It was in the Autumn 2012 when I came across the vacant post of Rwandan National Cricket Coach. The mere thought of African sunshine was enough to make me sit up and take notice. Two months later I found myself soaring high over the Sahara desert on my way to Kigali airport and my involvement in Rwandan cricket had begun.
Rwanda a tiny but densely populated country in central Africa, came to the worlds attention in the spring of 1994 when it was bought to its knees by a brutal and bloody genocide. In just under three months, a million Tutsi men, women and children were slaughtered by their Hutu neighbours. There followed an exodus of Tutsi survivors desperately trying to escape the atrocities by taking refuge in Bordering countries, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya; later, Hutu Perpetrators, fearful of the advancing liberating army, also fled Rwanda, following the path of their Tutsi countrymen. It was during these journeys that Rwandans were exposed to the game of cricket; when they returned home, a number did so with a strong desire to continue with their new found love of the game.
I first visited Rwanda in the November of 2012, where as a volunteer I spent five weeks in Kigali, the country's capital. Coaching at the Kicukiro 'oval' , the only dedicated cricket ground in the country, facilities were rustic but charming; I soon discovered that it was also home to two large cows that would often lay down for a rest in the afternoon. Wherever they chose to lay their heads soon became known as 'cow corner'
It was nature, albeit of a much smaller variety than our bovine friends which once again played a significant role at the Kicukiro ground. Ants would build huge nests that would spring forth - seemingly overnight - from the baked red clay soil that is such a prominent feature of the Rwandan landscape. These nests were large enough and strong enough to instantly stop any well- struck 'cover drive' from finding its way to the boundary. A by-product of these structures was the holes the ants dug. Wide enough for a ball to fall into, I very quickly made it known, that I wasn't a contestant on I'm A Celebrity..... Get Me Out Of Here ! and wouldn't be volunteering to retrieve these balls.
I coached an assorted group of players that ranged from international men and women to boys and girls experiencing the game for the first time. My stay culminated in helping to prepare the U19 girls' side ( see bottom photo ) for their ICC tournament held in Uganda at the beginning of December.
My time in Rwanda was an incredible experience. The Rwandan people are warm, generous and welcoming and are slowly putting the traumatic events of twenty years ago behind them. The Rwandan Cricket Stadium Foundation under the Directorship of Oli Broom is working towards building a brand new cricket ground on the outskirts of Kigali. This ground will house excellent facilities and will give the country an ICC approved ground on which to host official international fixtures, as well as encouraging club sides and schools from all over the world to visit and play at the new venue. Rwanda is not a rich country and like most developing nations, it relies heavily on outside funding to start and maintain projects such as this, especially in the early years. If having read this, you would like to know more, or indeed would like to get involved, please get in touch with me - contact details above. Donations can also be made via the RCSF web site and will be gratefully received. Having worked with the young and enthusiastic Rwandan coaches to develop and hone their skills, and seeing the passion for what to them is such a new sport, I have no doubt that the cricket provision will continue to grow. Schools and orphanages throughout the country are full of the results of the devastating events of twenty years ago: here, in cricket, is a spark of hope for the future.