure. We are a community group, together sharing experiences is what has always been our motivator. How to change that into something that could be relevant and of value during this crisis?

Step up Hari who kicked us into life and organised our first morning hangout bringing together Bengaluru, Kolkata and Saraswatipur. With just a couple of lines on a spreadsheet to look at, plenty of talking over one another, dropped connections and not a few arguments we were developing a match strategy. We were playing heads up rugby!

Chain of Support

  1. Our first priority was to connect with as many of our young coaches as we were able. Get them to share how they were and what the needs of each community was. Video reports started to arrive on their own or borrowed smartphones. We could see that having coaches and players from across the city meant that especially in Kolkata we could get a quick handle on how we could make the most impact.
  2. A small informal survey was developed for all of the children who we have on scholarships – more than 100. To be in touch with them, ensure their families were managing and to use this down time to gather more information to help us plan for the future better.
  3. We quickly realised our forte was not going to be in organising and delivering food or getting protection equipment mobilised. We were connected at grassroots, we could identify specific needs and work with those better placed to meet the challenges of say families running short of food or children with medical needs. So we have tried to become an active facilitator.

Global Connections

  1. The Jungle Crows are incredibly lucky to have friends all round the world. Quickly we formulated a plan to see how far and wide we could connect. We could see this being a terrific motivator for all the children. Yes there were these big problems, but it was important to also keep everyone engaged and have something to be excited about.
  2. Our first connect was with the amazing Rocky Khan, what a story he has. The first player of Indian origin to play for the All Blacks rugby 7s team, inspiring and something to dream about and work towards for all our young players.

Mind and Body Fit

  1. This was something we were much more ready for and comfortable with. Akash one of our young India players took the lead. Organising workout plans, setting challenges. We had the role model of CureFit where so many of our young players now worked, they were quickly reformulating their business from group classes to online workouts attracting hundreds of thousands of participants.

And we’ve still plenty of other stuff going on. We have a core team who mostly enjoy their 10am hangout each day. We’re talking to all our supporters and partners, seeing how we can help them out. We can surely connect with more of our young ruggers. It’s all a work in progress, and very much a marathon not a sprint.

Perseverance blog

If you’d like to support the Jungle Crows work, please click here!

 

 

Living with the Jungle Crows

Thomas was with the Jungle Crows as a volunteer, teacher and mentor, here is more on his adventure in India, learning about how critical values are and that there is always hope.

by Thomas Pothet

The very first time I went to the Jungle Crows rugby field with my friend Pritam who I had met at University in Paris, something struck me. It wasn’t the fact that these children were playing rugby under intense heat and humidity like as if it was nothing… it was their discipline.

I was truly impressed by how disciplined the children were. As my 16-year-old brother plays rugby, I have often seen rugby training and how trainers can struggle to keep the discipline but it was different in Kolkata. Even though they had not seen Pritam, their role model, for a couple of months, none of them interrupted their practice to run toward us. They all stayed focus on their training and one by one, without disturbing the training, players came to greet us.

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Thomas and Pritam leading a class on leadership in Kolkata

It was my first touchpoint with Jungle Crows children and I already had learned something by watching their training.

Through Rugby, Paul Walsh and the Khelo Rugby trainers teach values to these youngsters. The values include discipline and respect, but it is also about being passionate, being committed to something, being a hardworking person and being able to take the lead, to become a leader. Knowing that some of these youngsters used to be thugs or street kids, growing up by their own on Kolkata’s streets, I couldn’t feel anything else than admiration toward Jungle Crows work.

What I saw with the Jungle Crows work was not only about rugby. They teach rugby rules, how to play, how to become a coach, but they mostly teach values and how to use these values outside the rugby field.

As I mentioned, Jungle Crows values are not only about discipline, respect, passion and commitment but I also saw them working hard on fighting gender inequalities in Kolkata and this is not the final step of Jungle Crows children’s journey.

Indeed they also expect the children to spread those values in their communities among the younger generation, to show leadership skills by initiating social projects (collecting trashes, planting trees…), and to become role models for their younger brothers and sisters.

To help them in their journey, Jungle Crows is providing leadership training, English classes and is also financing scholarships. It is through education and through these values that the boys and girls are empowering themselves and are becoming leaders in their community.

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Thomas with a group of young Khelo Rugby Coaches at the Crows Nest, Jungle Crows HQ in Kolkata

Coming from poor backgrounds, if it wasn’t for Jungle Crows, many of these young people would have dropped out of their studies and started working. As their family are not educated and struggle financially, mostly they see education as a cost, not as an investment.

Jungle Crows campaigns to show how valuable education is, how education can bring the change they need in their life and how education can make them become a better person.

Before travelling to Kolkata, I read the City of Joy written by Dominique Lapierre, the writer ends his book by saying that Kolkata is a true lesson of hope and humanity. While I volunteered for Jungle Crows, I learned many things about Kolkata and the Jungle Crows children, and I must say that I truly agree with Dominique Lapierre.

I have never felt like that before but, watching the children playing rugby barefoot, enjoying rugby to its fullest, giving their best both at school and on the rugby field, it made me realise that despite their often extreme poverty, these kids are more joyful and hungry for life than ever. I had never seen such poverty, but I had also never seen people with such big hearts and so eager to learn and live.

From my experience with Jungle Crows, whether it was in Kolkata or in Saraswatipur, I believe that everything these children and young leaders are doing is driven by their hope of having a better life tomorrow, their hope of being able to take care of their family and their hope of doing something that they can be proud of.

Somehow, when I was watching Jungle Crows boys and girls, regardless of their religion or differences, giving their best, an unstoppable flow of emotion overcame me. Every time they were playing, I could only be impressed by them and by their achievement.

These kids taught me many things, I believe that they made me more human, more compassionate and a more hard-working person but for and foremost, they taught me a lesson of hope. Thank you.

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If you’d be interested in volunteering with the Jungle Crows, please be in touch over email: info@junglecrows.org
www.junglecrows.net

It’s about rugby, but it’s more about opportunity

The Jungle Crows are building a Youth Centre in the village of Saraswatipur where they have been playing rugby for five years now. While the rugby is really important to the Crows and all the 100s of children who play in the villages, education is more important.

by Thomas Pothet

The Jungle Crows Foundation promotes education through rugby in Kolkata but also in diverse places in West Bengal like Saraswastipur where there is a rugby ground surrounded by tea gardens and forest. On this field, rugby training and tournaments are organised under the management of Coach Roshan and the older players, Khelo Rugby’s Young Leaders.

In contrast to Kolkata where children do have access to some facilities, the children living in Baikunthapur Forest do not have much of an opportunity at all. No safe place to meet up or study other than clearings in the forest. Development is coming but it is slow.

In Kolkata the Jungle Crows have partnered with the American Centre for English and development training as a part of the ACCESS project, they can go and use the library. In the Crows HQ there is a small hostel where scholarship students can stay, the gym is well equipped and meeting rooms make this a focal centre for so many activities. The Crows also host a ‘Speak Fit’ centre which trains up young men and women keen to get into the fitness industry. During my time in Kolkata I enjoyed meeting and interacting with so many different groups of youngsters, all of them just like me, looking to continue their education, planning how to start a career, passionate about their sport, wanting to learn.

Such opportunities just don’t exist in Baikunthapur, where the forest and the Saraswatipur tea garden dominates life. The tea gardens look beautiful with views to Kangchenjunga, manicured tea bushes stretching as far as the eye can see and neatly surrounded by the amazing Sal trees of the Baikunthapur Forest. But there is poverty and danger as well, I was drawn recently to this description of life in the tea gardens by National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek, where he describes the gardens, “like strolling into a deer park” but one kept going on “poverty wages.”

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Kangchenjunga viewed from the Baikunthapur Forest

While rugby is at the heart and a fundamental part of what the Jungle Crows do while I was with them I could observe that their true DNA is about opportunity and a big part of that is education. And this is a struggle for young people growing up in Saraswatipur, where the draw of working in the tea garden is strong, where going to school can be harder work.

This is where the community centre is intended to make a difference. Construction is in full swing and is being well supported by the village and specially by the children who are excited to see it going up and looking forward to the change it can bring to their lives.

The construction of the centre is necessary for the Jungle Crows to pursue their mission within Baikunthapur Forest and to deliver the dreams and ambitions of the children. With such a centre, players will have access to a gym, proper toilets, rest rooms, and of course class rooms.

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Centre construction in full swing

All the children in the Jungle Crows learn about the values of the game – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. It is key to be able to translate these values into the children’s everyday lives. The centre in Saraswatipur will be a focus for this. Taking what is learnt on the field to support learning in the class room. I was lucky to see first hand the incredible passion the children have for their rugby. They have learned about how important it is to be passionate about something, about how discipline can win the game, commitment and hard work are keys for success. It is now time for them to use those principles outside the rugby field, for educational purposes and to develop the seeds that Jungle Crows planted in them through rugby.

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Passionate about their rugby

Besides their rugby one of the main issues in the villages is that the children don’t have any other activities available to them. They end up giving up on school and going to work in the tea gardens at a very young age. There is no support for education and even the transport provided by the tea gardens is stopped from class 8 when a child needs support most. In these circumstances youngsters often see taking up a job on less than two euros a day as a better option.

The Crows finance scholarships and provide cycles to make it easier for the kids to reach their schools and reach educational targets. It is important children don’t give up. The centre will be another part of this, an attempt to break the cycle that keeps swathes of the village in poor circumstances. The children themselves know that they want to have a different purpose in life, different from the one their parents had and to avoid the same social disadvantages. The aim is to enlighten their daily life and future.

The centre is still in construction but soon these passionate kids will be able to be diligent in their class rooms to improve themselves and work hard for their future.

Give them the right tools and the amazing children of Saraswatipur will move mountains.

You can support the building of the Saraswatipur Youth Centre by making a donation here!

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www.junglecrows.net

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.

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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.

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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.

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Swapna breaks through for West Bengal

Read more about what we do at: www.junglecrows.net

Under 9 Rugby Rocking Kolkata

Bringing our under 9s together on Crow Field was a new and enjoyable experience for players and coaches alike.

By Peter Fernandes

Under 9s was the order of the day on 25th February 2018 – a great day of rugby as the smaller children from our Khelo Rugby programme exhibited their very good rugby skills, had lots of fun and made new friends from across our communities. The tournament featured a total of 20 teams made up of 230 children participating from 24 different Khelo locations. With our commitment to gender equality we opted to play a 6-a-side mixed team tag rugby tournament. Each squad had to have a mixed composition of 5 girls and 5 boys. The 20 teams were coached and looked after by 46 young Khelo community coaches. The coaches did a splendid job and ensured that the children had a great time.

We saw the tournament as a great opportunity for the younger children in our program to play in a professionally organized tournament.  A total of 57 matches were played with a whopping 311 tries being scored. Every child was given a healthy breakfast when they started the day and lunch at the end of the tournament.

The following teams took the top honours:

Cup Winners – Fatehpur

Plater Winners – Jainkunj

Bowl Winners – Khatal

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Interesting findings/observations: 311 tries were scored in total at the tournament, with the Cup, Bowl and Plate finals itself producing 24 tries! It’s an astounding achievement meaning there was more than one try for every minute of play! The children were very disciplined and listened to all the instructions handed out during the course of the tournament. The level of rugby was simply amazing!

Let’s meet some of those taking part.J SantoshJ Santosh, Young leader from Fatehpur “For the U-9 tournament, the team trained hard every day for about a month. The tournament was super fun. Dealing with the young children was a big challenge but an experience I would cherish forever. Watching the children play such good rugby at the tournament makes me feel proud. They are so young but displayed so much maturity on the field that it surprised me a lot. Winning the cup was a result of all the hard work and dedication of the young children. I will continue coaching rugby to the children of Fatehpur and these lovely children are a big part of my life now.”Priya Pandit and Ayman FirdousPriya Pandit (14 yrs) and Ayman Firdous (12 yrs) were responsible for the tournament fixtures, scorekeeping and time management. Both are young girls from our Howrah Pilkhana community and did a splendid job that ensured that the matches run as per schedule and on time.

Ayman “This was the first time that I was given the responsibility of managing the tournament fixtures. It was a lot of hard work and the weather was very hot. I had to inform all the teams of their match timings. I kept 2 young leaders assigned to tell the teams for the upcoming matches. Considering we had 4 fields setup, there were 8 teams that had to be kept ready to take on to the field as soon as the ongoing matches would end. I loved the experience. I think we did a good job as we finished the matches on time”, said Ayman with a big smile on her face.

Priya “I learnt something new today. At first I was a bit nervous but I knew my rugby coach Akash was there to support me. For the first time, I had seen 4 fields being setup and 4 matches being played simultaneously at one time. It was a bit nerve wrecking but super fun. Noticing the confidence bestowed on me by my coaches, I felt more comfortable with my role. I had to keep track of scores from field no.1 and give the scores to the scorer’s table. I also helped in the presentation ceremony. It was another first time experience talking in front of 200+ children. I enjoyed it.”Aditya Singh and Khushi ShawI caught up with a very thrilled Aditya Singh and Khushi Shaw of team Fatehpur after the Cup final match where they beat Brooklyn 3-2 in a closely fought finals match. “We are so happy that we won the tournament! This is our first trophy and we will show all our friends in Fatehpur this trophy. We did not expect this. We practised a lot for this tournament. When we reached the finals, everyone was a bit tense and nervous. For both of us, the final was the best match. Overall we had a great day and enjoyed a lot. I made so many new friends today” said Khushi. Khushi was also bestowed with the player of the tournament award for being the leader of the team.Alisha Khatoon and Sanny AliAlisha Khatoon and Sanny Ali were in the Brooklyn team that stood Cup runner-up in the tournament. Alisha, “when I reached the field today morning, I was so surprised to see so many children from different parts of Calcutta. I did not know so many children played rugby. The playing field is so nice and the grass is so good to play on. I had great fun. The field was my favourite part. I made 3 new friends today, one from Pilkhana, one from Dhapa and one from Jainkunj. I hope I get to meet them again”. Sanny, “I can’t wait for the next tournament. I had great fun. I love rugby and I will practise harder to win the final next time. We have lot of children in our para (community) that play rugby and I want to continue playing this game.”Sapna YadavSapna Yadav from Jainkunj “I am so happy today. My parents were not allowing me to play before but thanks to coach Subroto, I am here today at this tournament. He spoke to the parents of all the girls in our para (community). I am so shocked to see so many girls from Kolkata playing rugby. I now feel special. I will never forget this day and it will always bring good memories to my mind.”Sandip KumarSandip Kumar, “we worked very hard and practised a lot at our field back home. I am happy that we are taking back the plate trophy back to our para. Next time hopefully we will be cup winners. This was my first tournament experience and I had great fun. I am looking forward to the next one.”

A special big THANK YOU To all the 40+ Khelo coaches, 200+ children, fantastic team at the Robin Hood Army for the lunch, Sudhir and Ravi for cleaning the ground and arranging for the breakfast and drinking water.DSC06998You can also watch a short movie with plenty of the action on our You Tube channel here!

 

 

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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Rugby Tackles Gender Inequality

Khelo Rugby’s new Project Manager writes about her experiences in organising our Day of the Girl Tournament and how gender inclusion is an important part of combatting gender inequality. 

by Nidhi Ghelani

When I see the girls from across our Khelo communities’ play and lead training sessions I realise that the only thing holding young girls back is the lack of opportunity and a platform to showcase their talents. A young girl encouraging her team to play better during an inter-community match got me thinking whether the most pressing issue to be addressed today is “gender equality” or “gender inclusion”. Our minds are so trained to think of gender roles in a stereotypical manner that we forget the very essence of equality.

Here, at Khelo Rugby we believe that sports is an excellent medium to accelerate gender inclusion and foster gender equality among both girls and boys. Rugby as a sport has a place for everyone on the team. Hence, rugby teaches us that irrespective of size, weight and height what is important is the zeal to play and the passion to excel.

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Character traits like passion, competence, sportsmanship, discipline are essential in every athlete and have no gender bias. They are not gendered or stereotyped. This is the beauty of sport, it does not discriminate based on gender, race, religion, or caste.  The only limitations are the ones we introduce when we say “rugby is a men’s sport” or “girls should not play contact sports like rugby”.

We often feel that educating girls will empower them.  Or just by making them aware of their rights and responsibilities, we can promote a more gender neutral society. However this is only half the picture. What needs to be addressed simultaneously is to sensitize the boys and men around us, which will help us nurture the sapling of equality we plant in the mind and heart of each individual.

The International Day of the Girl is to mark the plight and gather support for young girls across the globe who are subjected to gender based discrimination and violence. We at Khelo have joined hands in this initiative to make a more gender fair society by helping and supporting young girls to break down barriers and emerge as heroes. We undertook the mammoth challenge of organising an U-14 Tag Tournament, where 240 young, motivated, and extremely talented girls from over 20 Indian communities were out on the field enjoying rugby. Our team of 4 coaches and over 45 Young leaders spent their days training girls from various communities and delivering the theme of gender equality through fun games and open discussions. These lessons are one of the tenants from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which we have adopted in Khelo.

Socially enforced gender roles are so deeply embedded in our culture that  discrimination has become normalized and accepted. Young girls from underprivileged communities have often seen their mothers, sisters and other women of the family being subjected to gender based discrimination which they have accepted in their very own lives. It was enthralling to see so many girls out on the field, free from any stereotypical bias making their presence felt and voice heard.

When we talk about gender equality we must also talk about gender inclusion which means that both girls and boys get the opportunity to participate equally. The tournament was planned, organised and executed by the girl young leaders. It was an opportunity given to them to showcase their skills and also a learning opportunity to prepare themselves to deal with bigger challenges life will eventually throw at them.

What life has to offer and what we make of these offers is what shapes our personality. There are times when life throws a curve-ball at us, we either duck or face it with determination and smash a home run. Well, the society today under the facade of liberty and liberalization still breeds gender based discrimination which trickles into the life of these young girls impacting their personality. Sports on the other hand can free them from this cage giving them a more bias free platform to showcase their skills and nurture their passion. It is motivating to see girls who have been a part of Khelo Rugby participate in various state and national level tournaments, making their family, community, organization and nation proud. That what we mean by ‘Growing Up With Rugby.’

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When sport does not discriminate why should we? Sports impacts the lives of players deeper than we can imagine. Hence, for girls who hardly get to see or explore the avenues which lead to self-growth and development this exposure adds a brick to their ever growing palace of dreams and ambitions.

To play a full contact sport like rugby is a barrier many girls have to overcome.  From wearing shorts, to playing in front of an audience, the cultural taboos on women are many. A very important lesson we learn from rugby is to get back up after being knocked down. Many dreams and ambitions are laughed upon and ridiculed when these girls share them with their family and friends… nevertheless they learn to strike back with more determination and zeal. Girls across the globe are fighting various gender biases, and sports provides them a chance to not just free themselves from this but also train their mind and body to become stronger and sharper as they grow.

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Here in Khelo, girls are no less than boys. The roles and responsibilities are given not based on gender but capability and talent. It’s not easy to break free from the shackles of stereotypical thinking but as an organization working with disadvantaged and underprivileged children we try our best to instil among our children the concept of a gender fair society. We see girls and boys adopt the values of rugby in their daily lives leading better  and more fulfilling lives. I’m a strong believer that girls can bring about social change at every level. As daughters, sisters, and mothers… women are god gifted with the task of passing on values and building strong value systems. Khelo through various theme based activities and fun games tries to address these issues in a manner which the children enjoy and learn from as well.

‘Women are genetically stronger” says science. “Women are entrusted the responsibility of being primary caregivers and nurturing a new life” says the society. If women are considered so powerful both through mind and body, why hold them back with stereotyped gender roles and biases? This paradox is prevalent everywhere. Khelo makes active efforts to free young talented girls, giving them opportunities and the right exposure to broaden their horizons.

To build something new the old must sometimes be brought down. To create a more gender fair society we must work together towards including more and more girls and women in every part of community life. What we need today is not projects for them but projects by them. The solution to gender inequality is gender inclusion. Here at Khelo we train girls and boys to grow up together, making each other stronger.

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Jungle Crows and Maharastra Women’s Team after their Bronze Medal Match, All India Oct 2017