BRISTOL, United Kingdom — In 1994, after decades of political turmoil, the Hutu militia initiated the Rwandan genocide. The result was devastating; in just 100 days, they brutally murdered almost a million Tutsi civilians. Thousands took refuge in nearby countries such as Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The period after the atrocities gradually saw thousands return to their home country and some brought back with them a passion for cricket, a sport they had learned and played while away.
Without adequate resources, it was difficult for the game to flourish. The first cricket ground in Rwanda was on the site of one of the biggest genocidal massacres. Upon cutting the two-meter-long grass to create the pitch, human remains of Tutsi victims were uncovered. Despite being faced with harsh difficulties, communities continued to overcome adversity. Cricket was quickly becoming a power by which people could come together and reconcile. By 1999, a small number of former exiles founded the Rwanda Cricket Association (RCA) and by 2003, the country was named an Affiliate Member of the International Cricket Council.
Christopher Shale, a regular volunteer in Rwanda and British cricket enthusiast, celebrated the game’s positive impact. However, he recognized that progress was hindered by limited access to necessary resources. Inspired by this realization, Christopher conceived the idea of constructing a national stadium. After he died in 2011, Christopher’s family took it upon themselves to transform his dream into a reality. From then until 2017, Cricket Builds Hope, formerly the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, raised more than £1.25m to build the new stadium in Gahanga, a suburb outside Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. Six years after its establishment, the Gahanga Cricket Stadium has set a world record for hosting the most international T20 matches.
In the last few years, Cricket Builds Hope has worked to build a legacy that goes far beyond only cricket. Partnering with organizations across Rwanda, the charity has mobilized social and economic redress through Sport for Change programs. Using the stadium to deliver social programs, they have honed a particular focus on female and youth empowerment, both in the game and beyond. Their initiatives have transformed the local community.
A Conversation With Will Hammond, Director of Cricket Builds Hope
The Borgen Project spoke with Will Hammond, the charity’s Director, to discover more about Cricket Builds Hope’s mission. “I think our most powerful program so far is the Women’s Empowerment Program aimed at women who live in and around Kigali,” said Hammond. In Rwanda, cricket enjoys equal popularity among women as it does among men. However, certain women face challenges in their lives and opportunities for empowerment are limited due to cultural gender norms. These women often find themselves “marginalized, on lower incomes, young and often single parents.”
The Women’s Empowerment Program has evolved since it began in 2018, with elements added to ensure that graduates have all they need to get on in life. “We now work with different local and charity partners doing workshops built around female leadership. We have collaborated with a charity called Resonate, which promotes the confidence to identify personal strengths and goals. We also teach business-orientated skills such as entrepreneurship and financial literacy,” shared Hammond.
Additionally, the program offers sexual health and family planning advice, addressing a historical limitation in Rwanda where access to such information has been limited. They play cricket after the workshops, which engages them further with the course. “You could play a game that teaches contraception even if you are playing cricket. For example, you can compare the safety of the wicket to the protection of your own health.” More than 90% of the women see the benefit of engaging in a sport and want to continue playing after the course. Reflecting on the impact of the course, one 23-year-old participant said, “I realized that I am a leader, I am brave and I can set life goals. The skills I acquired will assist me in approaching financial institutions, connecting with friends and partners and encouraging my peers to embrace courage.”
Another noteworthy initiative is the Yorkshire Tea Program, which advocates for cricket in three isolated Tea Estates located outside Kigali. These estates contribute 15% of the tea sourced by Yorkshire Tea. The program reached its pinnacle with a tournament at Gahanga Stadium, where teams from each estate, involving nearly 200 children, competed. The program has provided more than 1,000 children access to cricket resources and trained about 50 school teachers to become cricket coaches.
Hammond underscored the challenges encountered by individuals residing in rural areas, emphasizing that international development efforts can sometimes be focused on cities even if there is even more of an acute need for support in more rural areas. This highlights the significance of the Yorkshire Tea Programme, which addresses this gap. In the operational areas, organized sports, with their associated advantages, were largely inaccessible to most children and this program successfully brought about a sustainable shift in that landscape.
The charity continues to educate local children through annual summer camps. Hammond explained: “Around 600 children from the local area take part in the month-long camp at the stadium. Our coaches combine cricket workshops with English teaching and other life skills. These camps bring people together. Last year, we had a child with a visual impairment who gave a presentation at the end of the camp to 600 children and their parents about his love for the game. It was brilliant.”
Cricket Builds Hope continues to use the spirit of cricket as an instrument for positive social change. Their ongoing efforts play a crucial role in promoting community cohesion and empowering individuals facing disadvantages in and around Kigali.
– Sapphire Hope