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!



Universal Children’s Day 2016

Thoughts around the Universal Children’s Day 2016

by Peter Fernandes

Childhood is the state or period of being a child. It is the early innocent years of a person’s life cycle before adolescence. There are various childhood factors that create the kind of attitude that the person has in their life. At Khelo Rugby, our theme for the month of November has been “Childhood”. We as an organisation work to create positive experiences in the lives of the hundreds of underprivileged children that we reach out to. We are able to achieve success in our program because we use the simplest medium that a child understands and enjoys – PLAY!  Play is considered to be so important to optimal child development that it has been recognised by the United Nations as the right of every child – and more precisely in Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Our organised Khelo sessions are designed to get the best out of every child. Over the years of working with underprivileged children who often come from difficult backgrounds, we have learnt how important the role of a coach can be in the life of a young child. I am personally privileged to have been given the best of education, love and the community support growing up in my childhood. I had very supportive parents and a positive friend’s circle which has enabled me to seek the good in life. A lot of credit to the kind of friends I made has to do with sports. Being involved with active sports representing my school and state of Goa in hockey gave me the opportunity to make good friends and surround myself with a positive eco-system of life. When in school I had the opportunity to try my hand at different sports. I took a strong liking towards hockey because I had a good coach. The coach was motivating and always pushed me to achieve success. I would not pay much attention in my class in school as much as I would pay attention to what the coach on the field was saying. The positive attitude that I live my life with today has a lot to do with what the coaches on the field taught me. A good coach has the power to play a very important role in a young child’s life. Coaching is not a profession; rather I would call it a vocation.


At Khelo Rugby, we are blessed to have compassionate coaches, many of whom have come from similar difficult backgrounds as the young children they conduct training with. Most children in our program don’t have access to positive community role models. Our coaches become an important community support, something that all children deserve in their life. Once we are able to get to the level of the child and become their friend we are able to create a bond of friendship. A good friend who has empathy and understanding is a very important bond children need in their lives. Having a friend in a coach, who a child can trust, who they can look up to, who they can aspire to become, lets them open up their lives to the coach and share their feelings. These feelings could be something very small or meaningless to an adult, but to the child, it can mean the world.

Our focus of 2016 has been the #YearofPlay, we at Khelo Rugby have taken the power of play to thousands of children across Kolkata, Saraswatipur and Bengaluru. We have begun training at 4 new communities in the last 7 months and looking to add 3 more communities in the coming few weeks. It’s a very exciting time to be associated with the Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby, which is not just growing in numbers but I’m also excited to see the coaches getting more mature and assuming the bigger role of a leader of the communities they work with.


Rugby is a great tool for children to engage and interact with the world around them. Besides getting the opportunity for physically exercising their bodies, they also get an opportunity for intellectual and emotional development. They learn social skills like making new friends, to work in a group and broaden their scope for social interactions. By playing rugby they also learn to accept defeat and celebrate victory, two very basic but critical aspects of life. The sport of rugby gives a child opportunities to explore their creativity. A player on the field has to be sharp to react and quick to move their feet. Rugby is physically demanding and also works on mental toughness.

It is very rewarding to give the children who we train in rugby, opportunities to showcase their talent. We conduct rugby training in our communities. We also have the Jungle Crows Academy every Saturday morning where aspiring and budding young rugby players can play and develop their skills. We organise the Khelo Sporting League on the last Sunday of every month, which gives children from across Kolkata the experience of a real tournament. Our involvement in the lives of these children as a friend, an elder brother, an elder sister who they can trust and share their feelings with is improving by the day because of our charcha sessions.


The Year of Play has been an interesting journey so far. Most of the children we work with come from tough home situations and can be challenging to deal with. Parents are often less responsive and more authoritarian making it difficult to implement our plans. We work hard to explain the benefits that sport plays in the life of a child. It is clear that a child living in a disadvantaged community gets very little social support. So what are we at Khelo Rugby going to do about it? Well, talking on behalf of the organisation and while we prepare ourselves for the upcoming Winter Camp 2016-17, we will continue to try to make a stronger social impact by getting more involved with our Khelo children and their communities. We will use a more bottom up approach where we do what the child in our programme wants Khelo Rugby to do. It is a tough task for all of us, but life is never easy and the impact that we can create is going to make it all the more fruitful. The strongest component that we will continue using to promote youth development is our love for the sport of rugby. We love our rugby and want to share our love for the game to the hundreds of children that we reach out to.


This Universal Children’s Day we toured across Kolkata taking a fun filled session to more than 700 children in 15 different Khelo Communities. It was a marathon trek starting at 7am and finishing past 7pm. All of our Coaches were involved, it was inredibly motivating, great fun and hugely rewarding – pictures here are from that!

Khelo Khelo


SCORE for Health & Hygiene

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

by Milindo Chakma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something To Crow About…..

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

by Emma Richardson, Trustee and Supporter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year everyone!

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

Try For Peace with Khelo Rugby

#TryForPeace – What’s Peace All About?

by Paul Walsh

In 2013 we took part in our first ever Global Peace Games, we really enjoyed the experience. It was great that the children from Khelo Rugby in Calcutta were able to share an experience – virtually at least – with children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. You can read about this on the blog we published then: Scoring A Try For Peace.

For this years event we wanted to make the experience more relevant for the children. While the UN Manifesto for Peace is spot on in terms of what it says we thought we needed to try to bring it down to a level the children could better relate to. This is the Manifesto of Peace:


As I said it is all good stuff, but we were keen to make our message of Peace a bit more understandable for the children we work with. One cute little resource we found on the web was this poster:

Peace 2014

We were able to build our work around the messages in this and really relate it to the children’s own experiences and importantly the experiences of the Coaches also – since it was the Coaches who were going to have to discuss Peace with their children.

One of the things that came out of this were some touching stories from the Coaches about how the message of peace was interpreted and made much more relevant for the children. Here are a couple of the stories:

Coach Ajay: “This was the first tournament the children of Chingrighatta had played in, they are a new Khelo Rugby community a little away from most of the others. On the day of the tournament the children all pleaded with me that they be allowed to play as their own team. We’d agreed in the run-up to the tournament that we would mix all the children up on the day so they got the chance to play with and make new friends. I think the Chingrighata children were a bit nervous about this and really didn’t like the idea at all. Reluctantly they split up and all joined a different team. And how they enjoyed it! At the end they all came running over to me and said what a great time they’d had, how they had made new friends, how they had played better than they had ever played before and when was the next tournament! I was so happy with this and explained that this was what peace was all about, we needed to spend time with other people, share experiences with them like playing together so we weren’t afraid of others and could all be good friends. This made me very happy.”

Coach Ajay

Coach Ajay

Coach Lovepreet: “One of the children from my Behala Khelo community, he was in the team that won the Bowl trophy on the day. Since all the children were mixed up we knew some children would be sad not to be able to take the trophies home. And this boy, who is a good player and has played in tournaments before was determined to hold onto the trophy and to take it home. One small girl from the Kolkata Port Trust Colony, I could see she was looking at the trophy and really wanted to hold it. It was the first time she had ever played, so it was extra special that she had been on a winning team. I asked the Behala boy, ‘How many tournaments have you played?’, ‘How good is it to have the trophy?’ He looked a bit shy and then I said, ‘Imagine you were playing in your first tournament and you were able to take a trophy home to your family?’ and pointed out the girl standing nearby. Quick as a flash he got my idea and walked over to the girl and handed her the trophy, telling her to take it back to show her family. Both of them were smiling from ear to ear and I thought, yes this is real peace when we show each other respect, share and can make a small sacrifice to support and encourage another.”

Coach Lovepreet

Coach Lovepreet

It would be great to hear from others with experience of working with children through sports and addressing ‘Big Ticket’ issues like Peace. I think we have really learnt a lot from our efforts this year and now better understand how important it is to make issues connect to the children we are working with. We know we engage with our children really well through our great sport of rugby, so we have their attention, just we also need to make our social messages as connecting and engaging.

We now await our next Khelo Rugby event in Pakistan in the Fort Abbas community with the Desert Camel’s very own Wazeeri in charge. One day soon we hope our Khelo children will not only get to look at their friends in other countries through a screen but be able to play together and learn a whole lot more.

All the photos of the day’s action – the children had a great time – can be seen on our Khelo Rugby Facebook Page and please do give it a ‘LIKE’ so you always know what is happening.



Special thanks to:


#TryForPeace – Action from the Final

RAF Spitfires Fly Into India

J11RAF Spitfire player Jamie Douglas writes on the Spitfires 2014 Tour to India

“Kolkata we have arrived!” After a long journey from London to Kolkata via New Delhi the Royal Air Force Spitfires 7s Team had landed safely in India. After an eye opening drive from the airport to the hotel which was filled with beeping horns, laughter, the odd scream and some stunned silence we were greeted by smiles, drinks and a traditional welcoming Bindi, this country had already won us over! Like every rugby team our mind was on food, so we all got to our rooms had a quick turn around and headed out on the town with the Khelo Rugby lads leading the way. Paul, Zaffar and Hari kept us right during our walk through the city and led us to a very nice restaurant. It had been a long tiring day travelling but it was topped off with friendly faces, a good laugh and great food; bring on the rest of the tour.

Welcome from Jungle Crows Zaffar, Roshan and Hari

Welcome from Jungle Crows Zaffar, Roshan and Hari

Day 1 – Don Bosco Ashalayam – Kolkata

Today we met with a few more of the Jungle Crows lads who run Khelo Rugby. Listening to some of their stories captivated everyone; the stuff these boys such as Zaffar and Roshan have gone through is unbelievable and to now be doing what they are doing is truly inspiring, they are a real credit to themselves and are great ambassadors for Khelo Rugby. After our meet and greet we all jumped in the wagons, one of which the Spitfires paid for last year with the sales from playing jerseys through out the season, and we headed off through the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Kolkata to our first Indian School.

Helping Hands

Helping Hands

As we arrived sports day was in full swing and we quickly found teams and joined in.  As soon as we went off we were mobbed by kids pulling us to their teams “uncle,uncle” they shouted as we all went off with our respective teams. Straight in to the thick of it, football, rugby, cricket (which the kids were far better at than me), tug-o-war, human pyramid, it was crazy! These kids were so energetic, full of enthusiasm and just loved sports, as they ran around bare foot in the scorching heat we tried keeping up with them, running from game to game, lifting them up, high-fiving, laughing with them, posing for pictures, we all really enjoyed it. After a friendly game of touch rugby against some of the senior boys we went for a swim in local pool and then for some food at the school. For everyone involved it was amazing, the kids seemed to love having us there and we loved being there. Watching these kids play rugby and other sports and seeing how much fun they were having was the best part for us, it brought everyone together which is amazing and what Khelo Rugby is all about.

I can't catch him....

Jamie can’t catch him….

Day 2 – Travel to Mirik and the North

After an amazing first day the team were well rested and ready for another big day in India. Today saw us travelling up north via plane from Kolkata to Baghdogra and then onwards to Mirik via the steep winding mountain side roads much to the delight (or not) of Hodgy who isn’t the best front seat passenger it turns out but what a drive it was, breath taking scenery, high altitude, friendly faces of the Nepalese traders at the border and some crazy driving.

Crazy Driving - Crazy Passengers

Crazy Driving – Crazy Passengers

Eventually we reached our destination at the Bon Bosco School in Mirik where the kids stayed after school to play rugby with us. Straight away they were running through passing drills, playing some touch rugby and then we finished it off with a big game of British Bulldogs, it was such a good laugh.



After the kids all went home we headed down into the village to do some training of our own. We parked up beside the lake in Mirik and headed over to what was to become our training paddock. It was our first session out in India and it was at 6000ft up in the mountains, it was literally breathtaking!

Training Venue - Mirik

Training Venue – Mirik

 Day 3 – Travel from Mirik to Saraswatipur

With the sound of dogs, crickets and chickens waking us up at the crack of dawn we were back in training gear for another lung busting session on the schools playing court and then a quick shower and change ready for our next day of adventure. As the school kids arrived we joined them in assembly where we were treated to some amazing traditional Nepalese dancing and some very kind words from the Father of the school. We waved good bye to the kids and headed off back down the mountain to Siliguri and then onwards in to the forest and into the small village of Saraswatipur. After a bite to eat and brief on what was happening the day after we all got our head down in the church hall in which we were staying.

Day 4 – Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Tournament

Awoken by the whispering and giggling of children at the door we got up and changed and got some breakfast down us, which was kindly made by the Khelo lads and the drivers. Today was game day for these kids and you could feel the excitement in the air from both the kids and us, as we arrived at the playing field in the village we were greeted by lots of smiling faces and we were treated to a welcome song by some of the kids of the village.

Welcome in Saraswatipur

Welcome in Saraswatipur

It was amazing, they were all in their uniforms even though school wasn’t on, and they sang away and then came past and shook all of our hands welcoming us to their village. This tournament that had been organised by Khelo Rugby was a lot bigger than any of us expected, the pitch was a lot better than expected and the level of rugby that came from it was unbelievable. These kids have skill in abundance, some fast feet, great passing skills and an ability to lead and follow. Every team was coached by a Spitfire but they didn’t need much coaching. We gave them the bibs, the team name, the ball and they were off!

Khelo Khelo

Khelo Khelo

Each team was made up of kids from different areas which we didn’t find out until after the tournament, they all played as one team, no arguments, they all new what to do and they all really enjoyed it. At the end of the tournament after some tough games the Godavari ‘Generals’ won the tournament lead by our very own Physio Rich Sutherland. It was great to see so many youngsters getting together and competing but mainly having fun playing rugby, we could all see what positive impact rugby had made on this village, its surrounding areas and the people involved with it.RAF Spitfires Rugby 7's The Khelo Rugby coaches have worked so hard for this and it is definitely paying off. After the intense heat came the rain much to the delight of the Spitfires who clearly had too much sun as even with our vests off it still looked like we were wearing them thanks to the white bodies and red arms and faces. We went for a wander through the forest and down to the river where we came across the village elephants coming back from across the flood plains and it was unbelievable, we were within touching distance of them, it’s not every day you get to run a tournament in a village in the middle of a forest and see elephants! This was definitely a highlight for many during the tour. After the rain stopped we were back in training kit and off to the pitch that we had been at earlier for more intense training, in between herding cows, goats and pigs off the pitch.

Elephant Man

Elephant Man

Day 5 – Travel from Saraswatipur to Kolkata

After what had been an amazing few days up north it was time to leave and head back to the big smoke of Kolkata, this is were we said goodbye to some of the Khelo lads that helped us during the tournament as they were staying up their to carry on coaching, it’s this sort of commitment that explains why the kids were so good. After a short bit of travelling we were back in Kolkata and the torrential downpours brought by monsoon season were most definitely here. After a couple of hour’s downtime we got dressed up and headed off to the British Embassy where we were hosted by the Deputy High Commissioner Scott Fursseddon-Wood. It was a great opportunity to meet people from all parts of India and businesses and also some of the rugby lads are involved in Khelo Rugby and the Jungle Crows Foundation who make all these tours possible. After a very enjoyable evening with great food and people we headed back to the hotel and got our head down for our next big tournament.

Day 6 – Kolkata Khelo Rugby Tournament

Another Khelo Tournament organised by the Jungle Crows boys, these guys are ridiculously busy and have 1000s of kids playing in the Khelo Rugby programme. We left the hotel walked across the road and down to the playing fields where the Jungle Crows were already setting up pitches and organising 150 very excited kids into neat lines. As we collected our playing bibs we were given a team and immediately got to work on celebrations, dances and then rugby drills.



All these kids were so excited; they couldn’t wait to get their hands on a rugby ball and get the tags on and play. The whistle went and the games began, the day was full of laughter, teamwork, impressive rugby skills and some great games of touch rugby. You could see the hard work of the Jungle Crows coaches coming together here; all the kids just loved rugby and were really good at it, a really impressive show of skills.

Khelo Khelo Calcutta

Khelo Khelo Calcutta

Eventually there was a winner; again Rich Sutherland’s team came out victorious! Our Physio was proving that you don’t have to play rugby to be a great coach. After the prize giving and a spot of lunch we said goodbye to all the kids who seemed like they could have played all day, and we headed back to the hotel. After some serious rain we headed out to train in the mud, we found potentially the muddiest pitch in Kolkata and hit it hard with some of the best training we had done in India, great preparation for the big tournament tomorrow.RAF Spitfires Rugby 7's

Day 7/8 – All India 7s Rugby Tournament – Group Stages/Finals Day

Then the day came, the “business” end of the tour, we have come here to compete in this tournament which in the previous 3 years the RAF Spitfires have won, no pressure then! Another early morning rise for the team after a long week of running around after kids, coaching, high-fiving, travelling and training it was time to get together and play some rugby. There was a different mood in the camp during the morning brief it was a lot more serious than usual as we had games to win, we had a lot of pressure on us this year with such an illustrious past and high expectations from other teams, we knew we had to do well. We arrived at the stadium got ourselves ready, kitted up and hit the training hard, Tracey our photographer was snapping away as she had been all week even though the rain that was coming down hard now. The reception we got was phenomenal from the other teams, everyone shaking our hands, wishing us luck and asking for photos, it was great. When it came to the games we got the job done, we played well, the attack was fast and structured and the defence was organised and vocal. A good first day saw us beating the Chennai Irish, Future Hope and the Maiden Hazards to secure our place in the quarter finals the next day.

And the rain came down....

And the rain came down….

After some good food and lots of rest Finals day was upon us, a slightly later start for us so we watched some of the other teams play, supporting our hosts and good friends the Jungle Crows and the Khelo Rugby Foundation Team in some very closely fought battles. Then it was our turn, the quarter final came and went with a solid victory for us, then the semi final against the Future Hope Team we played yesterday, we knew we had to be on our game for this one as they were out for payback but throughout the game we controlled it to put us through to the final against the very physical and skilled side of Bula Fiji. As the rest of the finals were played out we watched with intent, while psyching ourselves up for the final. The team came together after the pre game warm up for the last time; skipper Matt Pereira gave a passionate team talk, rallied the troops and headed out to the field. After a heated game of big hits, great steps, one unfortunate injury for Bula Fiji and some great tries we came out victors without conceding any points. A great win an awesome tournament and an absolutely phenomenal tour.

Calcutta 7s Champions!

Calcutta 7s Champions!

From day one in India we loved every minute of it, being able to work so closely with the Jungle Crows Foundation and support Khelo Rugby and helping them achieve their goals was amazing. The work the foundation does for developing rugby all over these communities is second to none and being able to witness it and help out first hand was unbelievable. Personally my highlight of the tour was the tournament in Saraswatipur; I couldn’t believe the skill level of these kids, the work that the Khelo Coaches put in has definitely paid off, these kids were awesome and they all loved it! It has been such a rewarding tour for all of us and I know we all want to come back next year for more of the same and hopefully to see how much further the foundation has taken rugby in India. Thanks for having us, see you next year……….

RAF Spitfires Rugby 7's

Zaffar’s Khelo Chennai Mission

by Zaffar Khan, Founder Khelo Rugby

Our mission was to re-energise our Khelo Rugby programme in Chennai and in March we did just that, working hard to put together a first girls and boys tournament with over 160 children participating in eight boys and six girls teams under the scorching Chennai heat.

To organise the whole event took us ten days of tough work and the days seemed sometimes years but the boys from Chennai Irish RFC who are our partners for Khelo Rugby made it all so much easier. In the end we launched 4 schools and 2 communites under Khelo Chennai.

Accompanied by my mad co-worker and Khelo Head Coach Nanda Majhi together we travelled down by train from Kolkata and got straight to work with the Chennai team. From day one the Chennai guys were really hospitable and showed us how to get by in what is a very different city from our home town of Kolkata. In the first two days we visited over a dozen boys and girls schools but the response from each was not so enthusiastic, especially with exams around the corner. With perserverance though we managed to sign up four co-education schools, one far village and one fishermen’s community one after the other and now things looked more relaxed. We decided Monday morning was going to start 24/7 of only coaching tag rugby for the next five days to hundred and sixty children. We cracked on with our job , three sessions in a day, over twenty km covered every day, no lunch and breakfast at times, arguments and some time the best of jokes out of the blue made it a week with lots of learning.

We have always said that yes Khelo is a great tool to develop any kind of sport but what we believe in is much more than that. Every time we step into a new challenging environment with the intention of touching children’s lives with good sport and fun. This has turned out to be such a rewarding experience for us, the communities involved and more important to the children involved.

I would like to share the story of young Shraavan Thiruvonam (who we all called HEART boy) who comes from a lower middle class family. I am not going to sing a story about how poor he is and how great we were to give him the opportunity to play tag rugby. He is not the guy I would want in my team, he was skinny as a stick, quiet as a mouse and had a major heart operation just six months ago. For the first two days that we visited his school he just sat on the bench watching us.  On the third day while we were practicing the ball rolled out of the ground  and towards him. I looked at him and asked him to throw me the ball, he picked it up and instead of throwing it to me he came running to me and handed it over as he said, “just because I have a heart problem does not mean I cannot be in the school team”, I replied “I never said you cannot be in the team” the next thing was a big heart smile on his face. At the back of my mind I had a fear about him playing but I think I could see the strength in his little heart which gave me the courage to let him play. I have to admit he did not do a Johnny or Serevi (two greats of rugby) but he was a team man.  At the end of the tournament everybody knew him as HEART boy.  In Khelo we believe in the inner strength of children. In our lives we have all experienced the feeling of being suppressed or put down by someone or other, telling us we are not good and we cannot do it. Our challenge is to show the youth of this country that they can make changes even change the country by their own determination, faith and belief.


Children from all over the city traveled to the T-day. The coaches had their teams ready, whistles warmed up, the ground was prepared, trophies ready, colorful bibs on and the whistle blew hard as we started the tournament. Girls and boys team playing simultaneously on two pitches it was fast feet, quick hands and  lot of passion from the children in trying to get their hands on the silverware for their respective schools and communities. Olcott School prospered in the end, an original Chennai Irish Khelo location with both of the girls finalists and winning a super game in the boys final versus Minjur. All the pictures are here.


We’ve now appointed Ravi to work part time between his studies as a Coach in Chennai, he is a great young man with a good future and we hope to be able to support him as he develops. As we settle into a routine let’s see how else we can develop and support the Chennai Khelo team and our partners the ‘supermen’ of Chennai Irish RFC. We want to involve their players more and more in the community, both to support growing their team but also to help them as they develop and grow as young people.

For myself and Nanda this was another brilliant experience, out of our comfort zone, facing challenges, working with new people – Khelo really does change lives and not always the ones you think you’re changing!

Sport for Good: Next Step 2014

by Paul Walsh


Next Step was an International UN inspired Conference on Using Sport for Good, organised superbly by Magic Bus over 4 days in New Delhi. Myself along with Khelo Rugby Founder Zaffar and Head Community Coach Nanda attended. I learnt so much at Next Step, it really was inspiring to be part of it, the following are just a few of my action points from four memorable days…..

“Nothing about us without us” Anders Krystad, Football For All, Vietnam

There were some inspirational speakers at Next Step, all the break out sessions I attended were valuable and it was just incredible to be surrounded by so many like minded people. Many organisations were far further down the road of #sport4good than us, but it was also good to realise that much of what we have set up and achieved is on the right lines.

The quote above from Anders Krystad made me think and realise that though we work with our children everyday we can do much more to involve them in how Khelo Rugby in particular develops. We’re trying to do this much more with our senior rugby team – make the players the owners, but we also have to do this more with Khelo. It’s too easy as adults to just decide we know what is best for children, to decide how they should grow and develop without involving them in the process is crazy really.

So to start this process we are re-visiting our Child Protection Policy to ensure this isn’t a vacant document that sits in a computer but is a living and breathing part of what we do. Stand-by kids…workshops, involvement, filming all coming your way (if that’s what you want of course)!

“We’re born to play” Dr Viliami Puloka

Dr Puloka was a bit of a star for me, partly because of his incredible variety of Tongan shirts which put my my own shirt collection to shame but more because he was able to deliver some really important messages in very clear, reasoned and fun terms. Just this simple saying, “we’re born to play” carries so much weight especially when I think of many of the children we work with who hardly have the chance in their small and pressured lives. (And if you’d like to see Dr Puloka in action check him out here on You Tube.)

So my lesson from this is that we need to reach more and more children. Share our passion for rugby (and our new passion for netball) improve their lives in every way we can and give them a chance to play. So today Khelo Rugby reaches some 2000 children each week, the target is 10,000 children by the end of the year and (heck why can’t we) 100,000 in 2016. Announced here first!

And so to the Khelo team, let me share my own quote: “We should try to enjoy every moment and and bring a little joy to others. When I forget this, as I often do, please give me a kick.” And to anyone and everyone reading this blog there is an open invitation to come to Calcutta, Saraswatipur, Dumka, Chennai or Fort Abbas and join us in bringing a little joy to more and more children.


“Achieving good is about outcomes – the changes or benefits that result from what a charity or project provides. It means really making a difference. It’s not just about the number of signatures on a petition or lives touched or mentoring sessions delivered, but the effect a service has on people’s lives. And these effects have to be additional to what might have happened otherwise.”

This quote isn’t from Next Step, though it might also have been said there but from the Guardian who are very usefully running a series on ‘Impact’ as part of their Voluntary Network. Clearly this is important business and we need to do more as we grow. Anecdotally we know the impact that we have, through both Khelo and perhaps more so as it has been going longer the Jungle Crows but now we need to take this more seriously. We are currently reviewing the benchmark standards within the communities we work with and we will be setting up systems to measure changes and better track our impact. This isn’t ‘sexy’ work but we know it has to be done!

“Sport must be of quality” Bjorn Evju, Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee

Mr Evju spoke at the closing session of Next Step (watch from about minute 11 here) and I felt made some telling observations particularly around how sport needs to be in the lead, even when we are doing Sport for Social Development. Good sport is what motivates the children and sport and rugby in particular is what led us to Khelo Rugby and Netball. At the Jungle Crows Foundation we are very much led by the sport and this is our passion and as Sport for Good grows as a social sector Mr Evju argued we must keep the sport in our minds and keep a high quality to the sport we do.

I suppose if I was to make one critical comment on Next Step it would be that there was very little talk about sport and I’d agree with Mr Evju that sport must always be at the heart of our work. And that is what we need to do with Khelo, make it a really good sports project with good quality social development that makes a real impact and is fun.

So with all this said I better get back to making it happen!


Cheers, Paul


Me, Zaffar and Nanda at Next Step 2014