Edition number 34; dateline 12 December 2011
Lessons in good will from a very different perspective
Tis the season of good will, not that I have found this noticeable in the local supermarket car park. It is that time of the year when we are encouraged to think of others above ourselves but how often do we actually do this other than the endless sighing over what present to buy the relative who already has everything? Even in these times of austerity, most of us are not short of much. I bet we all have TVs, washing machines, cars and more. Yes, our things may be a little older than we would like and we may be hanging our noses over the latest iPad, bike, lap top, phone, Kindle or whatever our weakness is complaining we can’t afford it but we really do have a lot of stuff already.
Why am reflecting on greed versus need? It could be Archbishop Sentamu trying to infiltrate my brain with his advent messages on Twitter but as much as I am sure he would like to take credit for my benevolent thoughts, I am afraid I must disappoint him. A recent trip to Rwanda is the more likely culprit. Visiting a country which is so far from our own in every way really does make you think and reflect on many areas of life.
Rwanda: the genocide and gorillas tour. Is this all the trip was to be? Arriving in this small African nation, which I was told was the “Land of a 1000 Hills” and about the size of Wales, I was soon being swept up and down the slopes of Kigali in a terrify but exciting dance of cars and motorbike taxis.
I was not able to schedule a trip to see the gorillas, in the mist or otherwise, but on my first morning smashed skulls, racks of bones, a single white coffin draped with white lace and endless piles of abandoned clothes left sitting on the pews of a former Catholic Church at Nyamata was my introduction to the 1994 genocide. There are many genocide memorial sites around the country and it is perhaps the perfect, if chilling, way to start a visit to this vibrant and developing nation. Despite or perhaps because of its horrors, the genocide shapes everything that happens in Rwanda and it is all positive, about reconciliation and about a vibrant future. If it is a historical tour you are looking for then this isn’t the country for you. One commentator said to me: “You have been to the Genocide Memorial now you know our history”; the history of a nation which is only 17 years old.
I made this trip alongside a local charity based near me in the UK called the Goboka Rwanda Trust. On previous visits they had identified sport as a possible area for development and asked if I would join them on a trip this autumn in order for me to cast my ‘sporty’ and coach education mind over the issue. Until fairly recently Rwanda was the second poorest country in the world but it has since moved up the rankings a little. Although developing almost every minute, only approximately 4% of the population have electricity and running water. If you are lucky enough to have running water into your property then it probably will not be filtered or fit to drink.
So where does sport fit in? Surviving is a major chore most days for most people. What do they want with sport? Their government has a key health target which includes exercise but like most Africans they love playing sport, particularly football, never mind a government’s KPIs. Remember the advertising slogan of a famous chocolate manufacturer “Work, Rest and Play”? Play, particularly for the young people of Rwanda, is vital for their mental as well as physical well-being.
My first port of call after the Genocide Museum was the Rwandan Football Association. Unlike many of the other governing bodies in Rwanda, it has its own office building adjacent to the national stadium and various other football pitches. Sounds like the UK, you say, and you would be right, although I can’t see the English FA allowing motor cycle training on the synthetics at its shiny new facility currently under construction somewhere near Burton? Needs must though and the combination of motor cycling training with football pitches was something observed throughout the country. My favourite use of a school football pitch was as a route to the watering hole for the local cows; can you imagine the coach’s job before training?
The national stadium, which combines football, athletics and national gatherings in one area and basketball in another, was well kept although a little shabby; picture the old Wembley. The pitch had bald patches, even without the motor bikes, but even so this was the best piece of grass I saw all the time I was in the country. The gym at the stadium was basic with kit we probably would not want to use second-hand but it was heaving busy. While we were there an exercise class based on Step started but led by an instructor on a video with a class leader to help move things along. The people were keen and giving it their all, perhaps a subliminal message from the people of Rwanda to the outside world which came through time and again during my visit.
Outside of the capital things were even more basic but the enthusiasm for sport, activity and particularly dance became more and more evident. I visited many schools where ragged students rushed to show me medals and trophies they had won for playing football, volleyball (big in the school yards, particularly when there is no space for a football pitch), basketball and athletics. Their faces were always full of smiles and they always wanted show our group their skills and, it seemed, their love of life.
I spoke to many PE teachers and ‘coaches’. Although the teachers were qualified, there were few with additional coaching awards and few qualified coaches full stop. I met the Rwandan Cycling Federation and learned that they had two coaches in the whole country. One, their head coach, was an American and the other had been to the UCI in Switzerland to do some training. They can’t put out a women’s cycling team because they don’t have any bikes and with a population of 11 million, as our American colleagues would say, “You do the math.”
The school teachers would love more knowledge and skills but even in the remotest part of the country (we were three and half hours from the nearest tarmac road at one point) they recognised that they need the Department for Education to drive the changes so that it wasn’t done piecemeal. How long did it take for us to come to that conclusion with our own programmes? More importantly, how long will it take for us to dismantle it?
Towards the end of my time in Rwanda I was privileged to visit a special school. When we arrived we met the students who had a range of learning difficulties. The equipment they had in the school consisted of two blackboards, a few chairs and desks and about six large Lego bricks. The Goboka Rwanda Trust had raised some money for this school and it was like Christmas when we were able to give them a parachute, large and small balls, large jigsaw blocks with which they could learn to make words and soft toys. We stayed and played with them for a while and it was an absolute joy.
The only dark point was that the teachers considered what would be quite able children in the UK to be severely disabled. None were in a wheelchair and all could talk and communicate with us. I enquired where the even more disabled children were and things went quiet. Although moving forward, Rwandans still haven’t made the step of accepting all into society – yet.
Rwanda reminded me about the fantastic feeling of innocence and the desire to enjoy life. It also reminded me about the real need for human beings to play, run around, compete and push themselves physically. To balance that, it is also clear that we seem to need some level of organisation, dare I say strategy, in order for us to play our sport in a fulfilling way. Even when we live in mud huts, and that is what many people use as an abode in Rwanda, we still have organisations in our villages and towns which help us do many things together including playing sport; they certainly do in Rwanda.My View from the Tub, then, expressed at the end of a year best described as a curate’s egg is: have a very happy festive season, enjoy your sport and activity everyday without feeling guilty, try to harness any innocent enthusiasm left in our communities (it is still there if you look) and do try to think about others, even if it is just to let them have your parking space at the supermarket.
Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.
To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.
Tales from a tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry