Coaches at rugby club for children enjoy cultural exchange with Auckland high school

When Nanda Majhi boarded an airliner bound for Auckland, he was amazed to find a small television above his meal tray.

Lack of documentation meant it had taken the 23-year-old more than two years to gain a passport. He was the first in his village to do so.

Mr Majhi's sense of wonder has continued over the past three and a half weeks as he and his friend Tiger Ahmed, 21, are hosted by Auckland Grammar.

The connection came after the Mt Eden school sent a group of student leaders to Kolkata, in India, where they were hosted by the Jungle Crows Foundation.


The foundation runs a rugby club, the Jungle Crows, and a social development project called Khelo Rugby, which takes tag rugby into impoverished communities.

Mr Majhi and Mr Ahmed are both employed as coaches and work with the children to deliver messages that are often not otherwise taught, such as good hygiene and the dangers posed by mosquitoes.

Khelo Rugby now runs programmes in 15 communities, with about 55 boys and girls participating in each.

The friends told the Herald that they had never heard of rugby until they were introduced to the Jungle Crows by acquaintances.

"There was fighting going on, and someone was running with the ball. So I liked that," recalled Mr Majhi, who is now head coach of the Brooklyn programme in Kolkata (known historically in English as Calcutta).

The two have gone on to represent India in the sevens format of the game, but Mr Majhi initially gave up thoughts of playing because he needed to be free to work when jobs came up.

The club arranged a cleaning job so he could play - the beginning of a love for the game that has now led to a trip halfway around the globe.

Mr Ahmed, who learned English after joining the Jungle Crows, has previously travelled to England with the Indian sevens team. Both talk in amazement of their time at Grammar.

Their homestay parents have included a judge, and activities at weekends have included caving in Waitomo, skiing at Snow Planet, a visit to Piha and watching Richie McCaw and company retain the Bledisloe Cup at a sold-out Eden Park.

Ben Skeen, head of leadership programmes at Grammar, said the culture shock - and the benefits from that - went both ways.

The school now sends around 22 boys to India every two years. The last visit saw the boys split into small groups to be taken around the slums by Jungle Crow members.

Reilly Hodson, one of the students who went to India last December and is now in Year 12, said the experience had "really put everything into perspective for me".