• Rwanda: The Country of a 1000 Hills and 1000 Stories

    August 18th 2016. Returning volunteer Earl Strassberger discussed his experience in Rwanda with CAC and Football for Hope, Peace and Unity.

    Rwanda is a beautiful country. I have been to many countries in Africa including living in Liberia for over three years, and Rwanda is different! The roads are good, some potholes, but the roads are otherwise very smooth. The people work hard, as best as I can tell without complaint. The hard work takes many forms.

    On the main road to Rubavu, where we worked our first week, there were women all over sweeping the road. There were even more sweepers in Rubavu itself. Then there was a young man holding a small can of white paint in one hand and a brush in the other. He would bend over paint the white line, about two feet long along the side of the road. Then he would walk a few steps, bend down and paint another line – over and over. At the soccer pitch, a man used a torch to put about 12 holes in fence posts. He was there at 8:00 a.m. when we got there. I came back at 3:30pm to watch a soccer match and he was just finishing. He completed holes in about 25 posts.

    There are not many trucks on the roads. Goods are transported by bicycle. Heavy loads of sugar cane, water, branches, wood, and more are carried on the bikes. When going uphill the rider gets off and pushed.

    Did I mention hills? Rwanda is called the Land of a Thousand Hills. Farming takes place in flat areas and up and down the hills. Terraces are made to have flat land on hills. But many plants are on slopes. The hills are high and often steep. The paths always have people, carrying loads, going up and down. There is little mechanization. There are simply many people on each job, working with hand tools.

    We got back to Kigali, rested a day, and then traveled to Kayonza. Even though Rwanda is a small country, it is different here. The land is mostly flat. It is dustier, a little warmer. It is only a one minute walk to our soccer pitch here. But I miss the beautiful two kilometer walk along Lake Kivu on the way to the pitch in Rubavu.

    What is not different is the enthusiasm of the coaches. They listen and do their best to learn our games. There are always smiles on their faces. Many, of course, are serious players too. Watching their speed, quickness, and teamwork is a joy. A few of the coaches speak English very well, but our Community Impact Coach (CIC), Oscaria and our coordinator Gerard do a fine job of translating. Once I forgot to pause for translation. Everyone was still paying attention to me even though only a few understood. Luckily, Nico, our other CIC, nudged me and pointed the translator.

    Our work is about using football as a tool for social impact. We train the coaches to use our games and messages and encourage them to take our curriculum and use it with their players. Our messages are on conflict prevention, female empowerment, child protection and rights, health and wellness, and many more.

    Tomorrow will include one of my favorite activities. We call it Coach-Back. Coaches will work in groups of three or four. We provide markers and flipchart paper. They get time to plan and sketch out the CAC game that they want to coach to demonstrate and solidify what they have learned so far. We encourage participants to tailor the games to the issues of their district, their country. We know only a few of the challenges they face.

    For example, today I ran a game about what could happen if your players got drunk the night before a match!  One team, the team that partied the night before, had to walk. No surprise, they lost. Afterwards, I asked if there were other similar problems. They came up with smoking. But when I asked about injecting drugs they said no, not a problem in Rwanda.

    By the way, I have been in Rwanda for two weeks now. I came early to go gorilla trekking in Virunga National Volcanic Park. That is another story. I bring it up (it was amazing) because in these two weeks I have only seen two people smoking and one of them was a muzungu (white man). Probably the cost of cigarettes is prohibitive too. The hard working life keeps Rwandans healthy.