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 

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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.

 

How to be a SUPERHERO

All about our new Khelo Rugby balls

by Paul Walsh

Our new rugby balls for Khelo Rugby feature four panels that help children think in terms of being a SUPERHERO!

But what sort of SUPERHERO do we mean?

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Lesson one is the theory…..

Panel 1: EXCELS

  • be exceptionally good at or proficient in an activity or subject.

Panel 2: COMMUNITY

  • a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

Panel 3: CARES

  • what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.

Lesson two is the practical….

What we have tried to do is capture some important life lessons in the design of the ball panels. And along with training for our young Khelo Leaders to deliver sessions using the ball as their guide, our ambition is to influence a few thousand young minds on these issues.

2017-ball-excelsExcels: we want the children who are part of Khelo Rugby to think about their own performance in everything they do – at home, in school, in activities and in playing. The ball shows a school, an open book inscribed; “Always learn something new” and children on a pedestal after competing. We know that winning isn’t everything but we do believe children should be encouraged to put in their maximum effort. And though we would love to be producing fleets of professional rugby players (our passion), this is not what Khelo Rugby is about. School and education is where children need to excel and this is why the school building is prominent. And if rugby is also the children’s passion then great, because in our experience the longer a youngster can stay in education – passing Class 10, Class 12 and going to College – the longer he or she can play!

2017-ball-communityCommunity: at the heart of Khelo Rugby is our rugby community, where Khelo has grown and developed from. Our inspiration has been working with youngsters who have found their feet and blossomed playing rugby to now be part of their own businesses, working in decent jobs and studying further than they could have imagined. Discussing with children their own communities and how they can have a positive influence on them is a big part of Khelo Rugby. These communities include their families, the locality they live in, their town, city or village and of course all their rugby playing friends. Looking out for those less able is demonstrated by a couple of old folks, we have the symbol for recycling and a green tree. We feel community is a responsibility and each and every child needs to understand and be confident with their role in their communities.

2017-ball-caresCares: our ambition is to support children to become caring individuals and to do this we think it is important that they care for themselves as well as for others. Heart, tooth and an apple show some of the physical well-being a child needs to know about. We’ve lost Khelo children to traffic accidents so a symbol and training for safely crossing the road has been incorporated on the ball. And a clock is there to prompt a discussion on punctuality and the responsibilities we have to others.

We were delighted our new balls arrived in time for our Winter Camps and made a real difference to the work of the Coaches during the Camps. There was lots of excitement as the balls flew into use and we have been delighted with the positive reaction from everyone who has taught or played with them.

Finally, special thanks to Shreyas for introducing us to Mamata who did an incredible design job!

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Kichad Rugby

How playing rugby in the mud (kichad) can teach children important life lessons

By Peter Fernandes

We started 2016 with a plan to build our Khelo Rugby project around the Power of Play. Sport can be such a powerful tool, on our playing field there is unity, social inclusion and gender equality. Khelo Rugby has come a long way in serving the community and we want to keep doing more for the young children who play with us. Khelo wants to be able to make a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of children, giving them strength, courage, knowledge and essential social skills required to build a good future.

At Khelo Rugby, we train our community coaches to provide high quality coaching to children that would not normally get such a chance. We encourage a very informal and friendly approach that builds trust with the children. The coaches are ably assisted in most communities by ‘Young Khelo Leaders’, who are young rugby players, normally graduates of Khelo Rugby who have displayed consistent skills in leadership and commitment to the programme. These Young Leaders are essential in enabling us to conduct more than 40 training sessions per week across 24 communities in Kolkata.

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Khelo Rugby’s Milindo leads a Charcha in Saraswatipur

Each month we work on a theme based around a socio-development issue and selected by the children and coaches themselves. The objective is to impart important knowledge to the children and give them a chance to learn away from preconceived notions & stereotypes. These knowledge sessions we call “charchas”, they are usually conducted at the end of each training session. Apart from the standard charcha sessions, we also organise workshops and rallies for our young leaders and community coaches to impart more in-depth knowledge about social issues.

The results have been really fantastic and have also been a test of the leadership qualities of the young leaders who have delivered beyond our expectations. We have realised along the way that true leadership skills come to light when the young leaders are given important responsibilities and are held accountable for certain duties.

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Khelo Young Leaders getting their work done!

Our Khelo Rugby centre in the village of Saraswatipur near Siliguri has been one of the most inspiring stories of the impact of the Power of Play. Within a span of 4 years, with the dedicated efforts of our coaches, the children have excelled to become outstanding rugby players and strong individuals who have gone on to represent the India National Women’s rugby team at international competitions and the West Bengal state rugby team. The girls have superb athletic abilities and are now looked upon as role models for the younger generation of girls from Saraswatipur. The story of the empowerment of the rugby playing girls of Saraswatipur has been a special feather in the cap of Khelo Rugby.

Our August theme was Indigenous Peoples to coincide with 9 August the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Like many tea estate communities Saraswatipur has a large proportion of indigenous people, mainly from the Munda and Oraon Adivasi communities. In order to celebrate their Adivasi culture we planned an educational camp concluding with a one-day rugby tournament – giving the children a few days of learning, competition and fun. The organising of the entire camp and tournament was entrusted to a few young leaders, from both Kolkata and Saraswatipur.

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Kichad Rugby

Through the camp children were able to learn about other indigenous peoples around the world and why there is a day to mark indigenous peoples. The children were also able to share interesting things about their own culture and life and feel proud of their Adivasi culture.

New Khelo Rugby manager Milindo on his first visit to Saraswatipur led a team of 6 young leaders from Kolkata and supported all stages of the project. His own expertise and experience was invaluable in enabling the children to talk and discuss openly and in a positive way. Interesting that the symbol of the international day was designed by a youngster from Milindo’s own indigenous community Rebang Dewan a Chakma boy.

indigenous-logoMajor highlights:

  • 12 teams with 180 children playing mixed tag rugby participated in a total of 32 passion filled matches, delighting the spectators.
  • Felicitation ceremony was held for 8 West Bengal players and 2 India National team players, Swapna Oraon and Chanda Oraon from Saraswatipur. Attended by the Sarpanch and members of the Panchayat of Saraswatipur village, Priest from the local church and the manager of the Saraswatipur tea estate.
  • A friendly tag Rugby match was played between Kolkata young leaders and Saraswatipur young leaders with a display of great strength, technique and stamina giving a boost and vision to the young ruggers of the village to continue working hard in the sport.
  • 20+ Young Leaders of Khelo Rugby organised the whole event with tremendous professionalism. The young leaders from Kolkata were treated like family and their hosts took them sightseeing, bathing in the river and to their homes for lunch and dinner. The experience was a humbling one for the young leaders who brought back some vivid memories.
  • For the first time, the people of Saraswatipur village celebrated the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and they promised that they would celebrate this day every year.
  • Celebration of indigenous culture with a program of Adivasi songs and dance which gave a broad perspective of the deep-rooted culture and uniqueness of Adivasi people.
  • 300 plates of chicken curry were cooked, served and eaten – nobody went home hungry.

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This was a true community event with everyone participating either actively or as part of a supportive audience. The elders of the villages were touched that their children had brought such an incredible event to life and that to with an acknowledgement of their own culture and identity. The energy and vibe were mesmerizing. Every try, every good effort on the field was keenly responded with huge cheers and much clapping. The audience and community were a big motivational factor and contributed in large part to the success of the event.

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Playing Together from Kolkata to Karachi

Our Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum brought together sport for development children in Kolkata and Karachi

by Shreyas Rao

The International Day of Sport for Development and Peace – IDSDP (6th of April) always provides good opportunities within Sport for Development organisations like the Jungle Crows Foundation to try new initiatives and bring refreshing ideas into our projects.

Sport for Development events across the world provide a focus to the day and help in building new ways to engage young persons in different ideas and initiatives through sport.  With this in mind, we had the ‘madcap’ idea of seeing if we could get children from our communities in Kolkata to interact with children in Karachi through a video conference on 6 April.

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Sport is GREAT Children’s Forum – Kolkata meets Karachi

Britain is GREAT, an initiative of the British High Commission has given us the opportunity to create and deliver several events under the Sport is GREAT banner. Using our Khelo Rugby programme we have held events in Kolkata and Bhubaneswar. Our Sport is GREAT work kicked off with a  Rugby World Cup themed children’s tournament in Bhubaneswar and most recently saw a rugby tournament in Kolkata just for girls. For this we had more than 160 girls from across our Khelo locations in Kolkata and Siliguri come together to play and listen to an inspiring talk from Shubha Kenworthy.

Our thinking was that we wanted to do something a little different to mark IDSDP in 2016 and the video conference was something we felt could be very special for all the children involved. We were fortunate that the Kolkata offices of the British Council and Deputy High Commission shared our enthusiasm. Kolkata partners for what we called our Children’s Forum were identified by including Future Hope and Durbaar who both participate in the Football for Development project Dosti. And though we would have liked to link up with our own Khelo Rugby children in Lahore logistics meant it was better to connect with Dosti children in Karachi.

On the day of the event, 30 children arrived very excited at the Deputy High Commission in Kolkata dressed to represent their respective organisations. After a brief ice breaker session, the children all seated themselves anxiously at the conference room eagerly waiting to meet new children in Karachi.  After a few redials the children were all soon immersed in free-wheeling, fun-filled banter about various aspects of their life, opening their hearts and their minds listening and talking about each other’s lives and engaging in an engrossing exchange.

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Children representing Future Hope, Durbaar and Jungle Crows meet in advance of their Kolkata – Karachi link-up

I was delighted to be the moderator and followed a plan along the following lines, while encouraging the children to set the pace and be in control of their own conversations:

  • Introduction – from each side: their names and what sport they played.
  • A brief chat about their city and community.
  • Language and culture – sharing each others different and same languages.
  • A discussion about their own sporting experiences and favorite players.
  • Challenges the children have faced while growing up and how sport has helped in these.
  • Exchange on passions and hobbies.
  • Fun chat over the hypothetical question – if I was in India for a day…. or If I was in Pakistan for a day…
  • A round of Anthakshari between the children based on their common love of Bollywood songs

To make things simple, it was agreed at the start that the interaction would take place in Hindi. While it was the girls who dominated the discussion in Karachi, the participation was relatively equal from both boys and girls in Kolkata. Sport helped ease the tension even through a video conference – we started with a debate about whether Ronaldo or Messi was the better player. Of course Messi won, with the discussion going to a vote in both Karachi and Kolkata! Other highlights for me included the children teaching each other their respective languages – Bengali and Pashto, laughter and agreement on their love of Biryani and telling each other about their famed city landmarks.It was also great to see how the children could think criticaly even at such a young age, always surprising us with their maturity about issues and their enthusiasm about learning about each others culture. They were also sensitive enough to be politically correct – with a girl from Pakistan saying that she would love to play “Holi” if she ever visited India. The sports kits of girls was also a topic for discussion with the girls from India quite curious about what girls wore when they played outside in Karachi. At which, a little girl in Karachi nonchalantly stood up and turned around to show everyone her name printed on the back of her full sleeved track, implying that they were all indeed present in the room with their sports kit on. Several of the Kolkata children were pleasantly surprised that the girls even got a chance at sport. Towards the end, there was a lot of light banter about Bollywood and varying and similar tastes in music, fittingly ending in a fun game of Anthakshari between the two teams!

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Karachi Dosti On the Air

This experience turned out to be  incredibly memorable for everyone involved; children and adults alike. With such an event it is quite hard to comprehend its significance. But it was noteworthy that all the children participating came from disadvantaged communities and generally lacked any regular access to technological resources. Yet, the children showed much maturity in the discussion, steering clear from populist prejudices and preconceived notions. The exchange of thoughts seemed to have enabled the children to refresh their minds from any narrow vision of the “other”, the “enemy” or other such identities that can be indoctrinated from a young age.  It was clear that at the most basic level, children know no hatred, their curiosity is genuine, and the bonds they form are pure. It was incredibly heartening to see, in the end, a couple of them came near the screen and intently waved at each other.  Alas, their hands could never meet but a peculiar yet innocent friendship took form.

One thing was clear, it was only the medium of sport that made something like this even possible to imagine. Sport creates unique channels of interaction; it provides an opportunity for opening new passages for dialogue. At a time when debate about nationalism is becoming ever more loathsome and petty, such events help elevate the plane of debate. Sport with its broad visions of equality can open up so many new doors everyday and guide us towards a renewed global movement.  It is indeed a rare privilege for sport for development organizations around the world that they can facilitate such unique initiatives, that they can dream beyond borders and provide experiences beyond boundaries!

It is worth concluding by noting that the views here are expressed on my experience as a moderator. I will also be compiling more thoughts from the children themselves, and I am sure that is bound to spring many surprises.

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Author Shreyas captures a selfie with the children in Kolkata and Karachi!

Who Wants to Change the World?

by Paul Walsh

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(Article first published in The Telegraph, Calcutta and reproduced here with permission)

“Want to change the world? Invest in an adolescent girl.” – the United Nations Foundation.

Over the winter our Jungle Crows Foundation ran winter rugby camps for children in Calcutta, Saraswatipur and Bangalore. In Calcutta this was the 11th year of the camp. Combined more than 1800 children took part, on the biggest day in Calcutta we had more than 900 children out playing on the Maidan. Looked after by more than 80 volunteer Coaches and fed each day of the 11 mornings a hearty breakfast by one of 14 local hotels and restaurants who stepped forward to support the initiative. Get along to junglecrows.org and you can watch a short film about it.

Over the course of the camp we too realised that girls are pretty damn important in facilitating change. I mean it wasn’t the sudden dawning of something pretty obvious, but a sense that involving more girls in our work really did make a difference to the experience for everyone. We tried hard to get more girls to this year’s camp, organising safe transport, reassuring parents. And it worked partly, 35% of the children playing each morning were girls, this was certainly an increase on previous years and you could sense it changed the atmosphere of the camp.

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This year in the Jungle Crows we are driving forward with an initiative we are calling the Year of Play. The same film referenced above tells you more about that, but the first objective of this programme is to involve more and more adolescent girls in our work. The UN says girls are the key to, “eliminating poverty, achieving social justice, stabilizing the population, and preventing foreseeable humanitarian crises.” That’s quite a lot of responsibility, but having been brought up by a young Mum on her own I can also report how it’s not an unrealistic expectation. We all know girls in our society face many more hurdles in growing up than boys, whether it is marriage at too young an age, isolation due to community customs, denial of education or the threat of trafficking. Most of us will be able to recount experiences where we have at least heard of young girls denied their full chance in life. And this denial of rights is bad for all of us, for all of society. Girls are real change makers in our world, they are the catalyst around which a better world can be created. Today there are more than 600 million girls aged 10-19 growing up in developing countries, just imagine the change they could create if given the right chances.

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We reckon PLAY and sport can be pretty powerful in encouraging and supporting this change. This is what our Khelo Rugby Community programme is all about. Working with children directly in the communities they live in. Community support is essential to any change and if we want to get more girls playing we need to have the support of their families, elders and schools. One way we can change attitudes is by involving girls in high profile visible events of which they are the centre of attention. This was why when we had the chance to partner with the British High Commission for a Sport is GREAT event we chose to do girls rugby. It really was an incredible day with 160 under 14 girls all playing tag-rugby to a very high standard. The final was particularly close and featured a mixed Calcutta team versus a team from Saraswatipur – the tea garden village we work in near Siliguri. The girls from Saraswatipur won, which was a super achievement for them and really showed how they have bloomed with Khelo Rugby.

VIV_0285After the girls rugby myself and the Deputy High Commissioner Scott Fursendonn-Wood raced over to the British Council where we were part of a panel discussion on how sport can play a central role in social development. The debate was high quality and really showcased some of the great social development work going on in Calcutta with sport at its centre; from engaging with school drop outs through Kolkata Goalz to the huge impact of Special Olympics Bharat with so many positive stories in between.

The benefits of play and sport are well known to most parents and in so many ways it is even more important that we work to extend these benefits to include all girls. I think we all know how play and physical activity is a key to a healthier life now and as children grow up. Research has also shown that active children learn better, develop keener memories and have better concentration. Play boosts self-confidence, lessens stress, helps us make new friends, develops team work, is good for goal setting, and I can go on!

And so this is why in the Jungle Crows we’ve adopted the hashtag #PowerOfPlay for 2016, please do use it if you think PLAY can be a positive in children’s lives. And for all the girls in your life please encourage them to get out and play, and then you too can be a part of supporting 600 million girls who are going to transform our world.

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