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More than a shirt… Scottish football forging Rwanda relationship

Flights from the UK to the country of Rwanda have been in the news this year for all the wrong reasons…

However, this week a flight of a very different kind will take 16 Scottish football coaches on a remarkable journey, to spend eight days with hundreds of football-mad Rwandan kids.

In the heart of the African continent and known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda’s stunning scenery and warm, friendly people make it one of the most remarkable countries in the world. Roughly the size of the Scottish Highlands, Rwanda is jam-packed with 12m inhabitants, making it Africa’s most densely populated country.

Tragically, for most people this beautiful nation is associated with scenes of horror in 1994 when around 1,000,000 people were brutally murdered in a 100-day period of genocide.

So, what’s with the football coaches?

Scottish Football for Rwanda is a brand new charity, building on two previous trips in 2016 & 2020 organised by SFA Chaplain Mark Fleming for Tranent Colts FC, Hearts FC, the SFA and a number of grass roots clubs.

This year’s trip takes 16 coaches, again from Hearts, SFA, Tranent Colts and other Lothian grass roots clubs – Spartans, Musselburgh Windsor, Gala Fairydean, Dalkeith Thistle, Currie FC and Gullane.

Over 8 intensely busy days these volunteers will organise fun football sessions for 100s of Rwandan boys and girls, aged four to 18, from established football academies, local schools, a centre for ex-street kids and a school for disabled children. They will also spend a day with the Rwanda Women’s Football Association, which is in its early days, to share experiences of how Girls football clubs have been developed in Scotland.

Some might scoff at the idea of Scotland trying to teach anyone how to play football, after our 24-year World Cup absence – surely Rwanda deserves better! Laughs aside, the Scottish FA’s coach education system over the last 10 years is renowned. And for these 16 coaches, it will be as much about what they learn in return from the amazing people of Rwanda.

The enduring impression from the two previous trips has been in terms of how Rwandans have dealt with and continue to recover from the genocide and how they can achieve so much in football with such limited resources. As Mark Fleming explained “these kids play football on land that most Scots wouldn’t walk their dog on! No astros, no floodlights, no kit and in some cases no shoes…but they get on with what they’ve got – and they do it with a huge smile and sense of joy. It’s something that really hits home with the Scottish coaches”.

Becoming a registered charity has enabled Mark to scale up the impact that the trip has in Rwanda, with over £10,000 raised by the coaches and their clubs to donate to the organisations they meet over there. They’ll also be taking a huge 600kg of football kit and equipment to give away, both used and brand new.

Everyone loves getting new football kit, don’t they?

It’s a feeling that our own kids know well. Wearing that new shirt for the first time, lacing up a new pair of boots on – the sense of pride and excitement doesn’t go away.

For the kids in Rwanda, it’s a feeling experienced on very rare occasions. A country that has experienced near-unparalleled horrors in the recent past, and is still battling bravely against with poverty, new kit is a luxury beyond their reach. It’s the least we can do…

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