When 500 children played soccer for peace

IT’S A sunny Saturday morning, when I walk through the gates of the Umumena Stadium, in Nyamirambo on May 10.

IT’S A sunny Saturday morning, when I walk through the gates of the Umumena Stadium, in Nyamirambo on May 10.

As early as 08:30 am, there are already about 500 children anxiously waiting to compete in this year’s edition of the Youth Football for Peace Tournament, an annual one-day football gala that is the brainchild of the Uburanga Arts Studio, a visual arts facility in Kimihurura.

It is the tournament’s third year of existence, the first having been held in November 2011 at the Regionale Stadium, still in Nyamirambo.

This year’s edition featured ten teams of boys and girls, eight of them from Kigali. The other two are from the provinces.

The six boys’ teams were: Centre Scolaire Amizero FC, Vision FC, Kiyovu FC, Gisimba FC, AS Kigali FC, and Ejo Hazaza FC, while the four girls teams were: APR (A and B), Centre Scoraile Amizero FC, and Gisimba FC.

The tournament kicked off at 09:00 am, while the final whistle was blown at 05:00 pm.

Centre Scolaire Amizero FC from Ruhango eventually walked away with the trophy on the boys side, while APR FC were the victors on the girl’s side. This all happened after a stiff display of skills, as all teams seemed to genuinely fight for victory.

The day brought together young aspiring footballers, both boys and girls from the city and the countryside.

Some came under the watchful eye of a parent or guardian, while others came solo to the venue. They asked each other questions about home, school, football, and the football clubs they support and the players they idolize.

With soft drinks and light snacks flowing courtesy of a local beverage company, the kids were at ease. Many seemed happy just to be dressed in full soccer gear –boots, jersey, shin guard…

Away from the pitch, at a corner of the stadium, visual artiste Jean Bosco Bakunzi is hard at work, putting finishing touches on a mural that he has been building for the last couple of weeks.

Bakunzi is the brainchild of the Youth Football for Peace Tournament, a sister project of his Uburanga Arts Studio.

Taking a break from the mural, he says: “I believe that investing in children could build a better future.”

About why he had to come up with the mural, he said: “I was hoping to show the kids that when you do what you love, and when you do it well and with passion, you will find great benefit for your future and happiness.”

Amidst fun and excitement, the day ended with the final whistle. The first and second placed teams were awarded trophies, while every player received certificates, balls, sportswear and t-shirts.

Kasimu, a staunch football lover and the founder of Vision Football Club, which participated in the tournament says: “I can’t believe how many children we have today. What was so interesting is that every team was showing so much energy during the warm up, but of course one of them had to win this trophy.”

Football and art

“One of our goals at Uburanga Arts Studio is to contribute to our community by encouraging the youth to be more creative and look forward to a bright future! You may want to ask me, why am I involving myself in football when I am a painter? First I love the nature, but most of all I am a dreamer; so is everyone else; I see art everywhere, however the nature builds my art,” Bakunzi explains.

He reveals that the idea of the tournament was inspired by his early childhood experience of playing football on the street. Hence, “I am always touched when I pass by kids doing the same thing. However we have seen many situations where someone grows up without any hope but ends up playing for a bigger team like Chelsea FC. I believe Art can bring hope to many kids who love soccer.”

Déo, the coach of Kiyovu Sports FC had this to say: “We volunteer so hard to put these teams together. They invest so much time and money; however many investors never look at them or even help them to bring in more sports and recreational activities for children.”

He was all praises for the Youth Football for Peace tournament, saying: “This way I know and my team knows that at least every year there is something to look forward to, this will get the kids to work hard; if it continues like this very soon we can have football players who can join senior teams by the age of 16.”

Of all the complaints raised by the coaches talked to, the issue of lack of enough football workshops and materials to do their jobs well was the most serious.

The theme for this year’s tournament was: I AM CREATIVE, I AM SMART!

“I thought, it would be great for the kids to hear, and to talk about their football dreams,” remarked Bakunzi.

Didier, who scored the last goal that secured FC Kiyovu’s win had this to say: “It was much fun for me competing with many other kids from different places.”

He vowed to work hard and do everything within his means to grow his talent: “I want to grow up and be more like Didier Drogba. I would love once to play in the Champions League.”

But his dreams of becoming the next Didier Drogba are only dependent on such platforms as this tournament, and the benevolent hand of well-wishers:

“I believe there is hope here, there could be a benefit in and outside you if we all could collectively support the youth to achieve what they are passionate about; I myself I chose to try; I thank very much such organisations like Amitie Am Sand- Amizero that has been a great sponsor of the YFFP since 2013; I also thank very much as well Coca Cola for their great support this time. It’s a pleasure to thank coaches of these teams, who work so hard to change so many children’s lives through football; thank you for every single child who came and played a peaceful championship and made this day a great one. I encourage the ones who lost to work hard for next year. I also thank FERWAFA for coordinating football in Rwanda.”

Gasana Aliene from Gisimba FC said: “I’m very happy today, to have met new kids from other places but above all I enjoyed playing football since it’s my hobby.”

Mucyo Didier of Vision FC said, “It was one of my best moments ever, I got new friends, gifts and played football to my best level.”

Just like Gasana and Didier, all other children were very happy, not only for meeting fellow football fans and having an opportunity to play against new teams, but also for the awards they were given, such as the t-shirts, footballs, and certificates.

“I believe that art heals people physically, mentally and emotionally,” Bakunzi affirms.

He came up with the idea of the tournament in 2011. “I was hanging out with the children at Gisimba Memorial Centre in Nyamirambo, Kigali, as we were supposed to have art classes that day. The lessons, though, didn’t happen that afternoon; instead we all ended up playing soccer. This took my memory back to days, when I was younger playing soccer on the streets with my friends. The children and I formed small teams so that we could compete for the day.”

“At Uburanga Arts Studio, our dream is to inspire children. It is our dream that all children will grow up loving their skills and working hard to make their dreams come true. I then decided to work on building a small football tournament. I knew it would be a great thing to do that could bring many children together and play peacefully.”


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