Everyone loves getting new football kit, don’t they?
It’s a feeling that generations of footballers and fans around the world will know well. Wearing that new shirt for the first time, lacing up a new pair of boots, walking about with your new tracksuit on – the sense of pride and excitement doesn’t go away.
For some, though, it’s a feeling experienced on very rare occasions. Take the football-mad children of Rwanda, for example. A country that has experienced near-unparalleled horrors in the recent past, football is as popular a pastime as it is anywhere in the world, yet new kit is often a luxury beyond the reach for many in the East African nation.
However, with the help of the Scottish FA, more young people across Rwanda are getting to experience that ‘new kit feeling’. Mark Fleming, chaplain to the Scottish FA, explains how the association’s surplus shirts and training gear are making a difference…
“I’d been over to Rwanda the previous year with a group of coaches from Tranent Community Club who had been working with some local youth academies in Kigali. We’d visited a group of kids that were living on a rubbish tip, which meant that they were susceptible to all sorts of abuse and so on – if they were found loitering they’d be thrown in prison. The kids were just living off their wits.
“The organisation I work for – Comfort International – had a vision to get the kids off the rubbish tip and into a proper house, so they started a sponsorship programme, which ended up being so successful that they cleared the rubbish tip. The kids don’t have a great deal in terms of clothing, so we gave them spare Scotland supporters’ jerseys. These became their school uniform, and they wear it with such pride.”
“These lads are a team from a place in the Western Province of Rwanda called Bississero. Before the genocide in 1994, it was a place of about 60,000 people. Only 1500 survived.
“That was probably the hardest place for us as a charity to earn any semblance of trust out of anywhere I’ve worked in Rwanda because ‘mzungu (white guy), we remember what you did to us’.
“Now, though, our relationship with the people there is incredible. One of the things they’ve done is start a football team, but as one of the poorest areas of Rwanda they were struggling for kit. We stepped in to give them some of the surplus Scottish FA supporters’ kit and they were absolutely delighted.”
“In Kigali, there’s a place called Kigali Mountain. It sounds lovely, but it’s actually one of the poorest and most isolated parts of the city. The club in that area is now run by a former Rwandan national team player, who felt like it was a forgotten part of Kigali.
“We gave them a lot of the Scottish FA’s old training kit, so they now have a proper strip. They really look the part.”
“The academy pictured here has actually started to produce players for the Rwanda youth teams. How they run the academy is really interesting – there are a lot of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in operation over there and the kids of those people working for the NGOs love football. The academy therefore lets them play for a small fee, and uses the money to subsidise the Rwandan kids who would otherwise not be able to afford to play or receive coaching.
“The Rwandan FA are really keen to have an ongoing relationship with both us and the Scottish FA. They’re really enthusiastic to continue these links. Alan White (head of community at Hearts) has been doing a lot of work with them on coach education to help them raise standards. It’s massively raised the profile of Scotland amongst Rwandan people, too.
“It’s created such a love for Scotland, and that makes me so proud.”