- Sadhika Khatoon’s father, a van-rickshaw puller, does not approve of her playing rugby and has tried to make her quit on several occasions. But for four years Sadhika has not given up, her mother making excuses on her behalf to explain her absence at home. She will now apply for a scholarship so that the school and private tuition fee can be taken care of and she is not forced to drop out.
- Vicky Prasad Chowhan would have given up studies after Class X as his father, a factory worker, died. But he got a scholarship to continue his studies and is now doing hotel management from a city institute alongside playing rugby.
The two are among the 130-odd students who are part of a scholarship programme offered by Jungle Crows Foundation, which promotes rugby among underprivileged boys and girls.
The idea of the scholarship was born as youngsters were giving up rugby and going out to work so that they could contribute to the family income.
“They would drop out because they would have to work. With some analysis we found out that it was a fine balance between a family that could afford to keep a youngster in school and one that needed the youngster to contribute to its earnings,” said Paul Walsh, a former UK diplomat who started Jungle Crows.
The scholarship is aimed at keeping the youngsters in the game and students need not excel in sport or academics to be eligible.
Sadhika who lives in Howrah’s Pilkhana learnt about the scholarship from her friends. The 15-year-old thought it might help to convince her father to give his consent. “My father is not opposed to my studying and I hope that if I get a scholarship for playing rugby it might help to get his approval,” she said.
While Sadhika’s struggle is against her family’s approval, Vicky had to fight his circumstances. “My mother barely earns Rs 5,000 a month from working in a tea factory. We are four siblings. It would have been impossible for her to afford my education had it not been for the scholarship,” said the 20-year-old.
The challenge for Jungle Crows is to convince the families to send their children, specially girls, to play.
“We visit the families and talk to the guardians so that they allow their daughters to go outside the city for tournaments. The scholarship has increased the number of children passing their school exams and completing their education and simultaneously it has stopped people from dropping out of rugby,” said Harinder Singh, programme manager, Jungle Crows.
The foundation aims to cater to every student’s unique needs, ranging from the inability to pay school fees to continuing higher education or providing for the sustenance of their families. The scholarship can cover everything from accommodation and travel fare to sport accessories, otherwise unaffordable to them.
“We try to strike a balance and tell the families that we are not expecting them to take a leap of faith without any help. We would give you that help so that you feel comfortable and relaxed…. It’s not a lot of money. But it makes a difference between a child who can stay in school and one who can’t and those who can play rugby and be in school,” Walsh said.
The foundation does not make unreasonable demands and those who get a scholarship need not excel in academics or in the sport they are playing. But the incentive is to let those who are excited about the sport to play.
“We have stayed away from looking at the toppers. Many of the kids want to be out and playing and so we tell them I am not expecting to get an A plus but you have to pass. If you don’t pass then you end up working now,” Walsh said.