Rwanda started the 22nd commemoration of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi started this week. Sport continues to be one of the key avenues for nurturing peace, unity and reconciliation among Rwandans.
For Eric Eugene Murangwa, a Genocide survivor, football saved his life as it is his teammates at Rayon Sports that hid him for weeks during the Genocide that would claim the lives of over a million people.
Today, the former sportsman and a few of his former colleagues run an organisation known as Football for Peace and Unity (FHPU). Established in 2010, FHPU uses sport as a tool for promoting social change and reconciliation in the country.
The objective is to play a part in re-building Rwanda by helping to foster ties between those affected by the Genocide and the perpetrators and to create a legacy of reconciliation for generations to come, notes the former goalkeeper.
“FHPU is the result of everything that has happened to me,” says Murangwa, who was offered an opportunity to tell his story through a documentary sponsored by the International Olympic Committee ahead of the International Day of Sports for Development and Peace (IDPDs) marked on April 6.
“I wanted to make sure that the important lessons that I’ve learned from sport would be passed on to younger generations. I have a strong belief that sport, and football in particular, has the power to impact society.”
Through FHPU, Murangwa works with more than 15 organisations throughout Rwanda to run sports programmes for youth, such as the Dream Team Football Academy, set up in collaboration with the Association of Former Rwandan Football Players; and the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, a centre for underprivileged Rwandan youth.
Jacques Kayisire, one of the co-founders of the academy says, “Our motto is part of a dream to develop champions in sport and champions in life.”
Today, over 150 girls and boys, aged 5-19 years, are members of the academy that’s located in Kicukiro District.
Viateri Nduwabera, one of the students, who joined the academy in 2013, says joining the academy has taught him not just football but so much about Rwanda.
Sunrise FC and U-20 player Kevin Ishimwe, Antonie Dominique (Rayon Sports), Abbas Byamungu (Gicumbi FC) and 15 other players in various clubs in the country’s second football division are some of the products of Dream FC Academy.
Based in Rwamagana District, Agahozo Shalom Youth Village is a home for under privileged young Rwandans, which was originally set up to educate orphans of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Jean-Claude Parisien, the programme director at the centre, says, “sport is one tool that helps us to make them feel happy, feel at home and to empower them to build their future.”
Julien Shyaka, a assistant coach at Agahozo, considers sport as a tool that fosters peace, unity and reconciliation not only in Rwanda but elsewhere in the world as well.
Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee secretary-general Philibert Rutagengwa also believes that sport has helped promote unity and harmony in community.
“You see children working together regardless of their ethnic backgrounds, sport is a key component of Rwanda’s reconciliation journey,” he told Times Sport.