By Sarah Brown
Twenty years since the atrocities in Rwanda, this article highlights the key role football has played in post-genocide reconciliation.
Within weeks of the genocide, football was a catalyst for reconciliation in devastated Rwanda. Rayon Sports played Kiyovu Sports in a match and Hutus and Tutsis united to participate and support. It brought many out of hiding and marked a celebration of peace and hope.
Football for Rwanda
People can be sceptical of the capability of football to achieve social impact. To many, it’s just a game and of little benefit beyond that. Doubters are soon converted once they witness how the messages and values transcend the football pitch. Eric Murangwa Eugene, a Tutsi, needs no convincing about the power of football. He thanks football for his genocide survival. He outlived the 100 days of brutal violence with the help of teammates and staff at Rayon Sports, many of whom were Hutus and risked their lives to protect him. Football had played such an important role in his life that he wanted to use his skills to benefit others and so in 2010 he founded Football for Hope, Peace and Unity (FHPU).
Football for Hope, Peace and Unity
FHPU have partnered with Coaches Across Continents (CAC) to deliver a three year football for social impact programme across Rwanda. In July, 320 community leaders, sports coaches and teachers learnt how to use football to address topics such as conflict resolution and female empowerment. They gained the knowledge to use football to engage and educate children in their communities. 30,000 children were impacted. The partnership is part of FHPU’s ‘Sport for Peace Play For Hope: Rwanda20 Education’ initiative for 11-25 year olds in Rwanda and the diaspora in the UK. The goal is to use football to instigate dialogue about the genocide and involve young people and their communities in the creation of social cohesion and the fight against prejudice and intolerance.
The rehabilitation of women and children
Women and girls suffered terribly during the genocide with horrific incidents of rape, torture and mutilation. Thanks to the work of Grace Nyinawumuntu, a genocide survivor and pioneer in the development of women’s football in Rwanda, there is now a national female team for which she is the coach. Also, the FHPU/CAC programmes include both male and female participants. Young women and girls now have a safe environment where they can express themselves and challenge gender norms in this traditionally patriarchal society. Many of the young people reached by football organisations in Rwanda are orphans of the genocide or children of perpetrators and exiles. Football brings them together and off the streets. It builds their self-esteem and gives them a sense of belonging. It contributes to their education – both as students and citizens. Teaching young people tolerance, respect and social responsibility is vital to rebuilding communities and ensuring that such violence never happens again. The people of Rwanda are optimistic, motivated and determined. They believe they have a unique opportunity to build a resilient, stable and united society. Football is proving to be instrumental in this inspiring journey of reconciliation and growth.