Guinness World Record holder and Captain of Rwanda’s National Cricket Team brings the new sport of cricket to refugee camps in Rwanda
For some of the children, sports can be a strategy for survival. Sports are an essential contribution not only to the enjoyment and relief from the stress of life in refugee camps, but also to the protection and personal development of young refugees
As rain trickles into the crowded Gihembe refugee camp located on top of Rwanda’s hills in the Northern Province, Congolese refugee children continue about their day by trying to fill the long hours with makeshift toys and playing games of hide-and-seek. It is just another day for the children, most of whom have been born and raised in a refugee camp, until they realise a special visitor has entered the camp. Children and youth alike swarm to the greet the captain of Rwanda’s national cricket team and a recent Guinness World Record holder, Eric Dusingizimana, a national hero to Rwanda, as he arrives in Gihembe with the intention of teaching refugee children a new sport: cricket!
Captain Eric has recently approached the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to express his interest in potentially launching cricket training programmes for refugees in Rwanda. The first step is to visit the camps to make an assessment and understand what would be required to move forward with this initiative.
Eric has decided to extend his skills to refugees in Rwanda as he believes cricket can serve as an outlet for the youth while at the same time using the opportunity to transfer messages on preventing communicable diseases or fighting against the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS.
“The children here are really good at cricket and willing to learn! Unfortunately I’m only in Gihembe for a day and the refugees have requested for more time to play and learn the rules of the sport. Passing along key messages will be easy as they are really focused! I like the kids and wish I had more time to play with them,” reflects Captain Eric.
Gihembe camp is one of oldest refugee camps in Rwanda, hosting over 12,000 Congolese refugees who fled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1997. Denise is one of many young mothers who have grown up in the camp thanks to the joint efforts of UNHCR and the Rwandan Government who provide essential goods and services to the refugees. Unfortunately sports isn’t prioritized as a live-saving intervention and can sometimes be absent from refugee camps. The parents in Gihembe, like Denise, therefore welcome Captain Eric and his skills to the camp with the hopes that their children can learn the sport and have the same passions as the Guinness World Record holder.
“Our children need help to recapture their childhood as they grow up in a refugee camp away from their cousins, grandparents and other family members back in the DRC. But I am happy they have the chance to learn a new sport. Today I saw hundreds of smiles in the camp!” says Denise.
For some refugees, the excitement of Captain Eric’s visit comes from simply learning something new from a top athlete. “I just liked throwing the ball with the Captain!” says Enock, a 13 year old school boy living in Gihembe. “It was really fun and I know my sister will like it too. I will show her tomorrow so that we play together.”
Mr. Patrick Kawuma, UNHCR Head of Byumba Field Office, explains how UNHCR understands the influence of sports for refugee children. “Sports are a part of life in Gihembe camp. For some of the children, sports can be a strategy for survival. Sports are an essential contribution not only to the enjoyment and relief from the stress of life in refugee camps, but also to the protection and personal development of young refugees,” says Patrick.
For refugees like Grace, 11 years old, cricket has motivated her to reach higher. Even though this was the first time the children in Gihembe experienced cricket – with only a small number of girls participating – Grace has a dream of becoming a famous cricket player in Rwanda and in the world.
“I want to be the captain of the cricket team of Gihembe camp. I wish also to be part of the very big cricket teams in the world, so that I can make money to look after my family and move them out of the camp,” says Grace.