Dis­cov­er­ing some un­com­fort­able truths

Friday - - Society -

CWB’s in­ter­est in set­ting up coach­ing projects in Rwanda was some­thing that ini­tially came about while work­ing in neigh­bour­ing coun­tries. “All three of us were at the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham in 1994 when the geno­cide was un­der way, but due to a lack of re­port­ing on the sit­u­a­tion at the time, we were so naive about what had hap­pened,” ex­plains Andy. “When we later started trav­el­ling through Africa, es­pe­cially in Uganda, we couldn’t be­lieve how lit­tle we knew about this huge tragedy and the suf­fer­ing of so many. Re­ally, that’s what brought us here.”

Af­ter the suc­cess of their first Rwanda project in 2007, the CWB de­cided to send an an­nual team of ICC-qual­i­fied vol­un­teers to coach chil­dren and young adults for a fort­night. Over those 14 days the team reaches out to ap­prox­i­mately 2,500 chil­dren across Rwanda’s schools and or­phan­ages.

As part of their ethos of in­clu­sion, they have of­ten found them­selves bridg­ing the gap be­tween chil­dren whose fam­i­lies be­longed to the dif­fer­ent tribes di­vided by the geno­cide – some­thing Andy says re­ally brings home the his­tory of the coun­try.

“One day, a girl turned up on the pitch for coach train­ing and she was wear­ing a woollen hat even though it was a hot day,” he says. “While we worked with her we dis­cov­ered that the rea­son she was wear­ing a hat was to hide a huge ma­chete scar across her head. She was an or­phan from the geno­cide and had been attacked when she was about four. See­ing her laugh­ing and smil­ing while she played a game of cricket – well it makes you re­alise there is a real his­tory there that you can’t be­gin to com­pre­hend.”

Lack of knowl­edge ama­jor con­cern

Al­though at just 3 per cent HIV preva­lence is rel­a­tively low in Rwanda when com­pared to other African coun­tries, Unicef says young peo­ple, es­pe­cially girls, lack com­pre­hen­sive knowl­edge to pre­vent be­ing in­fected by HIV.

In ad­di­tion to con­tam­i­nated med­i­cal equip­ment, poor knowl­edge about how the disease spreads is among the main rea­sons it is so preva­lent in the re­gion, say ex­perts. Con­se­quently, be­havioural-change pro­grammes are im­per­a­tive to main­tain its low in­fec­tion rate, some­thing that CWB leader for Rwanda Bob Hop­kins says is at the root of what they do. He points out that al­though the rate of in­fec­tion might be lower, “that still means over 200,000 peo­ple are liv­ing with HIV/Aids and that around 170,000 chil­dren have been left or­phaned by the disease. That’s why it’s re­ally im­por­tant we de­liver the mes­sage to the young about their fu­ture”.

Many chil­dren have been left or­phaned ei­ther by the geno­cide or by Aids in Rwanda and al­though the CWB fo­cuses on spread­ing the game of cricket by vis­it­ing as many dif­fer­ent schools as pos­si­ble over the fort­night, they al­ways find the time to visit the kids at the Rwanda Or­phan­age Project.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager at CWB, Lee Booth, says it is al­ways an un­for­get­table and eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. “Last time I saw a lit­tle boy who came run­ning out with a huge smile to help me set up the pitch. I asked who the lit­tle fel­low was and it turns out they’d found him on the streets just a few days be­fore. The rea­son he was no­ticed was be­cause at just five years old he was try­ing to reg­is­ter him­self in a school. It just shows you what th­ese kids go through and their re­silience.”

On the pitch, the meth­ods of the CWB, while per­haps not en­tirely unique, are cer­tainly ef­fec­tive. “There is no doubt that a lot of th­ese chil­dren hear sim­i­lar [HIV-aware­ness] mes­sages a lot of the time,” ex­plains Lee. “But it’s proven that kids highly re­spect sports coaches and I think the method of us­ing a fun ac­tiv­ity – in this case cricket – is a pow­er­ful way of get­ting the mes­sage across in a dif­fer­ent way. The mes­sage has been tai­lored so that it is visu­ally ef­fec­tive while eas­ily tran­scend­ing lan­guage bar­ri­ers.’’

All CWB coaches are trained to de­liver mes­sages high­light­ing the im­por­tance of ab­stain­ing from sex, be­ing faith­ful and us­ing pro­tec­tion, along­side other il­lus­tra­tive tech­niques. For ex­am­ple, they show the im­por­tance of be­ing faith­ful to just one per­son by com­par­ing it to the fact that you are more likely to be run out in cricket should your at­ten­tion fo­cus on mul­ti­ple play­ers; or they

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