The United Nations, in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee, has pooled $400,000 (approx Rwf312 million) to support sports programmes in all the six refugee camps in Rwanda.
The support was announced by Jacques Rogge, a special envoy of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former International Olympic Committee Honorary President, during a visit to Mahama Refugee Camp on Wednesday.
Based in Kirehe District, Mahama is home to over 70,000 Burundian refugees, and is the only one for Burundian refugees with the other five hosting Congolese.
Rogge was accompanied by the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs, Seraphine Mukantabana, the representative of UNHCR Saber Azam, the president of the Rwanda National Olympic and Sports Committee, Robert Bayigamba, and national swimmer and Olympian Pamela Girimbabazi.
At the camp, the youth participated in various sports activities, including sports for people with disabilities, volleyball, basketball, football, gymnastics, among others.
The financial support will go towards different projects , including rehabilitation of play grounds and raising awareness of the benefits of sport among the young ones within the camp and neighbouring communities.
Other activities include empowering adolescents and young adults by enhancing their life skills and competences through structured sports activities, enhancing positive interactions and ensuring a peaceful coexistence between refugees and the host communities.
Other refugee camps to benefit from the support apart from Mahama include Gihembe (Gicumbi), Kigeme (Nyamagabe), Kiziba (Karongi), Mugombwa (Gisagara) and Nyabiheke in Gatsibo District.
Rogge said that the International Olympic Committee and UNCHR are partnering to increase the quality of sports activities in camps.
"We want to show young Rwandans as well as the young refugees the importance of sports in our lives. Sport has incredible power and it can be so much more than a leisure activity. It can serve as a social tool to empower youth and strengthen communities as well as protect refugee adolescents from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence," Rogge said.
Minister Mukantabana said that the support epitomizes the rights of refugees and helps create harmony between host communities and the refugees in camps.
"The rights of refugees are not limited to shelter and food but also entertainment (sport). The support will help us to solve challenge like accidents during training or competitions, affording sports kits, among others," he said.
Bayigamba, said that they are in partnership with other sports organizations to train children in sports.
He added that whenever they form competitive teams, they will be permitted to integrate in local competitions.
Azam welcomed the support, adding that it will enable them scale up and enhance sports programmes as well as improve child and adolescent protection for all refugee communities in the country.
"Sports are an essential contribution not only to the enjoyment and relief from the stress of life in refugee camps, but also to the protection and personal development of young refugees,"Azam said.
Young refugees speak
Fabrice Habwawihe, the representative of the basketball team in the camp, said that they have formed three teams, namely; Etoile du Centre, FTB Family Team, and Humura, constituting 60 players in total.
He said that, with these teams, they have organised friendly games which attracts hundreds of spectators, mainly the youth, which provides an opportunity for them to be sensitised against different vices like drugs and given knowledge on issues like reproductive health, among others.
David Ngarura, a football player, also said they formed 12 football teams as a way to bring the youth together to check bad habits they would be engaged in out of idleness.
"We have two divisions, each with six teams. We sometimes organize tournaments where we fundraise at least Rwf 30,000 as the award for the winners. We thank the Government of Rwanda for the security and giving us the opportunity to engage in such sports activities," Ngarura said.
He asked for more advocacy to allow them to participate in local tournaments.