Big Jim on Rugby and Life

Talking Rugby Futures: as part of our series to bring out the stories of the young people impacted by the Jungle Crows Foundation today we talk to Jim about his journey and experiences.

Tell us a little about your background…

I am from Fiji and came to live in India to complete my higher education.

In Fiji, people are crazy about rugby, similar to the way Indians feel for cricket, so we start playing rugby from a very young age. Interestingly, if we don’t have a rugby ball to play with – we use bottles, coconuts, or random objects to enjoy the game…we just love the sport and can’t stop playing.JIM5

I got involved with competitive rugby at the age of 9. At first, I started playing in my village, and then went on to play at higher levels – high-school and state.  In the first year of my secondary school I got selected to represent the school in various rugby tournaments. I would normally play with the older boys, and was also the captain of the under-16 and under-17 team.  And, I played club rugby till I left for India.

I came to India through a scholarship program, where students from less-developed nations are selected to travel to different countries for higher education. I went to Pune to study. Over there I joined a local rugby team, and started training with them. Later a friend told me about rugby being played in Kolkata; that’s when I started travelling to Kolkata.

One aspect of the game you enjoy the most…

I really love this game! It’s a physical one and I’ve been playing it since I was a kid.

What I really appreciate about rugby is its awesome and unique ethos – we have enemies on the field who can be smashed or attacked, but off-field we are the best of mates.JIM4.JPG

What have you learnt in India?

Living in India has been quite an experience, and very different from the way I lived in Fiji. I’ve become more independent and I get to enjoy life over here.

In Fiji, rugby is played throughout the year. So, I would have to train daily. We had a really interesting schedule with various tournaments simultaneously on. Moreover, I was always busy with training, studies, work…

But when I was in Pune, my main focus was on studies; so all I would do was sleep-eat-study-exercise, and never had much activity initially. It’s when I got introduced to Jungle Crows that I learnt about giving back to the society – this is important; and there’s much more rugby training now!jim14

Comparing India to Fiji, India has very few ruggers and is not doing well in this sport (as compared to Fiji). What is your view on this matter? 

Fijians are passionate about rugby. Everyone out there will play and know about it. In fact, you don’t have to teach rugby to a child; it comes naturally to us.  It’s not the same in India.

Out here, cricket and football are far more popular, and we don’t see the same love and obsession for rugby…it’s there in Crows though and getting all the players into the community side works really well. Means we are not just rugby players but mini social workers also, gives a good feeling.

In Fiji we have prize money and a good player can make a living from the sport, there is nothing like this in India. Maybe, if there are more sponsors and funds to support the India players, then the situation will change.

How can this condition be improved?

Firstly and most importantly, the passion for rugby should be present. Once people are passionate, they will naturally go out and play the game.

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In the Media!

We should also start at the grass-root level. In Fiji, we have so many tournaments, right from under-9s to under-19s, village and state tournaments, and then there is regular coaching.

What Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby are doing, more such projects should be implemented to encourage children. So, first the easier versions of rugby, like tag, should be taught and then gradually the physical game should be introduced.

Plus, India Rugby should also concentrate on better opportunities for players like playing abroad or bringing in Coaches. This way they can promote the sport and also ensure better opportunities to the young players.

Further, rugby should be promoted more and in a better fashion in India to attract more attention. I went to one tournament and the posters and signs showed American Gridiron Football players but this was for rugby, the sports have only an egg shaped ball in common. Was sad to see.

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Jim as Coach with Crows National U20s Champions

 Coming back to rugby, who has been your role model?

My father has always been my inspiration. He too played rugby and had represented the state.

What is your most cherished rugby moment?

There are several such moments. But, I will share the most recent one – winning the Centenary Cup in October (2015). The boys had been training and working very hard for it, also we had near misses in the last few tournaments. So, this victory means a lot to us.jim16

What about the embarrassing one?

It’s an incident from back home; there was a big rugby tournament between the high-schools. I went to a renowned rugby all-boys school, but for two straight years we lost in the Quarter finals, which was very disappointing.

After you return to Fiji will you stay connected with Jungle Crows and Khelo Rugby?

I definitely want to stay connected!

I have seen the work and have also been to the Khelo communities for coaching. I want to come back and help the club and children associated with it. The best way to do so is by raising funds, brining in new and more children and help in building the program, and finally, by coaching. The work with the kids is great, just building up for their brighter future is amazing and with our rugby what could be better.

What advice would you give to a new child who comes to you for coaching?

I would tell them a little about rugby, and how to pass, the rules, and the basic idea. But, there’s one thing I will tell them is what my coach would tell me, “Take the ball, run, and forget about your life.’’ This is why every kid should play to be able to have those times when all the pressure can be lifted. Growing up can be tough.

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Lining Up with Jungle Crows Seniors: All India Mumbai 2015

Who do you think is the player-to-watch-out-for in Jungle Crows?

The present younger lot has many good players. Sukumar , Amit and Akash are great with the game. If you look at them, they are small or haven’t got the big build some think is required for rugby, but they have worked extremely hard to become sure and confident players.

Finally, if you could give a nasty tackle to anybody, who would it be?

It will be Ajay Singh, he is a great friend and won’t mind if I tackle him. Another person will be Shuvomoy. He is the laziest person in Crows, so this tackle is just to wake him up and make him focus on the task ahead.jim13

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Impact

“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!

#khelo4good

Cheers, Paul

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Me, Zaffar and Nanda at Next Step 2014

Amirul’s Great Big Rugby Adventure

by Amirul Hossain

My name is Amirul and I have lived my whole life in Kolkata.  I started playing rugby more than 4 years ago and I really love playing and training with my team the Jungle Crows.  Our team is pretty good and I play for our second team called the Maidan Hazards (the Maidan is the big park where we practice in the centre of Kolkata).  The founder of our club is Paul and he comes up with all these names, like Crows, whoever would have thought to name a rugby team after a squaky Crow or Hazards.  But we’ve been a Hazard to many a team in India and are growing stronger and stronger and now we can beat the Crows as well!

Not long after my brother Zaffar (not my real brother but my rugby brother) started Khelo Rugby I was selected to be a Community Rugby Coach for Khelo Rugby.  I mainly coach and spend time with the children in the communities around where I live which is Kidderpore, near the docks and river area of Kolkata.  People are sometimes a bit nervous about Kidderpore but it’s my home and I love the area very much.

Just shout, "Khelo Khelo''

Just shout, “Khelo Khelo”

Earlier this year I was selected to lead a new Khelo Rugby project we were putting together in the North of Bengal in a very rural village called Saraswatipur, the nearest big town is Siliguri.  Read Hari’s blog post, “Rugby Brews Up in the Jungle” to find out how the setting up of the project went.

Anyway last week I went back to Siliguri to take admission to College and again visit Saraswatipur village.  I have been given the chance by the Jungle Crows Foundation to go and stay in Siliguri as they will sponsor my stay and college, this is really very excting for me.  I will be able to carry on coaching in the village and I will start more coaching and grow rugby across the whole town and countryside.  I had never thought I would have chance to go to College and now I will study hard and be able to help my family.

With the Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Girls

With the Saraswatipur Khelo Rugby Girls

As soon as we arrived in Siliguri on Saturday we made our way out to Saraswatipur and met all the children again, they were so happy to see me and this time I had two other Jungle Crows players Sanu and Arun with me.  This was Arun’s first visit to the village and he thought it was a very amazing place, he really loved it.  But he was very nervous about the elephants.  In the village it can be dangerous to go out after dark as lots of wild elephants are there and they have even killed people.  We didn’t tell him there was also an elephant living near the village with the Park Rangers.  When we were drinking tea in the evening this elephant came past, Arun was very scared and tried to hide until we told him that this was a friendly elephant!

On Sunday we ran a small tournament and could see straightaway that all the children had stayed practicing, they really are good at rugby.  We had also collected up a big big bag of clothes from friends in Kolkata so at the end everyone got a new t-shirt or shorts.  The children in Saraswatipur really don’t have much clothes, much of anything really so it was nice to be able to hand over something that would be useful for them.

Talking and Listening

Talking and Listening

I had to ruturn to Kolkata the next week, but even that was good as our Maidan Hazards won the Centenary Cup Plate tournament beating the Kolkata Police Sergeants team.  They got a little bit angry as most of our players are much smaller and younger than them, they thought they’d win easily but we beat them 24-10.

So next week after my Eid I will be packing my bags to return to Siliguri to a new part of my life.  I will have a friend Sanu who is also continuing his school in Siliguri. We will have great times making a whole new rugby community in Siliguri, making sure the children of Saraswatipur are doing well and working hard for our future also.

My Big Adventure!

On My Big Rugby Adventure!