One of our main goals upon arriving to Rwanda was to create a youth league. We had 4 courts at different sites already in place, and thus wanted to find a more consistent way of bringing the youth together. Initially the idea was to have a league running at each court, however in order for the kids to have some variety in competition we made one big league throughout the District of Kayonza. Each site has between 1-2 teams of secondary, primary and girls teams, depending on the numbers.
We wanted to make this league legitimate! This required jerseys with numbers on the back, and for court pride; we had the site names on the back as well. I really believe that having the names on the back has given the kids a sense of pride to show where they are coming from. Currently, Kayonza, Rwinkwavu, Nyamirama, and Rukara teams are part of the league while we get Gahini ready to either join in or create their own league.
On February 21st, we had our first league games. I took the Rwinkwavu teams to Rukara while Isa and Remy covered Kayonza at Nyamirama. At Rwink, we intended on leaving at 7:00 AM so that we could be finished with games by noon. Of course, 7:00 AM really means 7:45 AM, and when the big bus arrived we ran into some obstacles with the number of kids, time, etc. (not surprising). However, this didn’t seem to bother the kids at all, they were just happy to be going somewhere outside of the village. Along the way to Rukara we passed a lake and everyone’s eyes were stuck on the beautiful view. Some had never been that far from Rwinkwavu and it was their first time seeing something like this. Aside from playing basketball, it’s great to know that Shooting Touch was able to give that experience.
It wasn’t until after 10:00 that we had arrived in Rukara, and after distributing jerseys we had the first game commence at 11:00 AM. Thankfully, we have some great junior coaches at Rukara that helped keep things under control and got the games going. Although we started late and I was running around trying to get water here, jerseys there, I caught the first basket scored by Rukara. The kid ran back with his arms in the air as if he just won the championship. It was priceless. At that moment, I thought to myself, “this is why I do this”.
I would love to say that the rest of the day went smoothly, but it did not at all! There were so many kids, and trying to keep people off the court, getting kids ready for the next game, making sure each team had water… I was on edge! On top of that I hadn’t eaten, and for you who know me, you know what that means. Nevertheless, the kids all had an amazing time and that is what matters.
The results at the end of the day were Rukara with 4 wins and Rwinkwavu with 1 win. You could not believe how much these games meant to each player. I thought one of my junior coaches was about to cry as he kept his head down while apologizing for disappointing me. Of course, that wasn’t the case but it went to show how much he cared about Shooting Touch as a whole.
It was about 4:00 PM when we were finally on the way back. By the time we were pulling into the dirt road that heads to Rwinkwavu, the kids were going nuts! Rwinkwavu pride was out to the fullest as they cheered for their teams, coaches, etc. As tired as I was I couldn’t believe that they were still this excited. The stressful, hot day was all worth it. After talking to Remy and Isa they were just as exhausted as I was. There were many things to learn from this day and to change for the next games.
March 8th was International Women’s Day, so we decided to host an event to celebrate and recognize the girls/women in our program. We decided the week of to put this tournament together but with the help of Remy and Isa we made it happen. Isa had 50 shirts made within 2 days and had 2 guest speakers out at the event. Remy got bananas, water, and dealt with the buses and getting all the kids to Rwink that morning. I had 5 women from my exercise class cooking for the players and for my exercise class (roughly 100 people in all). Things seemed to be covered and under control!
First thing in the morning Isa and I went over to help cut up vegetables with the other ladies. Our forearms were burning and hands were sore from cutting up cabbage within the first 10 minutes. Josianne (the woman in charge of our cooking team), however showed no sympathy towards us, and told us to keep chopping. The women had a good time watching us struggle with something they do so easily, even the kids were chuckling.
The event started around 11:30 and the games had commenced, almost on time! There were 3 girls teams so we decided to do 20 minute games with activities between. We had such a blast. There was so much support from the community, everyone cheering for their girls teams. There were a number of times where I went over to Isa and Remy and told them how excellent the tournament was and how thrilled I was that we were able to do this.
After the games I had the women from my exercise class line up at half court. They were all dressed to impress as they each received a Shooting Touch ‘make it happen’ t-shirt. They stood there proudly as we explained the type of workouts they had been doing for the past 4 months. One of my ladies even got down and started doing push ups while everyone applauded her.
It is so difficult to put in words how that day made me feel. On a daily basis these women tend to their children, cook, clean, etc. They would have never been exposed to the bond and unity that they have created while pushing through workouts. After talking to some of the women from the class they said they feel stronger, they are happier after exercise classes, they have made friends, they feel like they are together. It is so special to see that bond form and to be a part of that. Because of that they support the girls teams and everyone follows in their footsteps. In a place where female participation in sports is so rare, I can’t explain how thrilled I am that I have so many girls and women taking part in sports with the community supporting.
Below is the video I put together for the women’s day event, take a look!