A Land of a Thousand Smiles

A personal account of the volunteer coaching trip to Rwanda in February 2014 by Matthew Beddow

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On a humid Friday morning on the western edge of Rwanda huddled in a tight circle at the end of a pitch of dust, stones and grass surrounded by banana trees, fields of sugar cane and maize the Rubengera Angels prepare to face their arch rivals the Rubengera Jaguars in the Friends of Rwandan Rugby (FoRR) Karongi District Tag Rugby Final.

Tour 2014

Eight days earlier at Heathrow Airport for the first time Matt, Lewis, Helena, Pete, Nick, Tim and Matt (That’s me), all met for the first time.  All excited about the trip we had been looking forward to but also all a little apprehensive about the unknown.  We sorted through 200 rugby jerseys, 206 balls, 360 tag belts in the departure hall to make sure we carried as much rugby kit as possible out to Rwanda.  A kind of team building exercise as it turned out!

Within an hour we had been christened with new “tour names” and Saucy, Pampers, Sharky, Pistol, Dick, “Just Tim” and Big Bad boarded the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner Plus (Turns out Saucy likes his planes) to Addis Ababa on the first leg of our overnight trip to Kigali.

After a short stop off at Addis Ababa, a couple of laps of the terminal and a warm fruit salad it was back on the plane and out onto the tarmac of Kigali Airport.  We were met by the leader of the FoRR programme in Rwanda, the aptly named Kamanda, and loaded the mini bus with our 14 bags of rugby kit before heading into the city.

Like the rest of Rwanda, Kigali is a city of hills and valleys.  It’s said Rwanda is a country of a thousand hills but to me it seems far more like 10,000!  We stay for two nights at a hostel just a short walk from the commercial centre and its hectic market as well as the Hôtel des Mille Collines (THE Hotel Rwanda).  On Saturday morning we head to the school behind the hostel and get involved in our first rugby session.  And it was great.  When we arrived the footballers jokingly jeered at our funny shaped ball but the team Kamanda coaches every Saturday were fantastic and clearly loved the game.  I haven’t played for a long time so was consigned to the role of red-faced white guy hanging around on the wing calling in vain for the ball but it was a lot of fun.

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We left the school for a very sobering visit to the genocide memorial where the history of the terrible months in 1994 are recorded for all.  The sight of toddlers’ shoes, the same as worn by my own children, in a display case of infant bones was devastating.  I left with a sense of what the people we were to meet throughout the trip had gone through but also with an understanding that the old Rwanda was no more and a very new one was emerging every day.  One family.

From there we were privileged to visit the Rwandan Orphan Project (ROP) and meet the people who care for those children who for a wide range of complicated and saddening reasons have been left with no family.  Some for a period, some permanently and some found living on the streets at far too young an age.  We will always remember an afternoon on the red earth of Kigali teaching a sport we love to kids who show such positivity and joy while recovering from situations no child should ever have to endure.

On Sunday we headed out to Karongi to meet the teachers and the children we would be spending the rest of the week with.  On a twisting winding road with spectacular views on left and right (that would be at home in any episode of Top Gear) we headed out to the western border of Rwanda to the village of Rubengera.   A short bus ride from the 60 mile long Lake Kivu.

We also met the FoRR Rugby Development Officers who were to be our guides and mentors and who all became our good friends during the week.  Mathieu, JP, Alex, Laurien, Felix, Claude and Regis worked with us every day in the schools as well has sharing a couple of beers every evening after the days coaching was over.

We stayed at a church retreat, on the outskirts of the village and were again made to feel very welcome.  Any group of people walking around a small village in BRIGHT YELLOW t-shirts and caps is going to attract attention not to mention a group of white faces in a rural Rwandan community.  The beauty of being based in a village like this for a week is that people get to know you and want to know what we are doing.

We coached in pairs at our three schools and helped the Rwandan RDO’s to select and coach a new generation of rugby players. Each of our schools were different and we all faced challenges the RDO’s are all to familiar with when introducing a new sport to schools in Rwanda.

The kids embraced us and our game completely and ran out to greet us every day in droves.  Always enthusiastic, always keen to learn, often running out of lessons before being given permission to and always pleased to be part of a new experience.  Our message to have fun and be part of a team while learning was not lost on them.

Rwanda threw a surprise at us every single day.  In fact there were usually two or three incidents a day that stopped you in your tracks!

–       The man who stopped two of the team in the street to thank them for coming to Rwanda and telling them about his families experience of the genocide;

–       The 1,000 strong town meeting complete with choirs and voting officials dressed as Greek gods that turned up during one coaching session;

–       The evening at the secondary school coaching rugby while 4 choirs in class rooms surrounding the pitch sang their hearts out;

–       The impromptu visit to a church that ended in us staying for an hour and being asked to give a speech to the 400 strong congregation who were keen to know what we were doing;

–       The whole of one school being led out to the pitch we were playing on to serve a mass detention in silence for laughing at the head mistress while we were asked to play on.

I could go on . . . and on . . . and on.

The way that the kids learnt the game so quickly was amazing and there was some real talent on show.   In my group alone there was a 7 year old girls who took running lines like Jeremy Guscott (And was just as elusive), Alex squeezed out impossible passes like Richie McCall (And got away with as many infringements) and Vincent had the instincts for finishing like Jason Robinson (With a side step as good as any)!  Brilliant to watch and to teach.

So after 4 days of coaching the teams of boys and girls under 8 were selected and the tournament kicked off!  To see all of our kids play the game with such heart and enthusiasm was fantastic.  As we all watched on and gave instructions all I can say is that the dust must have been getting into lots of our eyes!

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As the teams line up for the pre-final photograph our In the middle of the teams of kids aging from 6 to 9 stand red faced, heavily perspiring white people (“Myzungu”) in bright yellow hats and t-shirts giving their charges last minute tips on running lines, passing technique and game management (Perhaps not the last one).

Its impossible to imagine that just 20 years ago this very town, and probably this very pitch, witnessed some of the most ferocious attacks that took place in the Rwandan genocide.   It is estimated that 90% of the town’s Tutsi population were killed in the 100 days that saw between 500,000 and 800,000 people killed in Rwanda.

Standing in this innocuous field on the edge of a friendly and welcoming community myself and 6 other volunteers have during this week all been deeply moved by this country, its men, women and children and have been first hand witnesses to the continuing story of reconciliation and transformation that is Rwanda.

Whatever preconceptions I may have had about Rwanda were dispelled as soon as I stepped off the plane.    Rwanda provides surprises around every corner and every time you think you know what to expect the unexpected of course happens.   As I write this it is 20 years since the genocide in Rwanda and many many people are working very very hard to make sure it never happens again and Friends of Rwandan Rugby are certainly playing their part.  One family.

Bhubesi Pride Visit Rwanda

16th-21st March 2014,

Bhubesi Pride assembles highly qualified teams of coaching staff to drive through Africa on annual six-month expeditions, supporting rugby and community development in schools and community centres in ten African countries.

The latest batch of 9 Bhubesi Pride Coaches did their third Rugby coaching tour in Rulindo District in Rwanda with our programme leader Kamanda.   The organization and daily training sessions were successful at Murambi Public School , Nyirabirori and Tumba Public Primary Schools.  As always our Friends of Rwandan Rugby staff supported the visiting coaches through out the trip.

Another fantastic week ending in a brilliant tournament.   FoRR now award teachers with Achievement Certificates for their participation with kids during the whole week.

Big thanks to  DHL Rwanda provided water to students during sessions and Tournament day.

3 Primary Schools, 2 Secondary Schools, 2 Nunneries, Rugby and The Funky Chicken

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.  

Our schools

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!

Tournament day

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.


Tim Charlton

2014 Coaching Trip to Rwanda

The 2014 coaching trip to Rwanda was once again a huge success.  We will be posting accounts of the trip from those who spent a week with the schools in Rwanda.  All had an experience they will never forget.  After spending a day acclimatizing in Kigali the coaches departed for the small town if Rubengera where 3 primary schools were introduced to Tag Rugby and competed in an inter school tournament at the end of the week.

We will be posting photos and videos of the tour over the coming weeks.

EAV KABUTARE (Secondary School)

By John Claude

Great work this Wednesday! During the morning I have trained the selected players from P4 & P5,they are so good. Afternoon,after training EAV KABUTARE(secondary school) I have gone to support GRIZZLIES RFC.

On Tuesday,I visited Ecole Internatinale(french private school) to introduce Tag Rugby,I am lucky because headmaster agreed with me that he is going to inform parents so that I start. This requires the basic equipement to start our game in new school. The Headmaster was very impressed!

Friendly Match Result

Last Sunday on 19th Jan 2014, GS NYUNDO and ES KARUGANDA played a friendly rugby game at RYAKIRORO Pitch in Gakenke District. This game ended with the victory of GS NYUNDO 7-0.

05/01/2014 7th Tour – Details Finalised

It is unbelievable to announce that FoRR is sending our 66th rugby coach to Rwanda as part of our coaching trip this February. For the first time the coaching group will visit Kibuye in Rwanda’s west to introduce rugby to the schools in this region. We will be looking at a prospective new rugby development officers to continue the development of the game in the region after the UK coaches depart and there is a great hope that the Kibuye area will quickly come on-line to contibute teams to all of the tournaments planned for both school boys and girls throughout 2014.

01/01/2014 RDO Development Workshops planned

Friends of Rwandan Rugby staff have pledged to further develop their coaching skills at a 2 day workshop in Kigali. The event will involve classroom law discussions coupled with practical on-field sessions. The collaborative event will provide the RDO’s with an opportunity to share skills and develop a coherent nationwide strategy to up-skill a huge range of players.

31/09/2013 National Champions Crowned

ISETAR Celebrated winning the national schools trophy after beating ETM Mukingi 36-0 in final. Although the pitch was full of water from the heavy rain the game went well and ISETAR dominated the match in front of 400 spectators. The tournament was held at RUYENZI Ground. A great thanks must go to the Rwandan National team captain CAMBARA KOKO MARCEL and Rwandan National team player KAMALI VICENT who assisted in presenting the medals to the winning teams. Finally congratulations to all FORR RDO’s for organising and officiated the games throughout the entire series and on finals day.