Off to a Great Start in Rwanda
July 3, 2015. Long-time CAC supporter, advisor, and now volunteer-coach Jamie Reilly blogs about his first week On-Field with CAC and our partner, Football for Hope, Peace and Unity and their Sport for Peace ‘Play For Hope: Rwanda20’ Initiative.
I wasn’t sure what would await me when I arrived in Rwanda. I’ve been fortunate to do some traveling in other developing areas in Africa. While incredibly rewarding, travel in these areas can be challenging and you definitely need to keep your wits about you. I’d also seen the film “Hotel Rwanda” about the 1994 genocide. Words can’t quite capture the brutal horror of those 100 days where over one million people were slaughtered in an ethnic cleansing of minority Tutsis (Tootsies) by the majority Hutus (Hoo-Toos). To say that my guard was up, is an understatement.
My apprehensions and expectations, however, could not have been further than reality. The first thing I noticed was how unbelievably clean it is… EVERYWHERE. And I mean spotlessly clean. Main streets, side streets, parks, schools, homes, bus depots – you name it – everywhere seems freshly swept. Didier Bana, our wonderful host from Football for Hope, Peace and Unity (FHPU), told us that all Rwandans take great pride in where they live. To build unity, every neighborhood and village gathers on the 4th Saturday of each month to do service and connect with neighbors. Indeed, throughout Rwanda, there is a sense of collective commitment to a peaceful and prosperous future and you can see it and feel it throughout the country.
Our first program was in Rubavu, a community about 3.5 hour drive on great roads from the capital of Kigali. There we worked with 64 coaches from local soccer clubs. This area in particular, has a very established academy system for training players in skills and tactics. It was exciting to see so many turn out to find ways to incorporate social education into their work with their teams.
Over the course of the week we taught and played 26 different games that illuminated life skills, gender equity, conflict resolution, and health and wellness including HIV. An important element to almost every game is for players to use their voice. Early in the week, coaches were somewhat hesitant, but by the end of the week “muvuge cyane” (translation is loud voices) were echoing across the field on every game.
My favorite game with this group was Messi for Gender Equity. For those that are unfamiliar with the CAC curriculum, there are different modules built around role models like Lionel Messi star of Barcelona FC or Perpetua Nkwocha former captain of the Nigerian women’s national team. Messi for Gender Equity starts with a brief discussion about different roles and positive qualities of women in Rwandan society. These roles and qualities are then selected by smaller teams of three who then are each called to meet other teams in small sided games.
The competition was fierce and fun, but the best part was the discussion afterwards. We are lucky to have Dr. Holly Collision from Loughboro University (UK) with us for two of the four weeks in Rwanda. Dr. Collison’s research specializes in Sport for Development and Peace. In short, it was great to see a very male dominated group, make the connection that they as coaches can not only play a role in challenging limiting gender stereotypes.
Another highlight was an afternoon trip to a local community center for the mentally and physically impaired. The welcome we received was one of the warmest I could remember. We had a brief tour of the different programs they run to help develop life skills, and then we played a few games with the students in the courtyard. As I zipped back to the guesthouse on the back of moto-taxi, I had a new appreciation for what fun can be. So many smiles and so much laughter!
Finally, my post wouldn’t be complete without mention of Anike Ishemwe. We met Anike after the first session when we grabbed a cold water at a restaurant on the shore of Lake Kivu. The next day, he was at the field joining in the games taking pictures, collecting scrimmage vests, and just helping keep a smile on everyone’s face. Anike has Down Syndrome, and must be the most popular guy in Rubavu. We were so pleased to present him with a certificate at the end of the week and welcome him as a Coach Across Continents!
Almost forgot… in Kigali, we stayed at a place that has the only bowling alley in Rwanda!