When Christian Rwabukamba was born, his parents and probably his country of birth, Rwanda had never heard of the sport that would eventually become his passion.
And yet 27 years later, he has molded his life around this sport, and has become one of the best at it in his country of residence, Canada. He plays professional football – but not the soccer most Rwandans are used to.
When the word “football” is mentioned in Rwanda, the first thing that comes in mind is soccer, or names like Jimmy Gatete, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and so on and so forth.
Having cemented his position as defensive back, Rwabukamba has become an irreplaceable player for the Edmonton Eskimos – the second most successful club in the Canadian Football League, the equivalent of America’s National Football League (NFL).
After spending most of his life away from Rwanda, Rwabukamba finally decided to pay a five-day homage to his motherland, with an objective of finding out whether the country is still the same as his distant memories.
“I have very many relatives in Rwanda and I am glad that I have finally seen some of them after all these years. It is very surprising how Rwanda is; when you read the news and see with your own eyes, there is a big contrasts,” Rwabukamba said in an interview with Sunday Sport recently.
He, however noted, “I am so happy to be back, but sad that I have to go back (to Canada). Maybe one day I will come back and do something positive for Rwandan sport.”
At the age of two, Rwabukamba and his parents moved to USA due to the political unrest in Rwanda at the time. They then moved to Canada when he was five years and applied for citizenship.
He was living with his mother until she passed away last year after a long illness, his father passed on in 1993, succumbing to cancer.
The death of his parents took a toll on Rwabukamba, although he admits that the lessons he learnt from them is what keeps him going.
“My mother always told me to remember where I come from. She told me to work hard in order to survive and I know I must continue working hard in order to respect my parents’ memory,” he said.
“I know lots of people in Rwanda have suffered due to the past and I am keen to find out how the youth are fairing in Rwanda, so I read all kinds of news from Rwanda.
“My passion is sports and if I had my way, I would ensure that every young Rwandan enrolls in a sport because it has a lot of potential. First, you get to make your country proud by representing it, then you get to earn from playing your favorite sport – nothing beats that.”
Rwabukamba said that he did not find it hard to get a club to play for in Canada and looking at his achievements, it is hard to doubt.
While studying for his degree in Business and Finance at Duke University, Rwabukamba played college football. His talent was spotted by his trainers and he was elected university captain, shortly after which, he was signed up for a big cheque with the mighty Edmonton Eskimos.
He currently earns US$100,000 (about Rfw6.9 million) each season (between June and November) but his dream is to play in US’s NFL.
“I hope to play in the American National Football League (NFL). If this coming season goes well for me, then chances are I will be able to join the NFL,” he stated.
He added, “The biggest challenge right now is the stereotypes in America where they think that Canadians are not as good as they are in football. I am determined to break this stereotype and make my dream come true.”
He advised that although all kinds of injustices and stereotypes exist in sport, Rwandan youth must be determined and resilient to make their dreams come true.
“You keep hearing people say that you cannot be good in a specific sport unless you come from a certain country, but that is not true. Rwanda can become a great nation in any sport as long as the youth are determined and helped by those who care to attain their goal.”
Although he holds a Canadian passport, Rwabukamba is determined to apply for a Rwandan passport, with the hope that he will become a sports agent working in Rwanda once he retires from football.