We set off early from Kigali with very little idea of either the way, or what to expect when we got there. The country we travelled through got steadily more breathtaking as we turned off the beaten track. After spending the week in Kigali, you really got the feeling we were seeing the 'real' Rwanda for the first time – Alan perhaps hit the nail on the head when he described it as 'Derbyshire on steroids'. As we wound our way through rolling hills and sweeping valleys the landscape became suddenly dominated by one thing – tea.
We drove past fields upon fields of it for half an hour, workers busy picking as far as the eye could see. Upon arriving in the village, the bunting they had erected and the painted teapot-shaped wooden sign proclaiming 'CRICKET COMES TO KINIHIRA' gave us an inkling of just how large this event was going to be. I don't believe any of us, peering eagerly out of our van, were truly expecting the sight that greeted us when we turned the corner and arrived at the sports ground. Over a thousand people, the overwhelming majority of them bright-eyed, smiling children, were swarming over the field, all engaged in some form of cricket, from simple throwing and catching for the youngest, to fully fledged games of Kwik Cricket for the oldest.
Interspersed amongst the crowd were the the twenty four newly trained local coaches, resplendent in their white t-shirts, and the eighteen Kigali-based players that Joshua, the General Manager of the Rwandan Cricket Association (RCA), had brought with him, giving out advice, providing demonstrations and essentially being excellent coaches. I think we were all quite stunned as we got out of our van. To see such a vast number of people, of all ages, converged on a sports ground in rural northern Rwanda to play, coach and learn cricket, a sport that has no history in the region, was nothing short of remarkable. In terms of atmosphere, the closest comparison I can think of is an English village fête, but even you don't get the same sense of excitement, hunger and occasion as we experienced there.
It quickly became apparent that this huge event was made possible through the joint efforts of a number of different organisations. The Rulindo local authority were present in the form of the Vice-Mayor. The RCA was instrumental, and were well represented at the event, with vice-president Srinath Vardhineni. Our CWB Ambassadors Eric and Audi were similarly crucial, and provided wonderful role models for every child there. The final vital contributor was Sorwathe, the company who owns the tea plantation that plays such an important part in supporting the local economy, and indeed the local people. The Director General Mr Rohit Peiris was clearly cricket mad – in fact the first question he put to me was what has gone wrong with the England team – and had already funded the building of the pavilion at the sports ground. It was perhaps not surprising that he fully threw his and his company's weight behind this ambitious project, a lovely touch being providing all the children present with a bottle of soft drink at the event's conclusion.
The crowd were 'treated' to a cricket match played on the sports ground comprised of teams consisting of coaches, Kigali-based players and three of our own number. As a participant it was easily the biggest crowd I've played in front of. Although Lee and Bill's team performed admirably, I am delighted to report that I hold all the bragging rights after my team came out on top. The highlight of the day, for I think everyone, was watching Audi and Tracey perform a perfect visual demonstration of our HIV message to well over eight hundred avidly watching children. At only twenty-three, it was incredible to see him deliver it in both Kinyarwandan and English, as well as translating the various speeches that were made into both languages. He clearly buys fully into the importance and effectiveness of our ABCT message, has a natural affinity with and is responded well to by children as well as being confident enough to deal with those older than him. Not that it needed highlighting any more, but today really proved what a valuable asset that young man is to both CWB and Rwandan cricket in general.
The day was rounded off in suitably staggering style, as we were introduced to our accommodation for the night. The guest house at the Sorwathe plantation is terrific and the hospitality we received there was not only fantastic but felt genuinely heartfelt too. It was clear from talking to everyone involved that both CWB and Sorwathe are on the same wavelength when it comes to encouraging cricket development and HIV awareness.
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