A personal account of the volunteer coaching trip to Rwanda in February 2014 by Tim Charlton
It’s very hard to put the experiences I had in to words, and especially in something of a length somebody may ever read. I’ve chosen 9 different things (out of dozens) that happened on the trip to illustrate my time and experiences coaching in Rubengera, Karongi in February 2014.
Kit sorting in Heathrow
Unpacking, repacking, weighing, repacking and reweighing 14 bags of generously donated kits, tags & balls, hundreds of medals, trophies, t-shirts for the kids, a printer oh and our own clothes. With a maximum of 23 kgs per bag, 2 bags per person. It was an exercise in expert packing under time pressure whilst being stared at by half of Heathrow airport. After a few smiles at the staff of Ethiopian Airlines we managed to transport a huge amount of kit and equipment (only a little over our allowances). It was amazing to see the generosity of so many clubs, organisations and people represented by all that we had to carry!
When distributing the kit in Rwanda it was clear that every single item of kit will be put to use and that the donations are absolutely vital to the charity.
Our first taste of rugby in Rwanda
St. Paul’s the pastoral centre we called home in Kigali has a secondary school attached. It was here we got our first taste of Rwandan schools, and rugby. The pitch/playground was a dusty, but substantially sized piece of hard red earth, with sporadic grass patches. After throwing a ball around with many of the younger children, we began coaching the older children followed by a game of touch rugby. The heat was immense and only seconds in to the game the sweat was pouring from the tourists, we also blamed the altitude for our lack of fitness (Rwanda is all at least 1,000m above sea level).
Following this we got another taste at the Rwandan Orphan Project- actually a home and school for children either abandoned to live on the street or given refuge for a period from complex troubles at home. Here we coached younger children, through various means – British Bulldogs (or Wolves & Chickens as the Welsh seem to call it) was certainly a favourite. It became very obvious that the children simply love to run – so passing in a circle was always destined to fail!
The Hills and roads of Rwanda
After 2 days it was time to travel to Rubengera, where we were based for most of our time, and where we would coach schools for the tournament at the end of the week. 10 of us piled on to a bus, to be joined by 4 more RDOs (Rwandan Rugby Development Officers) on route. The journey took us up and down what felt like at least 500 of Rwandan’s famed 1,000 hills, round countless corners and past innumerable different people, villages and valleys – all with something different for us to see.
Matt ‘Welshboy’ Philips and I were paired off and alongside RDOs: JP, Mathiu and Regis, headed off on a short motorbike taxi (moto) ride to Nyarubuye Primary School. This was to be the school we would coach for the next 4 days. Upon arrival, any doubts we may have had as to how much we stood out as white men in yellow polo shirts were soon disproved. As soon as word got out that we had arrived masses of children flooded out of classrooms all over the school to take a look. After a photo opportunity the crowds were subdued and we were sent to the Headmistress’ office to discuss the coaching and children we needed.
On day 1 we had about 50 children in each session (morning and afternoon), soon they were taught how to throw (rugby style), catch and most obviously to shout BALL! To call for it. The ‘Pitch’ was a small plot of bumpy land, less than the size of two Tennis courts, made up half of gravel and with a manual water pump at the bottom. Every time we arrived we were swamped by hundreds of children until they were shepherded back into classrooms. As a result each training session began with Matt and I being surrounded by school pupils and playing games, chasing, playing catch etc for the first 45mins! But the joy on the children’s faces was really amazing!
A personal highlight was dancing the funky chicken as the children clapped, sang and (mostly) laughed. – see Facebook for more!
Coaching the Coaches
One of the important things we felt about the tour was that we left the coaches with some practical skills and rugby based fun and games they could use. Many of the RDO’s were brought in to rugby at a fairly late age – compared with many in the UK contingent. So after lunch we spent some time demonstrating drills and discussing ideas with the RDOs. It was great to spend time with the RDOs – a great bunch who it appears to me are heart and soul of Rugby in the whole of Rwanda!
Assembly time – Rubengera style
The aim of our third day of coaching was to get the children playing proper games of tag rugby, however when we arrived in the afternoon we soon came across an obstacle. The entire school (primary and secondary) was sat neatly on the banks of the pitch receiving an assembly! Attempting to make minimal fuss and disruption we kept away from proceedings, but when, as the assembly seemed to be concluding, the pupils burst in to song in thirds as always, I couldn’t resist joining in with a bit of clapping and dancing. The younger children were released and an impromptu play-time with the ‘mzungu’ (Rwandan for White European) began. It soon became clear that the secondary school children were being kept behind – the RDOs explained this was because they had been talking during the assembly.
It was great to see that even 5000 miles from home children still talk in assembly and get detention!
Getting to know the secondary school children
On our final day of coaching, the children spent the sessions playing games of tag rugby on as big a pitch as we could manage in the space provided. This gave me a rare opportunity to engage in conversation rather than manic games of chase – so I spent much of the session getting to know some of the older pupils. Some of them spoke very good English, and it transpired were of quite a wide range of ages – unlike schools in the UK age is somewhat unimportant. They had just finished a ‘Social Studies’ exam. I explained what the charity was, why we were here and the rules of rugby. They had so many questions about life in the UK, about Manchester United and Manchester City (They asked me if I knew the players as that’s where I’m from!).
I spoke to the children about their hopes for the future. One wanted to study Foreign Languages at Oxford University, and another one to be a writer like Shakespeare! It really struck me the differences in our attitudes to school and the opportunities we have!
Friday meant tournament day. We had six teams, two from each of the three schools we had coached, a number of spectators and teachers also watched. We did our best to create a real festival of rugby for the day and bring fun and a bit of a carnival atmosphere to the whole event. Unfortunately the teams from my school both lost their group games and so played in a wooden-spoon match – It was never about the winning anyway! Drinks and lunch were provided for all!
After semi-finals and a grand Final the winner was crowned, and medals were handed to everyone as well as a trophy for the winner and runner-up!
It was a great way to round off our time in Rubengera and the Karongi Region to end in a party atmosphere with cheering and singing – I really hope we left them with as great memories of rugby as they gave me.
The final unique experience was that of the grandaumu. This is the practice where on the last Saturday of each month most businesses do not open; people do not work instead they meet as a community to carry out community projects. These can be anything from building roads to litter picks. This seemed like such a great idea and really summed up the culture of Rwanda as a welcoming, friendly and community driven place. It really was great to wander the streets, with no cars on them and see residents out and about.