Before arriving in Rwanda, we were told that once you have been to Africa, it is somewhere that gets under your skin, that it is something you just can’t shake when you get home. I would say for each member of the Granshaw team, that has definitely been the case. It was the most incredible experience of my life and I had the privilege of sharing it with friends of mine from church.
The purpose of the trip was to deliver a value-based coaching programme, through football; the six main values we were promoting, along with different life skills, was equality, neutrality, responsibility, inclusion, respect and trust.
In Rwanda we were based in a place called Huey, which was about two hours from the capital, Kigali. In Uganda we were in a more rural area called Ibanda, in the south-west of the country. Between Huey and Ibanda, there was a big contrast in the facilities; in Huey we used the local stadium which had a 4G pitch and all the basics, while in Ibanda it was a bumpy pitch by the road, and twice daily we had pitch invasion by children from the neighbouring primary school, but these became times of great enjoyment!
Over the two sessions we had approxiamtely 100 teachers and young people who attended, and we delivered the course through different skill games. Although we would have enjoyed spending our two weeks coaching children, this approach has a greater benefit as the teachers can go back to their schools, all over the country, and will reach far more children than we ever would. Each teacher and young person on the course threw themselves into the sessions and it is something we all really enjoyed being involved in; it was also very interesting speaking through a translator!
We also had the opportunity to visit a number of Fields of Life schools in Rwanda and Uganda; with each school we visited we got an unbelievable welcome and I think this hit us most at Nyarusiza Focus in Rwanda. As we arrived children were running with excitement to tell everyone the ‘Mzungus’ had arrived; we were greeted by an incredible sight; the whole village had come out to greet us, not just the school. We got off the bus and approached the throng of people singing and dancing for our arrival. It’s fair to say that all of the team got very emotional with the welcome. We had done nothing for them, but they had rolled out the red carpet for our arrival and were genuinely delighted to see us. It was a very humbling experience for each one of us.
Probably the most difficult experience on the trip was a visit to the genocide site in Murambi, Rwanda. In Rwanda in 1994, approximately one million people died in a genocide which lasted for 100 days. At the site in Murambi we first walked around an indoor expedition in quiet, but nothing could prepare us for the outdoor aspect of the visit. Outside mass graves are marked, but in each classroom placed on metal beds, are preserved corpses from the graves, people of all ages. We moved in shocked silence, with each classroom the same as the last. It was a very difficult experience, especially just off the time spent at Nyarusiza, as we tried to comprehend how genocide on such a scale was able to happen, but I also think that each of us were glad that we had gone to Murambi.
Rwanda has come a long way and is certainly one of the friendliest places I have ever been to, and I think there is a lot Northern Ireland could learn from this country in trying to move on from the past. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of unrest in the neighbouring country, Burundi, with very little media coverage. Some of the stories we heard coming out of Burundi were devastating and tragic; it is important that we pray for Burundi and do what we can to raise the profile of what is happening there.
Jonny Bailie, our team leader, reminded us of what God said to Joshua when he took over from Moses as leader in Joshua 1:9, ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ Even after being home, we are all trying to process the experience that we had. Each one of us are trying to work out what God wants us to do with the experience, as we just can’t forget or leave behind the incredible two weeks we had, but we know we have to pray and be patient, as God knows what he has for each of us in his own time.
In our time away, we experienced God at work, and I know for myself it widened my view of God. I ‘knew’ God had created the whole world and loved the whole world so much that he sent Jesus to die for all the people of the world, but it transformed my thinking to experience that with people who loved God and had faith that was so reliant on God for everything. My stereotypes and expectations for the trip were quickly blown out of the water. We have so many similarities, like children who play the same games, friends who love to wind each other up, love of the same football teams, but most importantly, love and faith in the same loving God. I think that if each of us could relive our experiences or go out again, we would jump at it in a heartbeat!