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The wolfpack of change

A young Rugby enthusiast has astutely utilised the sport as an instrument of change by reaching out to society’s underprivileged and juvenile youth – dragging them out of a life of cursed misery to help them build a future of resilience, adaptation and optimism.

Five rounds of the park in organised folds – anyone who chickens out in sheer lethargy automatically qualifies for two more. It's another story that everyone might eventually fail; but that circumscribes the very objective of the instructor's goal setting logic. The early five o' clock assembly witnesses children from several impoverished neighbourhoods, overzealous with the prospect of learning the sport, spending their morning hours practising the basics of Rugby – a booming sport in the nation (as per the latest statistics of Rugby India).

Through Rugby, these children, ranging from five to 17 years, grasp the principles of discipline, solidarity, resilience, integrity, respect and empathy – the salient takeaways from the sport. With engagement in the sport augmenting the comprehensive growth of these children, the focus relies on their aspiration building, to help them rise from the misfortunes in their innocent existences. Prior to proceeding with the story of these children and how Rugby is uplifting their spirits and aspirations, it is necessary to understand the source of this subtle change. Whose prognosis are these children fulfilling; as unpredictable as the rains during monsoon, how did this very prognosis come to be?

The dynamic instructor, assisting the children grasp the sport to embark on a process of experiential learning, is a passionate player himself. His heightened understanding of the game and general sensitivity has carried him beyond the sporting arena, to a point where he channelises his enthusiasm onto the children who view him as a role model. Saif Ullah Khan, a Delhi Hurricanes and National player, is an active social worker progressively contributing to the lower strata of society. He infuses his ideology of 'Sports for Change' to empower the underprivileged youth while simultaneously promoting Rugby. For Saif, following his professional career or grooming the new ones in the sport wasn't as lucrative a prospect as utilising the sport for the change he envisions. "I had often thought about the life situations of the kids living on the streets and eventually decided to work towards my aim of getting them from the streets to the field," claims Saif, whose sole ambition is to see these children harbour confidence to rise from the shackles of misery. His belief that sport is a powerful instrument of change certainly reflects in the unity of these children who have come from different areas and backgrounds. He is also involved directly with Rugby India in the development sector of the North Zone.

The training sessions that he conducts with street children from areas of Jasola, Madanpur Khadar, Nizamuddin, Okhla and Jamia Nagar, is scheduled on weekend mornings in a local park with a turnout of at least 80 per session, which Saif collectively refers to as 'wolfpack'. A warm-up comprising of a set of activities is convened before exclusive drills of the sport take over. A detailed two-day routine – comprising knowledge of the sport along with practice – gets underway prior to a small match. Through the continuous sessions, he has developed a faction of players fit for playing, as well as for pursuing careers in the sport. His perseverance has left these kids, normally adhering to their mundane lives with very few prospects, aspiring for unthinkable heights.

Apart from diligently focusing on the game, refraining from dropping out of schools has been a key change in everyday affairs. Normally, the drop-out ratio of children in government schools is concerning. However, under the guidance of their influential mentor, these children now value both sports and academics, broadening their capacity to learn and retain. Saif has taken them to open tournaments conducted by Delhi Hurricanes, where he noted the progress and further scope for them. In his conscience, he is not letting these lives remain in silence as a liability to the nation.

In a similar vein, an intervention has been conducted at the 'Observation Home Boys - II, Sewa Kutir', which is one of the six Juvenile Observation Homes in the National Capital, through an unprecedented collaboration with Varun Yadav, Officer from Delhi Child Protection Unit, for a pilot programme to utilise sports as a medium of Rehabilitation and Reformation. The idea for this collaboration stemmed from the rescue-cum-reformation of one of the children belonging to a community where Saif teaches. Arun (name changed), aged 17, was indicted for stabbing and shooting and was duly lodged into the same Juvenile Home. His release was facilitated by Saif, following which he started to mentor him, thereby infusing him in his 'wolfpack'. His aspiration building has been a case study for Saif, who has witnessed a change in the boy's nature and attitude to the point where Saif can entrust him with the leadership of the entire assembly. He credits sports and its accompanying values for this change. Deriving the fruitful outcome from this initiative of utilising Rugby as a medium for reformation in juvenile homes is a bright prospect given the first-hand account of change in Arun along with two successful sessions at the juvenile home with 184 Juveniles, which has also reaped positive feedback. This method of rehabilitation can be transformed into a very productive mechanism where sports, in collaboration with 21st-century learning skills, can aid in reforming children who appear to be in conflict with the law.

The road ahead for Saif and his wolfpack, this idea of change and intervention with juveniles all shine as bright as Rugby's growth in the nation. As per statistics from Rugby India, a mammoth 600 per cent increase in Rugby players has been observed in the recent years (2012-2017), with both boys as well as girls participating in the sport. The 'Get into Rugby' (GIR) initiative by World Rugby has seen a very warm reception in India as highlighted by Nasser Hussain, General Manager, Rugby India – "We have received an overwhelming response to GIR in the Age grade categories across the country. This initiative has also helped us find some very talented and passionate players, who are making us proud by competing and achieving accolades at international levels." Recently, the World Cup Trophy was welcomed by India at Le Meridien Hotel, New Delhi, where Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, who launched the 2019 World Cup trophy tour in India, acknowledged the rise of Rugby in the country. Interestingly, among the guests was the Wolfpack, present and close to their game's prestigious trophy.

Back to the ground, the wolfpack trains to get closer to its aspirations. A healthy body and a healthy mind encapsulate these young buds, desperately desiring to bloom – for them, there are very few perceivable hurdles. In reality, though, life isn't half as beautiful as the picture we paint in our minds. Realising the restrictions, Saif plans to develop an organisation that can oversee such a development, while focussing on both street children and juveniles. He also plans to build a club, which would comprise of players from all the underprivileged communities of the capital, while sending some of his kids for the Level-1 coaching programme under Rugby India. Laughing on the question of how he has stalled his professional career to dedicate his time to this initiative at a young age of 22, he says, "You know Rugby players never retire." He has his mentors' guidance and his personal struggle to always keep him moving, undeterred, on his path.

Rohan Chandra

Rohan Chandra

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