We Need a Break October 15th 2007

As I am sure you realised from our last blog, we were SO excited about sending the team of under 14’s to London for a week to play in the TOURAID Nations Cup. It had been a very long and arduous time organsing all the paperwork and training the boys who had very little experience of rugby. We really put the majority of our time and energy in getting the boys on the plane. Therefore, when we heard that 1 player and 1 coach legged it and did not return to Rwanda, we were devastated. Their incredibly selfish act has destroyed all chances for any future tours. To make matters worse we have been informed that it was common knowledge that the player was planning to run. NO ONE thought to mention it to us though. In addition we had given the coach, who we have known for 6 years our camera to take photos of the tour for mementoes for the boys. Needless to say no camera returned.
This was a week ago now but we are still recovering from the impact this has had on our morale. We completely trusted the coach, Vedaste and did so much for him in the run-up to the tour. We had even planned to work with him long-term as a rugby coach. I am quite concerned for his future in the UK, he cannot speak much English and has no passport or visa.
He has also left 4 rugby teams in Kamonyi (very rural Rwanda) coach less. These teams will be hard to maintain as their knowledge and experience of rugby is limited, and their area is hard for us to access.
In addition we have been without electricity for one week. Therefore the choking kerosene fumes have become, yet again a familiar presence in our humble home. We hope that it will come back on come today, but no important people live in our street so it doesn’t seem to be a priority of Electrogaz!
On a more positive note, we have managed to enjoy some of the Rugby World Cup Games thanks to our friendship with the Fijian family, Luc and Elenoa. They have welcomed us into their home on a weekly basis to enjoy their satellite TV and even provided Deena with a soothing cup of tea following the Aussies outing from the tournament.   Also, the Red Cross Street Kids and Christ for the Nations have played a couple of games over the last few weeks. Red Cross have so far managed to win both but the skills and enjoyment of both teams is very pleasing to see!

Report on Touraid Tournament -London September 2007

September the 24th on the plane, this day was eventless. What amazed me most however was that while I struggled to get the small TV on the aircraft working, qll the boys had theirs on in no time at all. Which got me thinking and asking myself how many of them had a TV set at home? Most likely none of them!  I was also surprised on the frequency that the BA hostesses passed by with trolleys of goodies! Of course our boys did not let a single one of them go by without off-loading its contents. Not much talking on the plane, later on people did comment that the boys were very well behaved.
Come Heathrow, I think some uncertainty crept in, or maybe tiredness after 8 hours flight! They were very quiet. At Heathrow we were met by Adrian and Laura who we were to see every day during our stay in London.
I became Mr. Thomas’ co-driver and my main responsibility was to make sure I found M25 on the signboards.  Mr. Thomas was to become my eyes, arms and legs for the rest of our stay. He was exceptionally welcoming. (This has nothing to so with showing me a few pubs and Buckingham Palace in the evenings!). I will forever be in-debt to him.  On arrival at Eltham College, the boys met their host parents and off they went. Not doubt this time, uncertainty was written all over their faces!  23rd September- Like other days to follow, we met in the car park at Eltham College. This morning we went to Greenwich.  A good number our boys knew what GMT meant. Here the boys were more interested in the big cruise ships that were anchored on the Thames. Surprisingly one of them asked me whether that was the QE2. I really didn’t expect any one of them to have heard of the QE2!
Many group photographs were taken and we were about to return to the bus when Adrian Thomas told me about the tunnel below the Thames. I repeated it to the boys and polite doubts of my sanity came from every one of them all at the same time! We had no choice but to cross the Thames.  In the afternoon, we had a light rugby session at Eltham College. Out liaison officer Laura had been with us since morning and she was excellent with the boys.   In their daily diaries, most of them expressed gratitude and praised their new families.

26th September-Adrian Thomas drives us to Rosslyn Park after giving us some pairs of playing boots. Laura was waiting for us when we got there.
One of the Ndera boys spotted a school van and said he recognized the school name printed on the side of the van. He said that the school helps his school in Rwanda.
I was being introduced top the people at the club when I noticed most of our boys excited and hugging people I did not recognize. I later found out that these people had been to Murembo, others had something to do with Ndera and others had just been to Rwanda.   A good and exciting day for the boys.  In their diaries, what pleased the boys most was for some getting a new pair of playing boots, the new families and making new friends among the other children that had come from various schools.

27th September- We arrive late for the tournament, and we had hardly put our bags down then we were called for out first game. The press was everywhere and I did a few interviews. We narrowly lost the first game against Moldova by 2 points.
The next game was immediately on, hardly 5 mins after the first one was over. This was against Kazakhstan, which we lost 12-0 and we ended up with a few injuries.  For the Rwanda v South Africa game, we had to borrow 2 players from Eltham College. They played their hearts out but unfortunately we lost that game 26-10.  In the boys’ diaries, they still wrote about host families, acquiring a pair of boots for others and about the games for one or two.  Worth noting is the fact that Eltham College ladies got some funds together and bought gumshields and jumpers for the boys who hadn’t got any the previous day.
Kate’s parents (FoRR volunteer) and friends came to support the Mountain Gorillas.
28th September- With Adrian, Laura and the hosting boys from Eltham College, we went by train to the London Eye. There were a lot of exciting chats and giggles amongst the boys. One would have thought that they had always been together.  From here we went by coach to Clifford Chance (Sponsors). We have now linked up with the Cambodian tea, which was also sponsored by Clifford Chance.
We were shown around the building, most workers did not seem to have had a morning and you can imagine them seeing a collection of more than thirty children with some grown ups, all walking about and chatting, giggling and taking photographs every step they made.  Come lunch time there was so much food, it was the first time I heard the boys say that they had had enough! The following morning I had reports from both host families and the boys about upset stomachs!  After lunch there were all sorts of indoor games. The Rwanda team got a few minutes with their Ambassador in England. Presentations were made, and late afternoon we were on the coach heading back to Eltham College. A really good day for all.  The first time we saw a variation in their diaries about what pleased them about the day.

29th September-Finals in Richmond.
We are on time this time, and with plenty of time to warm up. Lack of time for warm-up was definitely one of the reasons for the muscle pulls we suffered the previous Thursday. We were playing for fifth position and won our game against Romania.  India became the overall winner after beating South Africa. Presentations followed and then we watched a club game that the boys did not pay much attention to. They were busy admiring their medals and generally being boys.  Moise is by far the best player in our team and was presented with a rugby ball.  Rwanda had always had English supporters, but today we seemed to have had many more. Caroline had come with a group of Friends of Rwandan Rugby Committee members and cartons full of rugby balls.  Mountain Gorillas made a presention by Bryon (Captain) to Andy of Touraid which drew some attention and a few flashlights went off.
We headed back and arrived at Eltham College at 6pm. All in all a very good day.30th September- All boys were with their host parents. Vedaste and I were treated to a Kent visit in the morning, and we got a stop over to enter a shop for the first time. Out host, the Headmaster of Eltham College and his wife spoiled us to a roast lunch with some other friends of theirs. They were a busy couple who went out of their way to make our stay as memorable as it could possibly be.
After lunch we went with Kate and Toby for a quick drink. They had arrived from China the night before. It was really nice to see them. They had done a lot of good for Rwandan rugby a few months back.
Four o’clock we assembled in the Eltham College car park.  They byes were very tearful, something that really touched my heart. Hosting boys, mothers and our boys were all in tears. I ran into the school van to seek comfort from my very good Welsh friend who was driving us to the airport.  Halfway to Heathrow I heard sobs behind me. On turning, one of the boys was crying, I thought I may end up with something very serious that I may not be able to handle. Luckily it had stopped by the time we got to the airport, where Laura and Andy were waiting to bid us farewell and help us with the check-ins.  All in all I think the intentions of the tour were achieved. The disadvantaged children had a very good time, learnt a lot and as I said to many people, the children definitely got a lot more than even touraid bargained for. Our children re-discovered love. Some of them I know had probably never had any (I know some). They all had very loving host mothers and I saw them getting hugs and kisses every morning. Some people say that it is not Rwandan or African for a mother to hug or kiss a child, but hugging and kissing is a communication media through which love is transmitted. This I learnt on this trip, that it is neither European, Asian, nor African but human. They boys felt it. They laughed more in England than I have ever seen them do in Rwanda.
Some people I talked to in England wondered whether a trip like this would not disrupt the boys’ day-to-day life in Rwanda.
i.e. The boys would only experience a good life for one week and a not so good life after that. My view was similar to the speech of the Rwandan Ambassador to our boys.  “You are full of praise for England and the people you met; it is now up to you to make Rwanda as good as England and you guys be as good as the people you met here.” The boys were surprisingly glad to be going back home. We talked a lot about the experiences in England while we awaited our connecting flight to Kigali. They were all looking forward to going back home and one of them expressed excitement towards having a plate of beans! They all however, wished for the chance to go back to England later. We have a saying in kinyarwanda which literally translates as this, “If a bird can’t fly it will never know when the grain/cereal/seeds are ready or mature for it to feed.”
This was definitely an eye-opener for the boys, it was worth it and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
If this was ever to be done again, I would definitely give it my full support. It is good for the children.

Thank you
Philip Gakirage.

Bon Voyage Tuesday 25th September 2007

Waiting for the missing player to arrive at the airport!

It has been a few weeks since our last blog. Of course this means that we have been busy rugbying! Our schools league did not get off the ground due to the on-coming national exams this term, but we are working with an expert, Heavy to get everything set for the next academic year! Instead, those schools interested have been playing friendlies. We supply the kit, transport money and are often the referees.
This weekend just past was an emotional one on a number of levels. The KIST Univerisity team, the KIST Barbarians played their first game against the seasoned Butare Univerisity Grizzlies. Despite the disparity in skills and experience, the KIST boys did themselves proud and even managed to score a try! Sadly, one player was tackled into the flag pole positioned on the sideline (no pad protectors out here) and broke his leg. We are visiting him in hospital today. We are hoping that the players remember their enjoyment of the game and are not distracted by this misfortune.
The real emotion was towards the send off of the Mountain Gorillas. After six months of extremely hard work from us, the Rwandan coaches and touraid, we got the 12 players and 2 coaches on the plane to London! We are so happy that the passports and visas were not unsurmountable

obstacles and are so impressed with the playing level of the boys. However, when one player was one hour late, to the airport, we did sweat. The releif to see him running up to the terminal was undescribable!
In April they had never played, now they could teach many of the schools some skills. Their levels of English are also better as they are inspired to try and speak the language and the strett kids, especially have developed beyond belief.
We wish them every success in London, please, please support them if you have time!

Farewell Lunch, parents, coaches, translators, players!

Inspiration – 2nd September 2007

Back three weeks so far and right into the thick of it! Luckily day one was a public holiday, allowing us time to remove the thick layer of dust on all our belongings, plus organise the cleaning of our clothes that had moulded slightly! Would have had more time, however, if someone had informed us it was a holiday…!
Things took off quite quickly after that. Teaching, a wicked VSO party in Musha and a very successful schools tournament organised by the Buffalo Rugby Club.
This was a great 7s tournament in which 9 Kigali and Gitarama teams participated. It was an awesome display of the strength of schools rugby in Rwanda, and the passion for the game amongst the youth.
However, by far the most spectacular display came in an exhibition game of the Under 14 team, the Mountain Gorillas who played a short game against St Joseph’s Kabgayi, U14s. The Mountain Gorillas have been selected top attend a tour to the UK in September and have been training hard since June. They will be appearing in the touraid Nations Cup in London, the final of which is to be held at Richmond Rugby Club on Sept 29th. Please suport these young guys, who showed many of the schools teams a thing or two about rugby! A testament to their coaches Philip and Vedaste.

So, life continues, we are working on developing University rugby with 1 active club, 1 unknown entity and KIST who had a lot of help from FoRR volunteers Kate and Toby and seem to be ata stage where they are ready to play.

Finally, we continue to strive for Girls rugby! We are researching which female teams exist, what level they are at and how we can help, it is a long term aim! There seems to be one extremely active girl, Ernestine who trains with the boys at GS Shyogwe. However her team is far in the bush near Gikongoro and with school committments, getting there to see them will be challenging. At least there is always next year….!

Hello from the UK 1st August 2007

Apologies for the delay in updating the blog, we have been enjoying the comforts of the UK on our school holidays, making use of a return ticket purchased in March! Thankfully we have been able to leave the rugby coaching in the more than capable and enthusiastic hands of our first volunteer coaches, Kate Alback and Toby Kyle. As if flying halfway around the world from their current home in Shanghai to spend their school holidays (they are also teachers) coaching rugby in Rwanda wasn’t enough, they did so with the burden of 7 bags weighing 110kgs full of donated balls and rugby kit. Thanks guys!
We were lucky enough to spend a week with these guys before we left for our break. Here is Kate’s experience of the coaching in her own words….

On arrival in Rwanda we organised a tight schedule of training for 2 hours every morning with one orphanage, 3 days a week at the Red Cross Street Kids Centre, and one day a week with the University. Our plan was to have a full timetable of coaching for two weeks and then take some time out to travel. The coaching has been hard work but so rewarding, we have loved every minute of it. The kids in the orphanage are adorable, they train so hard and have developed from nothing into great teams. Not only have we introduced a new sport for them but we have taught some students to referee and coach and have given them some materials with which to make their own kits. The final tournament was like a trip of a life time for the them, especially as they won. Over 100 of these children share one dormitory, and only posess one set of clothes. In introducing them to the sport they have a focus every morning and have a chance to shine. They have the opportunity to win new clothes and now most of them now feel part of a team, learning English words in the process.

We have started each day coaching touch rugby to children as young as 12 who speak no English and finished the days coaching contact rugby to University students. We have enjoyed the flexibility as we can take days out to visit the gorillas and other safari areas as well as spend valuable time with the children. We have attended a local wedding and chosen to sponsor a child through school. If you have a month, or even two weeks to spare I could not think of a more memorable and rewarding way to spend your time.

We had our tournament on Monday and it was amazing! We took 3 teams of big boys (aged 14-15) who we have taught to play from nothing from one orphanage to the red cross centre where the boys are more 16- 20 and have been playing for 3 months and the orphanage boys thrashed them. We also took about 50 small boys along from the orphanage who played their own little league and we were able to ask some players from Rwanda National Team to referee and choose players of the tournament etc. We had some T-shirts made so every kid received a T-shirt (most only have one set of clothes) and the best players won a sports outfit, donated from our kids in China. I think it is the only trip out of the orphanage the kids have ever had and they absolutely loved it.

Now is the hard time as we are preparing to move on and we are not ready to leave. We have decided to sponsor a child through secondary school in return for him continuing the rugby once a week at the orphanage. It will cost us about 150 pounds over 6 years. The boy’s name is Dardie, he is a Congalese refugee. His village in Congo was surrounded by rebels about 5 years ago. They killed his entire family except his younger brother and so Dardie lived in the jungle for two years before being picked up by the orphanage.

It is so sad that of the 18 older boys we have been working with, none of them will be able to go on to secondary school as they have no parents and therefore no money. Also the kids only get one meal a day; the same meal every day – starch slop. They have no nutrition and therefore are tiny for their age and very unhealthy. We are desperately trying to find a way to secure some more funding for the school to get them some more food.

On a brighter note, we are off on a safari weekend, our first bit of tourism since we have been here, and next week we are going to visit some other schools in the countryside.

If you are interested in sponsoring one of the 18 boys to go to school, please let me know asap and we can enrol them in school whilst we are here.

Thanks so much for your support
Kate and Toby

We were so happy to have the support of Kate and Toby and are happy that their visit went well as providing a blueprint to host other volunteers in Rwanda over the coming years. Thanks guys!

Monday 2nd July 2007

t has been about 3 weeks since we last wrote and during that time things have been hectic. We have been dealing with the government to try and produce passports for the 12 boys travelling to England. One of the obstacles has been the children not knowing when they are born and having no parents to ask. It is pretty hard to get a passport without a birthday or any identification. We have persisted and it seems that immigration will give us the documents eventually !! The next hurdle is the VISA issue. At a cost of 70 quid per person for a week in the UK we hope that the British Embassy is more timely in their assistance of our cause. I am slightly concerned about the 10 page document that each child must complete in English but we will muddle through.
We have finally moved into our new house. What a PALACE it is, 3 rooms and a bathroom so we now have space for anyone who wants to visit. The visitors are supposed to start today. We have 2 British volunteer coaches based in China coming out for a month. At least we think they are – we have not heard from them for about 10 days – so we are hoping everything is OK.
Our social circle has expanded and with it our beer consumption. There are 10 Australians in Rwanda and we have formed a “Sunday Session”. Yesterday upon our arrival at beer garden without ordering out came our regular 3 bottles of Primus. At a cost of 50p each they continued through the 2 sessions of brochette, chips and stew which have become standard dinner at the beginning of each week.
We have also befriended Amanda, a rugby fanatical VSO volunteer. We took some equipment for a rugby session on Saturday and managed to tempt some students from church to try out the game. They were excellent, we all had fun and there is real potential for a team there in the third term!
Finally this morning feeling a bit worse for wear we were confronted with the resident mouses’ suicide in our water barrel. A tragedy to be sure for both him and us as we now need to get a new water barrel.

Saturday June 9th 2007

This was followed by a coaching workshop. 30 coaches from rural schools and clubs came into Kigali and we shared our passion for the sport, as well as some ideas for drills and confirming the laws. The coaches all enjoyed the day which was paid for by the charity Friends of Rwandan Rugby, and they are all set to go back to their schools, street centres and clubs and start arranging friendly matches.
Deena and I are planning to head East to start establishing a rugby youth region out there.

A Big Day

The day following the Queen’s birthday is certainly not usually the best day for a rugby bonanza. However, circumstances beyond our control meant that we HAD to select 12 Under 14 boys to attend the tour aid Nations cup in the UK in Spetember.
Despite the obvious priviledge of the 12 selected, competition was fierce, but teamwork was also impressive. Considering this was the first time many of the players had done Tag rugby before, they all picked it up and displayed their skills well. We did finally manage to select 12 and are going to be organising their passports in the next week.