Several schoolchildren playing cricket, some on standby to score some runs with their bats while others are so keen on chasing after yellow balls to catch them mid-air, is quite a sight at the dust-filled Kicukiro Oval grounds in Kigali. The children are some of the over 2,000 children who have been coached in the game, in only two weeks, by volunteers from Cricket Without Boundaries.
Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) is a UK based charity that focuses on spreading the HIV/AIDS message in Africa, through teaching cricket. They have established over 20 projects in four main countries-Rwanda, Uganda, Botswana and Kenya.
During a previous interview with Lee Booth, CWB's Media and Communications Manager he said, the charity has been going for over five years.
Three trustees set it up; Andy Hobbs, Chris Kangis and Ed Williams who, seven years ago, went on a Cricket journey through Africa, which started from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt.
"During their journey, they noticed the problems that came with HIV/AIDS in certain areas. They thought cricket could play a part in solving some of these problems and spreading messages about that," said Booth, who was also last year's CWB Project Leader for Rwanda.
"We have coached over 20,000 children in cricket over the first 5 years. What we try to do is not just coach kids but, leave something that is more sustainable. We coach and train teachers to be cricket coaches and educators as well," Booth told The New Times.
Richard Thurston, CWB Spring 2012 Project Leader, said CWB's eight volunteers work with local coaches each year who are involved in coaching cricket to students and passing on the HIV/AIDS message.
Thurston is also the Head of Recruitment for volunteers coming to Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and Botswana.
In the past five years, the team has trained to ICC Level 1, about 2,000 cricket coaches across Africa, and this month while in Rwanda, 14 coaches.
"I have observed a huge improvement as compared to last year. While we were outside of Kigali, we've noticed that Cricket is becoming widely known, and as a result we are seeing more talented cricketers. It isn't just about Kigali, it's about the whole of Rwanda, because that will improve the national team," Thurston said.
Additionally, Booth explains that working with sports people is important when it comes to spreading messages, because they are mostly listened to.
"It's good that messages come from sports people because people just listen to them, a lot. They tend to trust sports coaches and we try to reinforce existing messages such as the ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms) message and integrate it in all the cricket that we do," he says.
Eric Hirwa Dusabemungu is a professional cricket player in Rwanda's national cricket team and has been training with CWB to coach children. At the age of 25, he has played for six years on the team and is a member of the Rwanda Cricket Association.
He says Cricket is catching up as a Sport in Rwanda with the support of CWB. He feels that it is better to learn cricket as a child than as an adult-something that rhymes well with HIV/AIDS education, which is better taught at childhood than adulthood.
"In Cricket you have to be careful, while batting or bowling because you have to protect your wicket. We compare cricket to life and we cannot pointlessly hit the ball the way we feel like because that makes you get thrown out of the game before time," Dusabemungu explains adding that, this concept applies to teaching the HIV/AIDS message.
"If you are not careful with your life, and keep carelessly having sex with anyone without protection, you can catch HIV and die before your time. That is why it's important that we teach this message to Rwanda's children, while relating it to the game of Cricket," the youthful sportsman said.
Carys Davis, a volunteer Coach with CWB's Spring 2012 trip to Rwanda, has been teaching children cricket skills, umpiring, and doing photography for the team. This is her first trip to Rwanda and says working with Rwandan children has been one of her greatest experiences.
"I enjoyed working with the children here. They are so different from the children of the same age back at home because there is some very good behaviour. They are disciplined and so enthusiastic.
"In England if you tried to play a game, many children especially of a certain age group, would be very reluctant or a bit lazy or want to play video games but here, they like being outdoors and are very active," she explains.
The Spirit of Cricket
According to Davis, many Rwandan schoolgirls are fantastic during the trainings. This is in contrast to the UK where many schoolgirls do not play cricket even when the country has the best Women's Cricket team in the world.
"Some of the best players we've seen here, have been the girls and they are absolutely smashing the ball! They really enjoy playing and that's the Spirit of Cricket," Davis said.
Furthermore, Thurston, CWB's Project Leader, observed that more people are passionate about Cricket as a game, an important prerequisite to creating awareness on HIV/AIDS.
"We are also making sure that they can use that passion to deliver important messages about HIV/AIDS and hopefully, this will give the young adults and young kids ample knowledge to make informed decisions when they grow up about sex, abstaining, using protection and being faithful," he explained.
"As a charity, it's part of what we are. We feel passionate about the need to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS because it's growing at an alarming rate. In Rwanda, it's relatively low compared to other African countries where the prevalence rate is still growing at about 6 to 7 percent," Thurston explains.
In contrast, England has an HIV prevalence rate that is less than 0.5 per cent, one reason why Cricket Without Boundaries feels they need to do something about HIV/AIDS in Africa.
"We don't want Rwanda to turn into the situation that is in Botswana or South Africa where it's out of control. And that's why we feel that it's really important that we deliver the message to the young ages about their future," he adds.
"We realise that older kids of 16, 17 years are probably not going to abstain; they are going to be having sex and there's no need to pretend that they're not," he says, adding, "...and, that's why we need to think about the best way to protect their health."
During their two-week stay in Rwanda, CWB has visited 12 schools, 2 universities and 2 orphanages (PEFA and Rwandan Orphans Project) and the Rwanda Cricket Association where they have donated over 20 bags of Cricket equipment such as bats, balls, nets,
Thurston says the challenge was getting more schools to accept the advantages of the Cricket training as some did not send children or had them come late.
"We would like to encourage more local parties to participate in the training in order to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS among the youngsters and children," Thurston encouraged. "Youths need to understand about protection, testing and taking treatment, something that has become more important in our coaching sessions."
Open to all
'Without Boundaries' in CWB's title, means they are open to everyone regardless of their sex, religion, race, HIV status, sexual orientation, or tribe. As a result, they encourage everyone to play together during the Cricket coaching sessions and ensure that they ask children to shake hands as a method that encourages interaction and promotes respect for their comrades.
Going beyond the school system, historically in one country, CWB has worked with a group of HIV positive women who were isolated in their community. They were not allowed to meet their children. Thurston said CWB organised a Cricket game where they played with their children and this somewhat curbed the HIV stigma that had consumed the rural village.
"When we have the opportunity, we do try and find ways to bring communities together," he says.