Khelo Khelo Pakistan!

Khelo’s Journey into the Cholistan Desert

by Zaffar Khan

Pakistan is a journey we’ve been working on for some time now, to take our rugby passion to a whole new set of young people.  To children who are so close to us in India (and me at the moment in Afghanistan) yet at the same time a long way away.

We’ve been lucky that making this latest Khelo Rugby journey possible has been terrific guide and mentor Muzammal Khan Wazeeri who has brought us to the Cholistan Desert of Pakistan. Where the temperature can rise beyond 50 degrees centigrade, but Wazeeri and his gang of rugby loving ruggers are never phased by that.

Wazeeri has been such a inspiration with his work…with the desert heat and the grueling holy month of Ramadan he made sure what he promised the children happened.  80 children were bought from different parts of his community some up to 40 km away. They all came together and participated in a Khelo Rugby tournament, what he described as a “very small tournament”, we say “great great effort”. Eight schools from his community are now participating in Khelo and his current mission is to get the girls to play – which he says is his dream and challenge.



Here I talked with Wazeeri and asked him a few questions about his involvement and journey so far with the Khelo Rugby Family.

Q: Tell us something about Rugby in your community?

Wazeeri : Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim (In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful), Alhamdulillah things have been very good in Cholistan and we are doing our best to promote rugby here with the help of Pakistan Rugby.  And now with the involvement of Khelo Rugby it has given us the perfect platform for grass roots rugby.  I come from the Pakistan State of Punjab and the town of Fort Abbas and that’s where I formed my Desert Camel team years back now.  Masha’Allah we have older boys in our club but we always missed not having a youth or a junior team, some years back I did start a team but due to lack of planning and guidance it did not really work out.  Then one day I came across Khelo Rugby on Facebook  and since I knew Zaffar I asked if we could start a project in my community to see how it could help with the children and especially I liked the idea of the small children playing rugby.

ImageQ: How do you think Khelo Will help grow Rugby and the Community in Cholistan?

This is something very important happened to me and my club Desert Camels.  We have always had a team were big boys would come and join and never a opportunity for smaller children to come learn or play. Since Khelo has started to support us we have had such a impact on the participation level and also on the audience level. Parents do not see rugby now as a violent game after the introduction of tag rugby with the children. We have had a change of view from many of the families in the area.

Q:  Do you think that is a big change?

Yes of course it has been such a huge change, I believe that Khelo make such a difference to these children’s life….I will explain. We have children who are 12, 13, 14 younger and above….who literally do not have anything to do as far as organised fun or sport and Khelo now brings that into their life and into communities that I have been trying to reach.  It’s simple but really effective for me and the children.


Q: I know it’s very early but how do you think the project can be helpful to the community in the near future?

Yes it’s early to say what and how the community will benefit from it on a long term, I mean on a short terms yes we can see the results – lots of children playing and really enjoying. But I think Khelo is a very powerful tool to work with, it cannot be just seen as a sport but what we can do with it is something I am excited about.  My area and the areas around have lot of cultural and social issues involving children and Khelo creates a great platform to speak and discuss with them and also elder boys and how these can be resolved or at least bought into context. Like for example recently we did a very simple session with the children on how we can keep our grounds clean, and we decided once training was over, each child who came to the session was asked to pick up at least four plastic bags of the ground before leaving, we had 20 kids so that meant a lot of bags were cleared.  People just dump things on the ground because there is no fencing to it…so we are trying to work on little things…and see where we can go with it.

Q: Do you personally feel that the change you want to bring will be possible?

Hmmmmm… it won’t be easy…you are talking about peoples habits and social nature, which has been here for years now and it cannot be changed immediately.  But what Khelo does again is bring children together and it can create a platform where they can learn and talk about things.  And to be good at their sport they need to be healthy and well – just that is very important.  And there you go you have a young, I mean very young generation in front of you, who are all eager to learn and hear, the rest is up to us to guide and support them. I know support is very important in rugby and in life growing up.

Q: Last question… and it’s a tough and very big question…do you think this could be a catalyst between our two nations for a bit of peace?

Well the government is trying…but I think we also have the responsibility to make an effort.  With Khelo the children have something very simple yet powerful in common, I know the children from Pakistan and India can be a way ahead, friendship between the children from both the nations will always bring better understanding.  I hope we can one day come to India to play the Khelo India children, but they won’t be India or Pakistan children they’ll be Khelo children, Rugby children. I am sure it will be great.

Thanks Wazeeri bhai for your time…I hope together we all get where you dream of…Inshallah.


Wazeeri (far right) and the Khelo Rugby Pakistan Children

Speechless on Arrival…..

Speechless on Arrival…

by Curt Russell – Volunteer Khelo Coach from England

We don’t normally get to go to Khelo practice in an air-conditioned Mahindra Scorpio, so this was a cool experience compared with the burning rubbish we were about to come across. We had an easy drive to the location listening to Hindi songs and chatting about the days events.  But as Howrah Dhapa came into view, two guys who have lived in Kolkata all their lives could not believe what was in front of them. One described the sight as resembling a post apocalypse movie set, the amount of rubbish was unthinkable.

Curt making his way up and into the Dhapa

Curt making his way up and into the Dhapa

As we ascended up ‘mount Everest’ all you could see were mountains of rubbish, with what looked like millions of pigs, literally a ‘pigs sty’.  We eventually came to a halt. As the car engine was turned off the AC slowly became thinner and thinner. We all opened the door without hesitation; the smell hit us like a brick wall. It was horrendous the smell of pigs bathing in rubbish and toxic waste doesn’t need to be explained further.

We started to round-up the children and all that was surrounding us and the thoughts of our arrival were quickly forgotten. The children made this rubbish dump their home, their playground. As we searched around the community, we came across the Khelo kids playing a game called ‘Pittu’. This game consists of 6 small pieces of brick piled up on top of each other, one person has a small football and has to knock over the pieces of bricks and put them back on top of each other, without another person retrieving the ball and hitting that person. They were making the most of their surroundings to say the least. No Play Station or X-Box was insight, but these kids were happier than any child I have seen in England.

We took to the pitch which is no bigger than my back yard at home,with more glass in sight than there was grass. No Nike or Adidas was to be seen, just the bare feet of 20 boys and girls.  We started practice with a warm up drill where the kid’s line up opposite each other, they have to pick up the ball and then run and put the ball down in front of the opposite line. In the process they have to say ball up and ball down, helps in getting them talking which is important for the game.


Go Girl….

After we finished warming up the children we split them into two teams and played tag rugby. These children who have been playing rugby for just over one year looked like they had been brought up with a rugby ball in their hands. The match was dominated by calls of ‘ball’ ‘pass’ ‘tag’ which from a coaches point of view is a dream come true. Spectators started to appear, with facial expressions never seen to man. These children, who some barely looked old enough to run, were running at a hares pace with the rugby ball scoring try after try. In the end the match referee and Khelo Coach Nanda lost count of the score and the result ended up in a tie, which was a perfect out come as neither team deserved to lose.

All tied in the end, just the right result!

All tied in the end, just the right result!

As the practice ended I decided to get the spectators involved and get them doing some passing and catching, with this odd-shaped ball which caused so much confusion. 30 seconds into the passing the expressions of confusion turned to broad grins of excitement, enough that would bring a smile to anyone’s face.

The practice was over and back into the AC Scorpio, which we had all forgotten about. Instead of the conversation being of nice cars, nice clothes etc. It was about how happy we were to have played rugby with these children and how happy they were to have us playing and learning with them and enjoying and sharing the amazing game of rugby!

Sanu, Nanda and Zaffar with the Khelo Kids Howrah!

Sanu, Nanda and Zaffar with the Khelo Kids Howrah!

Khelo Khelo Girls……..

Abhishek Singh, Manager of the Khelo Rugby Programme on our latest initiative.

Although girls make up about 20-25% of our regular Khelo Rugby participants we’ve long wanted to increase this percentage and give them more of a chance in playing. Funny our parent Jungle Crows Women’s team is in a lot of ways more successful than the Men’s team, having won a couple of national tournaments, so we know the great potential for girls in our sport.

My first dedicated training in a girls school was this morning at Shri Shikshayatan School in central Kolkata.  At the same time I was excited and nervous to be taking this training. I’m not really used to dealing with sophisticated school girls!

At 8.00am there was only one girl there, not a very good start! But very soon a good group of girls turned up and we kicked off on our training session.  Starting with fun games and activities to keep everyone interested we then moved into a quick game.  Not bad 15 minutes after seeing a rugby ball something like a game was going on. We worked a bit on passing after that and even had a cheerleading song in between – they’re a talented bunch at Shri Shikshayatan.  Good session with plenty of fun and learning, helped out by one of our volunteers from UK Curt who did a great job.Image

This is the second girls school we’ve taken Khelo to. Our plan is to introduce Khelo Rugby in at least 12 schools across the city in the coming two months. We also aim to educate the teachers of the school about rugby.  We have planned workshops for them to help them understand the game and the Khelo programme.  Once we get all the schools playing we’ll host a rugby festival to bring them all together and include some of our other communities.

We hope with these efforts to encourage more girls into rugby and sport, develop a  mainstream element within Khelo Rugby and increase the Khelo community across Kolkata even further.  Exciting times for us!

Shri shik 2

Interview with a Tiger!

Coach Tiger is one of Khelo Rugby’s Community Coaches………

KheloKhelo: So tell us Coach Tiger, you had a tournament Sunday, how was that?

Tiger: Good…great…all the boys and girls were smiling after the tournament which was great for us.

KheloKhelo: Don’t be shy Coach, tell us how many teams played and how many were coached by you?

Tiger: Eight teams played and I normally take the coaching of two of them Nawab Ali Park and Hyde Road, but also coach some of the other teams at times.

KheloKhelo: And how did your teams get on?

Tiger: One team playing very good – Hyde Road because they do very good practice and do lots of hard work in their practice no joking around. Nawab Ali joke around too much and don’t get chance to practice so much, only on a Sunday but they played well.

KheloKhelo: Which team won and who was there Coach?

Tiger: Salt Lake Dhapa who are coached by Ajay and Nanda.  They playing very well and 2-3 boys are very fast and have good sense how to play tag match.  And they never give up always playing playing that’s why they won.

KheloKhelo: So there was a theme on Sunday – Soap – tell us more about that?

Tiger: Using Soap to wash hands before eating, after toilet and after any practice cricket, football anything is good.  Before eating specially important because so many germs get on your hands and soap is good for cleaning up.  We gave every child a bar of soap at the end which they can use at home.

KheloKhelo: The tournament was special for another reason can you tell us more about that?

Tiger: Emma’s Cup.  Emma doing so many things for kids and especially Jungle Crows kids, she is very good.  Emma loves all the kids and she is going away from India so we wanted to say thank you.

KheloKhelo: Tiger, we also want to mention that you are one of the top players in Calcutta, what are your own rugby ambitions?

Tiger: First is Jungle Crows, they make me as a good rugby player and give me so many supports so everything for me is Jungle Crows they gave me the opportunity.  So first is to win and play Jungle Crows. I would also like to play abroad but I have problems with my birth certificate which we lost in floods so taking time to get my passport. I have played for India which was great but won’t be able to play this June in Asian 5 Nations as their games are abroad.

KheloKhelo: So finally Tiger you have any message for the small kids playing and taking up rugby?

Tiger: Keep playing tag rugby when little and then as they get older come to the Jungle Crows Academy.  The Academy is good to encourage the players. Play hard but fair always, remember rugby is team game and you all have to play together.