Unleashing women’s potential through sports

Alice Mukeshimana is a young woman who never got the chance to receive an education; she led what she calls an unbearable life and saw no future whatsoever. The now 20-year-old says she felt like an outcast, as she had no job or hope for securing means for survival.

Life was really tough; however, after she joined Cricket Builds Hope (CBH), a programme that uses cricket as a tool for social change among women, the once insecure person now believes that she can thrive if only she believes in herself.

“I am now a skilled and confident woman,” Mukeshimana says.

“For women to succeed, they have to believe that it all starts with them.  We should always put into consideration that we can achieve anything, and so we should never give up or give room for failure,” she counsels.

Through the programme, Mukeshimana started rearing chicken, a project she believes not only changed her life, but also the lives of the people in her area.

But Mukeshimana is not the only woman whose life transformed with the help of the CBH programme. A group of women in Gahanga sector, Kicukiro District, meet at Gahanga National cricket stadium, most of them between the ages of 15 and 25.

Cricket Builds Hope was created as a UK-based charity organisation to promote cricket in Gahanga, however, after realising certain needs of women in the community.

Mothers, wives and young girls are opening new chapters in their lives. With or without an education, these women are acquiring skills that are turning them into independent and productive people in society.

Through workshops and trainings, these women are given leadership and business skills.

Ornella Salimah Keza, a mother, is a beneficiary of this programme. She says the programme has given them skills and has also created a practical environment for understanding what they have learnt in theory.

“Before, I couldn’t think of associating myself with games, let alone playing. But when I joined the programme, it helped me change my perception towards sports. Apart from other benefits, playing cricket helps keep our minds occupied too,” she says.

Keza says the programme has helped change their mentality towards life and they now face the future with determination.

According to the programme’s coordinators, their focus on this age group is mostly because of its vulnerability as most of them are coming from their teens to adulthood.

Most of the women are mothers, others are married and have families, however, some of them are illiterate; a situation that had forced them to depend on their husbands for everything.

How it started

Initially, CBH was called Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, which is a UK charity organisation that was set up to build the new Gahanga Cricket Stadium.

It was set up to serve as an open place for the entire community, as everyone was supposed to access and use it free of charge to learn cricket.

Mary Maina, the programme manager, says after the completion of the stadium, they decided to magnify ways in which the place would be more helpful to the community.

“We discovered that women in that area were not economically empowered, and because of their financial difficulties, they had a frail attitude towards life. After doing research on what kind of social programme would help the entire community, we settled on women empowerment,” Maina says.

What the programme does

Through the programme, women are encouraged to face life with hope and determination.

According to Maina, their focus on this age group was because they believed it is the most crucial stage, where women still have a chance to change their mentality and become productive.

“We try to tell them that even if it is unfortunate that they had no access to education, they still had hope for life because there are things they can focus on, including developing talents and many other things to build their lives,” she says.

Maina notes that because money wasn’t a permanent solution to their long term problems, they focused on tackling the problem from the source.

By imparting women with leadership and financial literacy skills, she says they focus on giving them the basics and training them on how to be proactive.

“We train women to step up whenever they are faced with a challenge instead of shying away because it is then that one is fit to be called a leader with such characteristics,” she says.

The most unique thing about the programme is the ability to incorporate sports into it. They take these women through a cricket session that aligns with a specific topic they have learnt during a particular workshop.

For instance, in a week, if they have a specific theme of learning how to set goals, they then have a cricket session of certain activities which they play to help them understand why it’s important to set goals.

The women look for a challenge within the community, for instance, how to fight malnutrition, and they come up with ways of addressing it and after the workshop, they are given a chance to go implement their projects in the community.

Because changing these women’s mentality requires time and patience, Maina says they still have a challenge when it comes to implementing their projects, as many of them need to be pushed most of the time.

She, however, says this challenge is being addressed by working with local leaders.

Achievements

The programme which started last year has seen more than 400 women benefit from the services.

Most of the women have started changing their perception and mentality towards life itself in general.

Godfrey Kamende, a local leader in Mlinji cell, Gahanga sector, Kicukiro District, says watching the women transform from attitudes of feeling undervalued to realising that there is so much they can do with their lives is a big step.

He says it’s amazing to see that their husbands are on board with what they are doing and some of them encouraged their wives to join the programme.

“When it comes to empowering women, men think that they are trying to intimidate them, especially when dealing with a less opened-minded community, but this perception has been changed completely,” he says.

Kamende says that there is also a lot of change, especially when it comes to illicit activities women used to engage in for survival, for example, prostitution. But because of this project, such cases have dropped and a good number of them are using the opportunity to find a legitimate way of improving their lives.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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