Marie Grace Nyinawumuntu was born on December 16th 1981, in Kabarondo Sector, Kayonza District of the Eastern Province. She is the first born in a family of two girls and one boy.
She went to Kabarondo primary school in 1989, where she liked playing football with young boys of her age.
“We used to play football all the time and other games and I used to have problems with my mother almost every day since I always returned home very dirty,” she recalls in an interview with Saturday Sport.
Despite all the arguments with her mother, Nyinawumuntu did not give up because of the obsession she had for the game, which was regarded a boys’ sport in Rwanda then.
“My passion for football continued after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi when kind people in our district, gathered all the orphans in one centre and I stayed there for two years,” she explained.
After two years at the orphanage, Nyinawumuntu went back home and in 1996 she enrolled for secondary school at Lycée de Kigali (LDK) where she did mathematics and physics .
“It’s at LDK where I really started to engage in all sorts of sports, I played basketball, volleyball, handball and athletics, but because the girls didn’t play football, I only started it after studies when girls started getting involved in football. Every day, after classes I went for training,” she said with a smile.
One day as she was on her way to buy electricity (cash power), she saw women playing football in Nyamirambo, a Kigali City suburb and she confidently walked up to the coach and requested him for a chance to let her join up in the training the next day which was granted.
“When I came for training the next day, immediately the coach noticed that I was better than all his players. He put me on the team that represented Nyarugenge District. I played as central defender (No 5),” recalls Nyinawumuntu.
In 2003, she was selected to play for the first ever women national team, which she did and continued with her education at Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) where she graduated with a Bachelors degree in Sports and Education.
From 2004 – 2007, she served as a grade 1 Referee in the women league and second division (men), but after impressing, she was later promoted to officiate in national league (Men) as assistant referee.
It’s important to note that this was the first time to have a woman referee in Rwanda.
In 2008, her coaching career officially begun and during that time, she was appointed acting coach for the women national team.
“In 2008 we went to Germany for two weeks training, we played 6 matches against the German 3rd division teams and were able to win 3 matches,” the AS Kigali coach explained.
While in Germany, she landed an opportunity to do a five-month coaching course.
In 2010, she got a C-License for Europe while in Germany which allows her to train second division in Europe and in 2012, she acquired C-License for Africa in Rwanda and this is the highest level. Rwanda has only 16 coaches at this level.
Since 2008 to date, she has been the head coach of AS Kigali women football club and has guided the Kigali City-sponsored side to four back-to-back league titles. “We are on our way to the 5th title,” she beams with a satisfactory smile.
Asked to compare her team with the others in the league, she said, “There is a big difference between us and the rest in terms of organisation, techniques, tactics, physical condition and behaviors. All these factors put together make us like a family and that’s the secret to our success,” she explained.
Since coaching was initially a male job, the perception was challenging for Nyinawumuntu and as a matter of fact, women playing football was like a jock to many a decade ago but not now, thanks to people like her.
“Many parents would not facilitate their girls with sports equipment and training like the boys, which makes it even more challenging to break into a male-dominated sport.
Her next step is to take on training courses online to help her improve on her coaching skills. She also wants to help her players become more professional by sending them to Europe and America to play in professional teams with the help of Ferwafa and individuals who share her philosophy.
She is married to Justine Nizeyimana, a city lawyer. “Am happily married though God hasn’t blessed us with children, but one day He will,” she acknowledges.
Despite the challenges, Nyinawumuntu is proud of being the first woman in Rwanda to prove that not only men can make good coaches or referees but also the women can perform even better than men at their own sport