Nick Hoult sees Rwanda join the crick­et­ing fam­ily

Page 11

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

At the Ma­hama Refugee Camp in south­east­ern Rwanda, one of cricket’s uni­ver­sal truths is be­ing played out by a group of very en­thu­si­as­tic Bu­run­dian chil­dren: it is a bats­man’s game. Some­how Mary Maina, the cap­tain of the Rwan­dan women’s team, is bring­ing or­der to a one-hour cricket class given to a group of around 200 chil­dren who have never clapped eyes on the game be­fore.

She has pegged out four small cones and placed a plas­tic ball on top of each one. One group are queu­ing up to give them a whack. About 50 me­tres away the oth­ers are lin­ing up in a row be­hind a set of dif­fer­ent cones, which she tells them is “the boundary”, and they are “field­ers”. When she shouts “one, two, three, go” the bats­man swings and all hell breaks loose as about 120 kids scrab­ble around in the dust try­ing to grab the balls, while the bats­man runs around two sets of stumps like a base­ball player go­ing around base.

This is how you de­liver cricket in a United Na­tions refugee camp home to 55,000 peo­ple of whom 51 per cent are chil­dren. The camp sits on the banks of the Ak­agera River on the bor­der with Tan­za­nia and in two years its pop­u­la­tion has grown from 8,000 as fam­i­lies flee the po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity of Burundi to find refuge in Rwanda.

It is here Mary is spread­ing the word of cricket for, as a Rwan­dan player, she knows the sig­nif­i­cance of in­tro­duc­ing it to refugees. It was Rwan­dan refugees re­turn­ing home after the geno­cide 23 years ago who brought cricket with them after see­ing it in sim­i­lar camps in British-in­flu­enced Uganda and Kenya.

“It is about hu­man­ity and the right thing to do. If I was in their shoes what would I want?,” Mary says. “I would want ex­actly what we are do­ing, show­ing them there is hope be­cause we know what hap­pened to us. There was hope then, and now look at us.”

While we were talk­ing, at the new cricket sta­dium in Ki­gali they were clear­ing up the mud caused by a sud­den storm on Wed­nes­day and tend­ing the pitch, the first grass wicket in Rwanda, in prepa­ra­tion for yes­ter­day’s open­ing cer­e­mony, a mo­men­tous day for Rwan­dan cricket.

The man­i­cured out­field, tiled pavil­ion and pris­tine net fa­cil­i­ties in Ki­gali feel fur­ther away from Ma­hama than the three hours on tar­ma­cked road, and an­other hour on a rut­ted dirt track, that sep­a­rates the camp and the coun­try’s thriv­ing cap­i­tal city.

But this project at Ma­hama is the next step for the Rwan­dan Cricket Sta­dium Foundation that raised the £1 mil­lion to build the ground. From to­day, the char­ity morphs into Cricket Builds Hope, us­ing the new Ga­hanga Cricket Ground as a re­source cen­tre for de­liv­er­ing so­cial pro­grammes, with a par­tic­u­lar focus on fe­male em­pow­er­ment. The refugee camp trip is a glimpse of the fu­ture when the char­ity hopes to stretch be­yond Ki­gali, us­ing cricket as a ve­hi­cle for so­cial change.

In Ma­hama they know the value of sport, even one as alien to Bu­run­di­ans as cricket. Mostly the chil­dren play foot­ball, mak­ing balls out of rags bound to­gether with string around an in­flated con­dom. One day they would love to have a cricket field, more likely an ar­ti­fi­cial pitch (wa­ter is needed for bet­ter uses in a refugee camp than grass), so the work Mary did on Thurs­day could be­come a reg­u­lar fix­ture of camp life.

“The pur­pose of sports is se­cu­rity, and when they play they for­get trauma, self-pity and all other kinds of prob­lems that refugees have,” says Joseph Ka­muz­inzi, the camp’s pro­tec­tion as­sis­tant in charge of youth and sports.

Mary’s in­fec­tious en­thu­si­asm con­nects with the chil­dren and turns what could be chaos into a fun, con­trolled ses­sion. There is no real at­tempt to coach cricket. Just hit the ball and smile. “It is step by step,” she says. “The fun bit first – it helps you mo­bilise the kids so they want to come next time. Then you add skills one by one, and then hope­fully a crick­eter is born. With these chil­dren it is about how to get through to them. They need to feel you are a friend. That is the logic I used to­day. Let’s get kad­dish to­gether, en­joy this to­gether and get crazy to­gether. After that it was easy to co­or­di­nate. But as you saw, ev­ery­one al­ways wants to bat and hit the ball as far as they can.”

A 13-year-old boy called Charles, who has lived in the camp for two years, agrees. He had never seen cricket be­fore. “It is easy, you just hit the ball.”

It has not been easy to reach this stage. It took five years to raise £1mil­lion to build the cricket ground in Ki­gali and lay the foun­da­tions for projects such as the one in Ma­hama.

But now that the ground is in full use, Cricket Builds Hope can move for­ward.

Ally Shale, the 27-year-old British project co­or­di­na­tor, has de­liv­ered the ground first en­vis­aged by his late fa­ther, Christo­pher.

Shale is about to move on, and hands over to­mor­row to a new co­or­di­na­tor in Ge­ordie Mor­ri­son, whose job it will be to en­sure there is fund­ing to main­tain the ground, at around £50,000 per year, and build the so­cial pro­grammes li­ais­ing with Cricket With­out Bound­aries, a char­ity that has ex­pe­ri­ence of sim­i­lar work in Rwanda and else­where in Africa. The Lord’s Tav­ern­ers have do­nated 1,000 items of kit to help with the task.

Mary, as an am­bas­sador, will be at the cen­tre of the cam­paigns, along with an­other fe­male player, Cathia Uwama­horo. They will de­liver ed­u­ca­tional and vo­ca­tional pro­grammes through cricket. “Our ini­tial focus will be on dis­ad­van­taged women and girls aged 16-25,” says Mor­ri­son. “We are go­ing to be run­ning lead­er­ship pro­grammes from the sta­dium with a part­ner called Res­onate, who use sto­ry­telling meth­ods to help women build con­fi­dence and skills. Our first focus is on 450 women in Ga­hanga and all be­ing well those pro­grammes should be up and run­ning in 2018 with suf­fi­cient fundrais­ing.”

In Mary and Cathia the char­ity al­ready has two women who have built their own sto­ries to change their lives. Cathia was in­tro­duced to cricket by Eric Dusin­giz­imana, the cap­tain of the Rwanda team, after she saw him hold­ing a coaching demon­stra­tion. Mary stum­bled across it, too. “Best ac­ci­dent that ever hap­pened in my life,” she says.

Cathia is now a Guin­ness World Record holder for bat­ting in the nets longer than any other fe­male player, which led to her be­ing of­fered a job with one of Rwanda’s lead­ing fi­nan­cial com­pa­nies, and Mary has be­come an ac­com­plished me­dia per­former while fin­ish­ing her uni­ver­sity stud­ies in biotech­nol­ogy.

“We have had girls on the back pages of sports pa­pers, which you do not see with other sports in Rwanda,” says Shale. “We have chal­lenges in our so­ci­ety,” says Mary as we speak on the bus home from the refugee camp. “It is men-dom­i­nated, and sport is to­tally men-dom­i­nated, too.

“See­ing that a girl in our so­ci­ety can stand up in a com­mu­nity of men and feel my ideas mat­ter is a big thing. Cricket has given us that en­vi­ron­ment.”

Free HIV test­ing and ed­u­ca­tional work­shops will be held at the ground and Cathia ex­plains how she uses cricket in that set­ting. “I say con­sider the stumps as your life, the bat is your con­dom and the ball is Aids. You use the bat to de­fend the stumps from the ball so you have to pro­tect your­self.”

The Rwan­dan men’s team plays in Africa Divi­sion Three; the women have been play­ing se­ri­ously only for five years but now they have proper fa­cil­i­ties the hope is the game will boom. “We had noth­ing, but now ev­ery­one is like, ‘I need to train be­cause I have to play at that ground,’” says Mary. “We watched a lot of the women’s World Cup. Our ground is the same as the ones they played on. When you have a good ground what is left? It is the play­ers. We need to be in the nets more to play the stan­dard of cricket we watch on TV.”

Shale will be a trustee of Cricket Builds Hope and be­lieves the ground is just the be­gin­ning.

“One hun­dred per cent this can grow out­side Rwanda. We need proof of our pro­grammes be­ing suc­cess­ful over a year to 18 months first,” he said. “There are ideas of try­ing to help ter­ror­ists who have been in­car­cer­ated but are now try­ing to be rein­tro­duced in so­ci­ety, and us­ing cricket as a ve­hi­cle to do that. I think there is no limit to the power of this game if it is used in a very sen­si­ble and strate­gic way.”

Fi­nal word to Mary. “One girl in my team was de­nied the right to a fam­ily due to the geno­cide in our coun­try. She lost her par­ents and grew up in a home. It was only when she joined our team that she felt she had a fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence. She has grown from be­ing that re­served per­son who al­ways felt as if she did not mat­ter in so­ci­ety to some­one who leads her friends at school. See­ing that tran­si­tion makes you un­der­stand how cricket helps peo­ple’s lives around here.”

‘If I was in their shoes what would I want? I would want ex­actly what we’re do­ing’

‘I think there is no limit to the power of this game if it is used in a very sen­si­ble and strate­gic way’

New be­gin­nings: Michael Vaughan, above, in a T20 match yes­ter­day at Ki­gali’s new sta­dium; left, ac­tion from Wed­nes­day; be­low, chil­dren at a refugee camp

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.