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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, Aug 17 (IANS) An under-14 rugby team from Orissa is going places, winning matches against seasoned state and territory teams around Australia.

The Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences' under-14 rugby team based in Bhubaneswar - which won the under-14 International School Rugby World Cup 2007 in Britain last September - is on its second international tour. The team has won its fixtures against the Northern Territory team in Darwin and against the under-14 team of the Lloyd McDermott Foundation (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rugby Union) in Sydney.

"The tour has helped these tribal children interact with Australian players, visit various rugby club facilities and learn and refine their sporting skills. It has also provided the opportunity to know another culture and has given them recognition on the world stage," Vijay Susarla, coordinator for the team's Australia tour, told IANS.

For the young players, the experience has been overwhelming. "I am feeling on top of the world after winning here," 14-year-old Raj Kishore Murmu, captain of the team, told IANS.

The young players have been staying at budget hostels and apartments and have been relishing barbecues. "It has been a great experience. We are learning various skills and have made many friends with players from host teams," 12-year-old Ganesh Hembram said.

The team, sponsored by the Export and Import Bank of India (Exim Bank), flies to Adelaide Sunday and then to Melbourne for more matches before departing for India Aug 24.

The team has students from Classes 6 to 9, hailing from different tribes across Orissa. Captain Raj Kishore Murmu, vice-captain Bikash Chandra Murmu and Chittaranjan Murmu and Bukai Hansda are from the Santhal tribe.

The other players are Babula Melaka from the Saora tribe mainly concentrated in Koraput and Ganjam districts; Hadidhangada Majhi from the Bonda tribe; Niranjan Biswal from the Bhumija tribe concentrated in Mayurbhanj district; Barial Beshra from the Ho tribe; Sahadev Majhi from the Homunda tribe; Narasingha Kerai from the Saunti tribe; and Gauranga Jamuda from the Munda tribe.

It was Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS) founder A. Samanta's vision to help Orissa's tribal children with free education, sports facilities, board and lodging.

KISS, founded in 1993 with about 100 students, now has over 5,000 boys and girls from 62 tribal groups spread across 30 districts of Orissa, enrolled from kindergarten to post graduation and all staying on the residential campus.

"In March this year, I had met Dr Samanta in India and his passion to put these kids, coming from one of the most vulnerable backgrounds, on world stage triggered my interest in the project," says Susarla, a postgraduate from IIT Chennai, who migrated to Australia 24 years ago.

"Surprisingly, in less than six months we were able to make this tour happen. Initially, it was difficult to convince Australian states and territories, for this was rugby and not cricket."

Now the hosts are convinced.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.

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