This post was written by Lisanne Comeau.
Once Rem and I landed in Rwanda over 4 months ago, one of our main goals was to build a court. Kevin and Priscilla had scoped a place out before they finished their fellowship last year. Being new in a country was already a hard task, so it was a relief that the location had already been set. Still, it was up to Rem and I to decide whether this would be a good location to build our court. Within the first couple of weeks we met with the headmaster and some teachers at Group Scolair Gahini secondary school. We discussed plans and checked out the school and its surroundings. It was evident to see why the previous fellows had chosen this location as the school had much to offer. Firstly, they had about 1,000 students attending the school, thus we would be able to target a large group. Secondly, there is a primary school across the street, so that means even more kids that would benefit from our program. Finally, the campus was beautiful; it was gated and surrounded by a garden (which would later become an obstacle) that went around the outskirts of the school. As we took a tour of the campus, I didn’t spot one piece of garbage on the ground. There was a volleyball court with dip bars, alongside of the only thing that looked out of place, the mud pitch, where our court would be built.
We had a couple more meetings before deciding on a price and time frame in which the court would be built. It wasn’t long until our contractor, Emmy, had his men ready to start building. Emmy had built the prior Shooting Touch courts so we trusted him to be honest about prices and to build a lasting court. We tried to weasel around to get the price down as low as we could but he made it very clear that if we wanted the court to last, the price couldn’t be lowered.
Up until this point (roughly a month later), things had been moving smoothly; Emmy was ready to work whenever we gave him the go-ahead, so it was only a matter of getting him the money to get started. After a few money transfers from the Boston team, and multiple trips to the ATM’s around Kigali and the Eastern Province, we could start the process of building our court… and this is where the headaches came into place.
The beauty of the campus backfired as the headmaster didn’t want any part of his garden or land ruined by the trucks. Emmy explained to him countless times that his garden would be fixed and everything would look the way it did… this still didn’t change his outlook on things. This meant that the truck couldn’t be driven up to the pitch so Emmy had to hire an extra 20-30 men to wheelbarrow the truck full of cement to the pitch. He also didn’t want the patch of dirt (from leveling the pitch) on the campus, thus wanted Emmy and his men to wheelbarrow the dirt about a mile down the hill and dump it there. Thankfully, Emmy was able to convince him that they could spread the dirt around the campus and that it would help the grass grow.
With the headmaster content, the only other obstacle was taking money out of the few ATM’s in the Kayonza District. We were only able to take out 600,000 francs (about $900.00 U.S) per day, and that’s when the ATM’s wanted to co-operate. Almost every time we tried to withdraw money the ATM would either be out of service, simply refuse to spit out money, or even showed that we didn’t have money in the account (knowing we had more than enough). This struggle occurred on a daily basis, as Rem and I would walk from ATM to ATM looking like we were cleaning out someone else’s account.
Eventually we were able to pay up in full and after 2 short weeks, the court was finished. We decided to save some money and gathered some kids and coaches to paint the lines on the court. Rem brought a van full of his kids who wanted to help so we were moving along quickly; 2 people doing tape, I was marking the lines on the courts, Isa was directing, and Rem and his kids were painting. We were about halfway finished when the rain got in our way so had no choice but to pick up all of our materials and take cover. We were all covered in sticky epoxy paint, trying to use the rainwater to get it off of our hands (I had paint in my nails for at least two weeks after that). About an hour and a half had passed and the rain had finally let up a bit so we packed up and made our way back home. Later that week Remy went back with his crew to finish up the job.
Although the court had been finished at the beginning of January, we couldn’t start any practices until the kids came back from their vacation at the end of the month. Even then, the headmaster wanted to let the kids settle in before we started playing ball so we waited yet another week to start practicing.
On Wednesday February 4th, we had planned our grand opening at Gahini. When we arrived at the school, all 1,000 students were sitting on the grass awaiting our arrival. We were welcomed with a dance and multiple thanks from both the headmaster and students for choosing their school to build the court on. He kept repeating, “You have chosen us and that means you love us, and we love you too”. Once Remy and I introduced ourselves, we made our way to the court where everyone followed. Most of these kids had never even dribbled a ball before so kids were running away when trying to get them to participate. We gathered about 15 of the hundreds of kids standing around the court and explained the concept of dribbling, (with the help of our Rwink coach, Patrick); staying low, using your fingertips, looking up, etc. Of course everyone had their heads down and dribbled up to the sky as they went to half court and back. Everyone was laughing and having a good time, as most of them were experiencing something new.
After about an hour of games and skills, we sat everyone down and explained how Shooting Touch works. Remy made sure to tell them that they would not play if their grades weren’t up to par. They were all very excited to know that he was from Africa and that he too was in a program similar to Shooting Touch.
On the bus on the way home, I was able to take a second to reflect on our day, and the court as a whole. It was a great feeling to know that we were giving these kids an opportunity that they would have otherwise never had. Basketball is the reason I was able to get an education and has taught me countless life lessons. I can’t wait to see these students grow both on and off the court throughout the year.