• Building the Country of Their Choice

    July 23, 2015. “If you knew me, and you really knew yourself, you would not have killed me.” – Felicien Ntagengwa

    This stark quote greeted us at the Gisozi Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali. During our last week of training the CAC staff spoke often about the genocide, Rwanda, and it’s future. We wondered about how the genocide was still impacting decisions made today, and whether it was in the daily thoughts of all the citizens. Instead we find ourselves coming to a slightly different conclusion: Rwanda is aware and respectful of its past, but more importantly it is looking to create a future where it does not happen again. In short, Rwanda is building the country they want to become. We see it in the progress being made in capital improvements and in the attitudes of the people moving forward in their daily tasks. Most especially, we see it in the commitment to a singular Rwandan identity instead of the tribal divisions that were a prelude to the genocide.

    This past week in working with over 50 coaches in Kigali we saw how the Rwandan community has moved forward and will continue to become the society they desire. One of the more notable moments of the week occurred Off-Field, in a meeting with the Ministry of Sport and Culture.   They have embraced the ideas put forward by Football for Hope, Peace, and Unity along with CAC to develop a Rwandan specific curriculum that can be implemented by FHPU coaches throughout the country, in the schools and soccer community. This would include games that teach about Rwandan identity, conflict resolution, and understanding stereotyping and discrimination. But they would also include lessons on entrepreneurial skills, leadership, and communication. Along with FHPU, Rwanda has made the choice of what their future should look like, and is able to decide how sport can play a role in educating people about that future. Now, with the help of CAC, we will begin to develop this curriculum with the goal of implementation later this year.

    One game that will be included in this Rwandan curriculum is a game that Victor “Brown” Shyaka created for the final day of training. It was a game of possession between two teams in a large area, but there were also very small squares scattered about that represented safe spaces. Throughout the game, taggers (who represented threats to an individual or community) were released and you had to find a safe space. This game was to teach children about various potential threats and also where and when to seek the safety of places like your home, soccer field, or community center.

    The coaches in Kigali, and throughout Rwanda, are becoming Self-Directed learners, capable of creating their own games and choosing their own future. The coaches, much like the country, is not quite there yet, but you can see the progress they have made and also how close they are to realizing their goals.

    It's been a great month for CAC and FHPU in Rwanda!

    It’s been a great month for CAC and FHPU in Rwanda!

  • Third Week’s a Charm in Rwanda

    July 16, 2015. Volunteer Cristian D’Onofrio blogs about his first experience in Africa during his two weeks in Rwanda volunteering with CAC as we partner with Football For Hope, Peace, and Unity.

    During my second week in Nyanza, I started to understand a little more about what life in Rwanda is like. I had already completed my first week in Rwamagana, but as this is my first time in Africa, it took me awhile to settle into the culture. I knew that Rwanda experienced genocide in the early 90’s, but I was eager to see how the people of Rwanda responded to such a divisive and brutal event. Twenty-one years on, there is still rebuilding and restoration to be done, but the mindset is a fairly progressive one.

    One game that showed evidence of this mindset was a game called Perpetua for Gender Equity. This is a game in which two teams try to score on each other but are separated into groups based on jobs that women can do. Before the game started, the whole group mentioned both culture and mindset as the primary reasons that women and men do not have equal job opportunity. It did not come as a huge surprise to me when the groups selected very traditional responsibilities. This showed that gender roles were deeply rooted into their own culture. Strangely during the ending discussion there was little resistance to the idea the jobs were interchangeable between the sexes, and the fact that Rwanda has one of the highest percentage of female politicians in the world was brought up. Both the men and the women of the group were proud of this, but they all agreed that there was still work to be done.

    One evening we were invited to attend a training session for one of our member partners, a group called Kids Play International (KPI) in the nearby village of Gatagara. It was a 25-minute ride by motorbike, and the journey through the rural countryside of Rwanda was a special experience concluding with a welcome song from the kids of the organization. The coaches got straight into training, eager to show off what they had learned during the weeklong coaching education program. It was great to see that even before the end of the week the coaches were implementing and adapting some of our games to fit their own needs and priorities.

    This week during training we had a relatively high percentage of returners as well as women coaches and teachers that really fueled the group’s ambition to both understand and implement our messages. This mentality makes me both confident and excited for all the coaches going forward.


  • 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!


    Playing Circle of Friends at the Community Center!


    CAC coaches with Rubavu favorite Anike


  • 5 Months, 5 Countries, Beautiful Memories

    Senior Staff member, Markus Bensch writes about his first five months with Coaches Across Continents.

    September 4th, 2014. While writing this I’m sitting in the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul waiting for my connecting flight to Nuremberg, Germany. It will be my first time back in my country of origin after I started to work for Coaches Across Continents in late March. What has it been like in the past five months? Amazing, challenging, rewarding, tiring, refreshing, fun, exciting, and shocking … All those and many more adjectives can describe my experience with CAC and the people I worked with. I want to start with the most recent one that I had in Rwanda, because it’s the one that is the most fresh and that was also the most intense in so many ways.

    We were running four different programs in Rwanda with our partner Football for Hope, Peace & Unity (FHPU) represented by its founder Eric Murangwa and his colleague Didier Bana. There have been previous blogs from Nora, Tom and Yael as well as from Francis saying how impressed we’ve been about the participants, their eagerness to learn, and their motivation to make a difference for their community and Rwanda as a whole. There is so much dedication towards development and change that when you speak to Rwandans at some point during the conversation they all mention the genocide in 1994, it seems that a lot of the dedication and motivation comes from this horrible killing of over 1 million people. On my last day before I left Rwanda I caught the chance to go to one of the memorials that can be found in all different parts of Rwanda. Didier from FHPU, an excellent guide, accompanied me on this trip. We went to Ntarama, a catholic church where one of the mass killings took place. As so often in history the church collaborated with the perpetrators and helped or even justified and blessed the killings. More than 5,000 Tutsis were killed by Hutus in Ntarama on the 15th April 1994 after spending 6 days in and around the church trying to escape the killing. The local tour guide took us through the different buildings around the church and I faced the most shocking picture in the room where the Sunday school took place. There was a bloodstained wall witnessing the killing of the children that were hiding on the church compound. Their heads had just been smashed against the wall and the blood remains on the wall until today as reminder of this horrible killing. And right next to it I saw a 2 meter long pointed wooden stick and the guide explains to us that this was used to kill the women after they have been raped by impaling them from their privates through their head. My breath stopped for a moment, followed by pain in my body, the feeling of emptiness and crying. I feel that with my tears I can give back these victims at least a little tiny bit of compassion and human kindness that they have been missing so much in the last moments of their lives. It’s horrific what humans can do to each other when they’ve lost their humanity. On a sheet that is covering some of the coffins inside the church is written in Kinyarwanda the following sentence: “If you would have known me and if you would have known you, you would have not killed me!” This outcry tells us the reason for this mass-killing and how it could have been prevented.

    But Rwanda is not only about its past and the genocide. It is first and foremost a beautiful country with amazing people. I’ve experienced so much friendliness and so much help when I tried to orientate myself as a stranger in a new country. And I’ve experienced so much kindness and humanity; I’m particularly impressed by the honesty of many Rwandans. In my one week holiday in Rwanda I also saw the beautiful nature of this country. My favourite experience was the two day cycling tour from Gisenyi to Kibuye along the Lake Kivu in the west of the country. Knowing that Rwanda is called the country of thousands hills, you can imagine how much I was physically and mentally challenged in these two days.

    These are the most recent experiences and definitely also one of the most intense of the past five months and will remain and definitely influence me in the time to come. Looking at the wider picture of the past five months I’ve been a part of or in charge of 14 different CAC programs in 5 different countries. And I can just confirm the CAC saying “Every program is different!”. I have had a great introduction by Nora in Uganda and Sophie in Tanzania to the CAC philosophy and curriculum. I want to say “Thank you!” to both of them for their support. After 7 weeks I felt well prepared to run my own programs. To lead the programs in Zimbabwe and South Africa was the next major step for me. I think I learned a lot in this time and as Nick did testimony in my last skype call: “I became less German!” I’ll take that as a compliment and I’m curious what I’ll become. More African? More Cosmopolitan? More relaxed? Hopefully a bit of everything!

    The most rewarding in the past five months was to see how all the groups I worked with differ. The surprise that comes up with each group makes my work so interesting and exciting and at the same time challenging, because it requires the openness on my side to support the development that comes up within the group initiated by the individuals. It is very exciting to put self-directed learning into practice and I like the challenge to get better in it with every single program. Development and Self-Directed Learning is not only reserved for our participants, but through my work it reflects on me and questions my beliefs, assumed limitations, and gives me the opportunity to broaden my borders and develop skills.

    I want to say “Thank you!” to Nick and Brian for giving me this great opportunity to be a part of the “CAC family” to develop my skills and personality and contribute towards “Football for social impact.” Last but not least I want to say “Thank you!” to all the people who work off the field and behind the scenes to make my work on the field possible and easier. I just recently learned that CAC is a fast growing business and we already count 60+ people who are involved in our vision of using football for social impact and contributing time towards CAC. I’m proud to be one of them!



  • Rwanda: Remembering the Past But Looking to the Future

    August 6, 2014.  Francis Davin joins CAC On-Field for four weeks in both Rwanda and Cambodia. He writes about his first impressions and the final Rwandan program in Kigali with FHPU and Dream Team Football Academy.  

    The Rwandans are an amazing people. Everywhere I go I am met by smiles and very respectful attitudes towards me the strange white guy.  A country still recovering from the wounds of the genocide in 1994 is rebounding forward with embrace for foreign culture and a new found unity.   By trying to look at the future whilst not forgetting the past all the people I have met have a renewed attitude that they can look at the positive things in life now and appreciate them more.

    Whenever I travel around with a Rwandan colleague and bump into a stranger to ask for information I’m shocked to find out they are friends already as they laugh and joke and finish talking with a hand shake and a good bye. Then when I ask how they know each other I find out they aren’t actually friends but everyone just talks like that with each other now – everyone treats each other as friends.

    It seems the past segregation and division between Hutus and Tutsis and the killing of over 1 million of the population now promotes a new era of friendship and togetherness.

    Simple things are the best things here, no one worries about making sure their tan is the correct shade or that they must watch the latest episode of that new TV show, an old used tire is the greatest play thing for a kid (after a football of course!). It puts a lot of things in perspective very quickly and makes you appreciate what we have in our world.

    The happiest moment I saw so far was a group of 20 or so kids with clothes they have clearly been wearing for months, being given a soccer ball to play with. Instantly teams are formed and a game with sticks in the ground for posts is under way. I remember the amount of player’s soccer balls I have in my car that have been left behind at a practice in the US and think how the kids here in the streets a would treat them like diamonds.

    Hearing the stories of what happened during those 100 days from genocide survivor and ex professional football player Eric upsets me and makes me continue to worry for a species that can instantly turn and kill each other’s friends based on radio announcements, propaganda and perceived differences in the shape of someone’s face.

    But all that history here creates a motivated culture that will never let it happen again has united everyone to move into a brighter future.  On the field the enthusiasm is second to none. The coaches want to learn and want to improve and take part in anything with so much energy it’s infectious. On Tuesday we spent a long morning on the field and wrapped up about 1pm to head back into the coolness of the hostel. At 4pm we arrived for an evening visit at an orphanage in a village 30 minutes away only to find a coach we’d worked with all morning volunteering his time to help out there.

    On the final day we had coach backs which was a chance for the coaches to try out the games with teams of local kids while we watched. As we arrived early as usual (thanks Didier for your wonderful driving) we found coaches arriving and forming a group. Before we even said anything they had organised themselves into 3 groups, including a time keeper and logistics expert in charge of cones and balls, and were coaching our games!  Self-directed coach backs! Nora was incredibly happy. Marcus being the German said it was all part of his Vorsprung durch Technik plan!

    At the end of the week following all the photos and certification awarding I asked a coach what he would do with our training. He said “I came here to learn how to coach but also to teach the players I work with to be better people.  It’s difficult to just tell them to be good, treat people well and be smart with their choices. Instead I look forward to teaching them with football games that they enjoy”

    Before I joined CAC I knew what the idea of self directive learning and using football for social impact meant, but I didn’t realise the impact would be so profound, direct and resonant.  I also admit to being surprised in a good way by the beauty of Rwanda physically and culturally. When I left I took a piece of Rwanda with me – a new outlook on life and an adjusted perspective will enable me to prioritize and promote peace and hope above all else and a new point of reference for my life.


  • From Israel to Rwanda with CAC

    July 30, 2014.  CAC Volunteer and Community Impact Coach, Tom Marsland from Israeli partner, Mifalot, joined CAC team leader, Nora Dooley, in Rwanda for two weeks of programs. He writes about his experience.  Hi, my name is Tom Marsland, 30 years old from Israel. Between the 6th of July and the 20th, colleague Yael Paz and I went on a delegation to Rwanda.

    Our delegation was on behalf of “Mifalot Education and Society Enterprises”, an Israeli organization which we work for, and our mission objectives were to watch, participate and learn from Coaches Across Continents (CAC) and they’re work with the local organizations on how to further implement the social impact in Mifalot’s work in Israel and around the world.

    The training in Rwanda was arranged by the local organization FHPU – Football for Hope Peace and Unity, headed by Eric Murangwa. FHPU were responsible for organizing the training, scheduling and more. Dream Team Football Academy, based in Kigali, is another organization also supported by Murangwa and his colleagues, and therefore were significant in our journey.

    After a few days of adaptation the training began. Each project took about 15-16 hours spread out over three days. The first project took place in Gisenyi (Rubavu) on Rwanda’s western border and the second project was in Rwamagana in the east. We were expecting the arrival of about 100 trainers in both places altogether but in fact came about 180 (!) coaches and teachers who wanted to learn how to use soccer for social impact and as an educational tool.

    During the training we got to know the coaches and teachers, learned a little about their culture and learned and experienced in depth with them how complex messages, such as gender equality, sexual education etc are becoming simple when you teach them through football. I’m not sure “teach” is the correct word because one thing that amazed me in CAC’s way was how the games vary according to the participants while the message remains the same.

    It was a great experience also off the pitch, visiting the Agahozo Shalom Youth Village, the genocide memorial and generally spending the time in a foreign country with the kind guidance of our hosts.  In conclusion, this delegation to Rwanda was so much FUN!!! We want to take the opportunity and thank the CAC members, Nora “dark warrior” Dooley and Markus “Germany took the world cup” Bensch. It was great knowing you guys and we learned a lot from you.

    Coach Tom speaks to his new Rwandan friends

    Coach Tom speaks to his new Rwandan friends