THE lush greenery and serene neighbourhood creates the ideal conditions to take a stroll and meditate without any distraction. But as I walk closer to an open park, deafening noise from children cuts short the quietness. As I enter the facility, I notice a beehive of activity. Close to the entrance, a young boy tries to balance on a skateboard with ease and precision as two other youngsters look on in awe.
On the other end of the facility, a group of young children are preparing to take their turn on skateboarding. They are dressed in the appropriate gear for skating. This is the place where children have mastered key values in life-discipline, patience, hard work and resilience through the sport of skating.
Nearly two years since it was established, this maiden skate park in Kacyiru sector has transformed lives of many children, especially holidaymakers.
In partnership with “Skate-Aid”, an International Organisation, SOS Children’s Villages Rwanda constructed the Skate Park in order to facilitate children and youth to come together through sports, build social cohesion, promote tolerance, social responsibility, unity and peace-building.
Skateboarding is an action sport which involves riding and performing tricks using a skateboard. It can also be considered a recreational activity, an art form, a job, or a method of transportation. Skateboarding has been shaped and influenced by many skateboarders throughout the years.
Theogène Izabayo, 13, has been skating for one year. He lives in Nyarutarama and says he no longer has to aimlessly wander the streets during holidays - thanks to this facility.
“We used to wander aimlessly and sometimes older children could engage some of us in drug abuse and other bad behaviour. But, now I come here and enjoy skateboarding while learning other key values in life before going home to help my parents in the evening,” Izabayo noted.
At the facility, Germany national, Valerie Levay is the volunteer and skateboard coach. He joined the project three years ago. He says the impact of the park within the short period is amazing. He adds that children in Kigali, including those on the street have not returned to street life after undergoing some sessions at the park. Skateboarding is like therapy for the idle mind and helps youth and children dispend energy positively, instead of ending up in vices like alcohol and drug abuse.
“We are here from Monday to Friday for four hours every day, and this facility has positively impacted kids because they do not hang out in the streets anymore. They come here to enjoy and spend time with their mates and lead their life in a positive way,” says Levay.
Levay adds that last year, skateboarding became an Olympic game, meaning that it’s now a professional sport; which can lead someone to the global stage.
As a result, part of their goal is also to detect talents but specially targeting kids from the slums of Kigali to turn them into professional skaters.
“The future of skating as a sport in Rwanda is bright. It will give children a chance to live their dreams since skating is now a global sport,” he said.
Over the last three months, the number of children joining the park for skateboarding has increased and most of the children come from poor neighbourhoods.
19-year-old Deborah Batamuliza is among the few girls who have joined the game. She is studying a course in hair dressing at SOS Technical High School, and has dreams of competing at the international level.
She says that beyond enjoying skating as a sport, at the park they get to socialise and also spend time productively.
“Skateboarding helps us socialise and keep busy in a positive way during our free time….temptations like ending up with sugar daddies that come with a risk of being infected with diseases like HIV/AIDS are avoided. It has been two years now and I always feel comfortable when practicing instead of wandering or being tempted to use drugs or engage in risky sexual behaviour,” Batamuliza says.
She adds that her goal is to go for international competitions and maybe in the future she can represent Rwanda in the Olympics under skateboarding.
Dylan Gatabazi, a pupil in Primary 4 living in Kacyiru, says that he is now more disciplined than he was before joining the skateboarding family.
“I fell in love with the game that takes most of my time now and empowers me to think positively,” Gatabazi says.
For parents of children under this park, the changes in their children are noticeable and very encouraging.
Aurelie Nyiramatama, a mother of two, says that the success of the skate park should be an eye opener to come up with more new sports to involve children because his 16-year-old son has completely changed his behaviour - thanks to the skate park.
“We used to quarrel and his father could even beat him as he was always in bad company and wandering aimlessly during holidays. He now comes home tired after skateboarding and his attitude has since changed. We even once caught him smoking a cigarette, but now he serves as an example of how a child should behave,” Nyiramatama says.
The head of the SOS programme in Kacyiru, Diogène Karega, told The New Times that the organisation’s ultimate goal is to always fight for the rights of children and to sensitise and equip them with life skills through sports.
“We want kids to develop their different talents in sports. Skateboarding can raise our nation. We began with kids to make them love the game and it is becoming a life changer for them. We have examples of some who quit using drugs because of this skate park,” Karega says.
He further notes that the park is also a tool for parenting skills as parents often meet with children at the park to get sensitised about children’s rights.
“We educate children about their rights and their reproductive life, but also teach them discipline because they have rights and have to obey their parents and older people. They have to embrace Rwanda’s values and culture,” Karega emphasises.
SOS Rwanda says that most of the children who joined the skateboarding sport are now performing better in class than they were before.
The Minister for Youth, Rosemary Mbabazi, recently said in an interview with the national broadcaster, that most of the drug users in Rwanda are youth and they mostly engage in the vice because of being idle.
She notes that around 16,000 youth aged between 18 and 35 years were arrested by police over crime and 3,000 of them were drug users under 18 years of age.