By Dale Eaton
Rwanda, a nation torn apart by a horrific genocide in 1994. The country was left in ruins as around 800,000 people were slaughtered over a period of 100 days by ethnic Hutu extremists. Despite this dark period in the country’s history, the nation is recovering and has made mass economic inroads.
During its recovery from the genocide sport has fallen by the wayside. Football in Rwanda like most countries across the world, is wildly popular. Unfortunately for Rwanda the nation doesn’t have the same level of coaching, equipment and facilities as other African countries.
Attempting to change this are a group of Scottish coaches from Heart of Midlothian, Bonnyrigg Rose, Murieston United, Penicuik Athletic, Spartans, Ormiston and Tranent Colts. The group is led by Mark Fleming from Sports Chaplaincy.
Fleming, SFA Chaplain, has been to Rwanda multiple times on similar expeditions and refers to the African nation as his “second home”.
The purpose of the trip to Rwanda is as Fleming states, two fold: “First of all it was to provide a coach education package to a group of youth coaches throughout Rwanda, but as it turned out people came from Uganda, DR Congo and other places and I believe ultimately there was about 56 people that went through the coach education.
“The community club coaches were coaching at a youth level, coaching kids. In fact one of the clubs that they coached was a second division team.”
In the past it has been challenging for Fleming to build up relationships and trust with Rwandan’s, especially in Bisesero which was one of the worst affected areas by the genocide. The area was home to around 50,000 residents and after the genocide only 1,500 survived. Fleming states: “The area they were in was known as the turquoise zone and it was an area where the French army were supposedly looking after and protecting the Tutsi people.
“However they not only abandoned them but set them up to be obliterated and exterminated by the Interahamwe. So because of that, given that we kind of look all the same to them, certainly representing white Europeans when they first went there was no trust and no welcome and quite understandably so.”
However over the years and after multiple trips Fleming has built a fantastic relationship with the Rwandan people. “Now when we go to Bisesero we’re welcome with open arms and to be honest with you we probably reserved our best piece of kit to give to their football team. It was brand new Hearts gear, which they really appreciated.”
The impact that the coaches are having in Rwanda is a lasting one that will be felt by the people of Rwanda long after they leave. Fleming proclaimed: “I’ve always found coming to Rwanda you have a real sense of leaving a legacy. That you’re not just passing some tips or coach education, coaching but you’re actually giving them something that they will develop themselves that they’ll run with it and they’ll make good use of it.”
The coaches have been very impressed by the quick learning and ability shown by those taking onboard the coaching education. Fleming stated: “Jack and Alan White (Hearts’ Head of Community), ‘Chalky’ as we call him, when they were reporting back on the coach education, the third day was when the coaches had to put on sessions and demonstrate what they had learned and they were absolutely blown away by the quality of delivery and the depth of understanding.
“They said it was absolutely outstanding. That really heartend them them to know that they were taking onboard what they had been taught and were delivering it themselves.”
Not only is the men’s game being developed in Rwanda but they are also making waves in the female game. Fleming stated: “They have started to really develop the female game here, which was in very great need. They have now started to put programs in-place and they’ve now got a girls and woman’s development program.”
Not only were the group providing coaching but they also brought over some brand new kit. “We had brand new Hearts kit which was really nice, we had really good kit from Bonnyrigg Rose and Penicuik Athletic, we had a range of different strips that had been provided by other partners too, not necessarily the same kit as any Scottish football club but still very good quality kit.
“It meant that we could equip various teams in the same area that would be playing against each other and they’ve all got different kit now”
Thanks to the efforts from the group and other Scottish groups previously there is now a great affinity for Scotland amongst Rwanda. Fleming exclaimed: “Because of all the Scottish FA kit that we haded out last time there’s hardly a day that goes by when you’re walking in Kigali and you don’t see someone wearing a Scotland top because they have just loved the thing.”
Fleming’s dream going forward is for other clubs to get involved. He stated: “For example it would be great to have a delegation from both Hearts and Hibs, it would be great to get other clubs involved that would be rivals back home but over in Rwanda they’re operating as one.”