Article written by Roy Simpson

Thanks to the support of Tim Woodward (Flying Kukris), Mike Jackson (Tanglin RC)  and all the Komodos Sponsors Siti Yuniarti and the team at the SingLife Girls Rugby TRC Cup

Leading the way for Girls Rugby in Indonesia

“When Siti returned home with a medal, she was viewed as an achiever and a leader. She was invited to continue her education as a matter of pride for the school”

Joining a sports team can be a life-changing event. That’s been the experience of the girls of Karanggan, a typical Indonesian rural village that happens to be located alongside the training venue of the Jakarta Komodos Rugby Football Club.

Siti Yuniarti was supposed to quit school after completing junior high. Like so many other girls from low-income families, financial and societal pressures meant that she was expected to find a simple job and then find a husband. But in late 2018, her school selected her to join the Komodos Under-15 girls’ team. In December, she and her teammates traveled to Singapore for the All-Girls SingLife Girls Rugby TRC Cup

Six countries participated in that tournament, which involved more than 300 girls aged from 8 to 18. Siti and most of her teammates had never been on a plane before. They were among the least-experienced players, having only picked up a rugby ball three months’ earlier, but they were quick learners and the team scored several tries.

When Siti returned home with a medal, she was viewed as an achiever and a leader. She was invited to continue her education as a matter of pride for the school. “I love rugby because it is challenging,” she says. “Rugby helped me get into senior high school and thanks to rugby I can now see other countries.”

Rugby also helped Siti (now 15) to grow in confidence and self-esteem. Being a big, strong girl, she did not meet the unrealistic ideal of feminine beauty pushed by the fashion industry. But when she started playing rugby, she realized she had the perfect build for a prop forward and could achieve success on the sporting field.

It Takes a Village

Located 30 kilometers south of Jakarta, Siti’s hometown of Karanggan is part of West Java province. The village covers just 3 square kilometers but has a population of 28,380 people – most of them under the age of 30. Limited space and competition for land means that sporting grounds are not a top priority. Understandably, there is not a strong focus on girls sport, let alone rugby.

For the girls growing up in this village, where the official minimum monthly wage is equivalent to $270 (but often lower), life is expected to follow a familiar path: attend school, find a job and get married. In Indonesia, girls are seven times more likely than boys to drop out of school because of financial pressures, social expectations and early marriage.

As for seeing the world, that is generally confined to the notion that a young Indonesian village woman could only travel abroad by becoming a housemaid sent to the Middle East, Singapore or Malaysia.

Rugby is helping girls to see beyond this mindset, helping them to aspire to success and providing them with the self-discipline to start making their dreams a reality.

Hawa Tanazza, who was 13 when she joined the Komodos in 2018, says rugby has given her focus and motivation. “Before joining the Komodos, I had no idea what I would do with my life. Now I know. I want to join the Indonesian Women’s Rugby Team,” says the speedy winger. “The Komodos is giving me a chance to achieve my dream,” she adds. “I love physical contact sport because I get to move around.”

Her teammate, Sintya (14), is equally enthusiastic. “Rugby helps me to keep fit and healthy. It teaches me to be disciplined and not be egotistical. Komodos Rugby is like a family to me.”

Another teammate says, “I love rugby because it teaches me perseverance. No matter how many times I fall down or get tackled, I have to keep going to win.”

The Komodos’ engagement with the kids of Karanggan started by accident. The club’s junior teams train on Saturdays at the Jagorawi Golf and Country Club. Next to the top oval are the houses of Karanggan. Curious village kids started observing the training from a grassy bank. At the conclusion of training, they began imitating the players, using a discarded water bottle as a ball. The club approached a local school and asked if 20 kids could join as a trial. The school has since provided another 40 students, both boys and girls, and there is a waiting list of over 100 kids.

Originally, the first batch of girls came from State Junior High School 4 (SMPN 4). As interest spread, girls also joined from another junior high school (SMPN 1) and from three senior high schools (SMAN 1 Citeureup, SMAN Babakan Madang and SMA PGRI). The Under-15s girls’ team now has 15 local girls.

Their involvement is part of the club’s corporate social responsibility program. This junior program continues to grow, thanks to the dedicated coaches, sponsors and donors.

With the Komdos Juniors our focus is to offer excellent coaching so the girls can develop a passion for the sport while forming strong bonds on and off the pitch. Komodos welcome girls from all backgrounds to attend our training sessions and the goal is to bring rugby to girls in Indonesia who are inspired to be part of a team sport.

The greatest satisfaction is in watching the girls transform, not only as talented players but also as confident young women. They are learning physical skills and life skills, broadening their horizons beyond the village.

Every hour of time and every dollar invested in the development of rugby with these girls is yielding returns that transcend sporting and financial rewards. While the Komodos are helping to develop women’s rugby in Asia, rugby is giving these girls a brighter future.