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Bringing cross-cultures together through activities

Updated: Aug 18, 2023


In October 2018 I took my family over to Rwanda for my wedding. This included my mum and dad, sister Jayne and Brother-in-law Colin, and my 2 nephews Ben (13yrs) and Luke (18yrs). My Friend Kim also came over from America to join us and be bridesmaid. But before all the wedding excitement we had a few days planned to introduce them to Kigali city, including a visit to Les Enfants De Dieu, home and school for street boys. Recent Rwanda governmental policy is that no child should be on the street and should be placed within a family home, with a ban on orphanages. EDD continue because no stay is now long term and their goal is to rehabilitate and habituate children back into family living within two years.

After a few hours rest after their overnight flight we ventured into and fairly straight out of the Kimironko market because it was so hot and cramped full of craft sellers, shoe sellers and clothes makers. Whilst mum was in her element, I had already been a number of times and the others found it just too hot and overwhelming.

Luke was already struggling with tiredness and heat and so stayed back at the apartment. But still feeling unwell he drove himself out of bed after lunch to visit Les Enfants De Dieu (EDD) because it had been planned that here he would teach the boys some football and play a game with them.

I had previously visited the centre and provided an art lesson for the boys one weekend. Before this visit I had felt that there was little impact I could have on these childrens lives, but they seemed eager to receive me and facilitated me well with translators. But I was soon taught that just by coming and giving them your time to do something with them gives them a sense that their existence is important to somebody, that they are worth somebodies time for. So it was important to me that my family weren’t there just to spectate and treat them like animals in a zoo but we were there to make them feel we cared about them and wanted to interact with them, to teach them something new. And so I ensured my family came equipped with activities to provide them with.

Being Sunday afternoon there were no classes and so the children were available to participate in the activities. Manager Charles generously came away from his family to greet my family and tell them in his usual passionate way about the school; what they had achieved and hoped to achieve in the future.

I am sure he could have to talked to us all day about EDD which tells me why it is such a success; to have such a passionate and devoted leader. Charles has now become a friend of mine and Manzi, so much so he later attended our wedding and did a reading for me.

With much thanks to Jean-Claude who assisted and translated for us we then spilt up into groups for the different activities. My soon to be husband also assisted the boys in translated and enthusiastically joined in the game of rugby. My mum had come prepared with some crafts to do quietly in the art room while Ben brought a rugby ball to play with and Luke came to play football.

Initially football was the most popular but we soon dispersed the boys into more equal groups. The boys eagerly got all their mismatched football boots and started to dress themselves with any odd boot that might fit them. I believe the rule was that if they could not find a football boot that fit then they would have to play rugby or do crafts. This did not seem to upset them too much and plenty of young boys headed back to my mum, with my dad and Charles assisting, in the art room.

The first issue they had not addressed yet was where the football was that they were going to play with. It took them some time to realise but soon rushed off to seek one out.

In the meantime Ben had gathered some interest in his rugby as he started teaching them how to throw the ball.

It was not long before a game had started behind the trees while the mammoth football game commenced on the main field with Luke and his dad joining in.

I ventured around the activities to see how they were all going, taking photos as I went. I found the boys watching intently to what my mum was showing them as she tried to teach them how to make friendship bracelets. She was a little fast and engrossed in her task but my dad went into teacher mode and copied my mum above her and animated them clearly what to do, and so that the whole room of boys could see. The boys were engrossed and concentrated so hard.

They went on to make pipe-cleaner teddy brooches which I assisted some of the boys to make as they struggled to keep up. I’m not sure if they had even seen a pipe cleaner before but now they had bundles of different coloured ones laid out in front of them. I was so impressed with their willingness, concentration and commitment to try. Unlike young children in the UK, they persevered and did not seem bored and give up if they could not achieve it, instead just asked for help. With my American bridesmaid Kim also supporting I left them to carry on.

What I saw on both fields was just amazing and there was so much energy, joy and happiness going on. Rules were not really important and with the rugby game it seemed more fun to get into tackling. Only my nephew Ben really scored any tries as he played the game properly, but the boys seemed to really pick up the basic concept of it and played it the way they should by throwing and not kicking the ball.

In the background were a few boys who were maybe ‘too cool’ for sport, or it just wasn’t their thing as they hung about listening and dancing to music from the beat box. They were still happy to be around though.

We spotted one young boy who seemed more interested in doing hand stands in the middle of the football pitch but this did not seem to particularly hinder the game given it’s lack of formation and rules.

Our problem came when we needed to wrap things up as we had other plans for that day. Neither game seemed to be wavering and I am sure they would have carried on playing into the evening.

Our tactic was to take the group photos which briefly paused the games long enough and gather some of the boys for us to say goodbye to them. One young boy asked my nephew Ben if he was coming back and that he was going to miss him.

I was unbelievably proud of both of my nephews. They had only just arrived into a vastly different foreign country, were already struggling with the lack of sleep and heat and had no shared language to speak of. But they had the language of sport which universally is known to bring people together. None of this phased my nephews who, compared to the boys of EDD (although not in the UK), came from a privileged background and a somewhat cooler climate. But even now they keep telling me they want to go back and visit them again. I could not imagine every Western young boy being quite so willing to step away from their phones and games to connect and play with complete strangers this way. It gives me faith that humanity won’t be completely lost to

We gathered at the buses and at my discreet request Charles conducted the boys into singing Happy Birthday to my dad, who had arrived in Rwanda that morning to his 70th birthday. Not only did we get a rendition in English but also in French, Kinyarwandan and various other verses. We did wonder if were ever to leave to get back for my dads birthday party.

Young boys were still running around fascinated by their piece of card with coloured wool hanging from it, still attempting to make sense of how to finish their bracelets.

As usual it was sad to say goodbye but also joyous as we all left with huge, warm grins on our faces.

What I have found from Rwanda is that for everything you give to them you always gain something back in return and tenfold, even if this is not your intention. My dad will never forget such a memorable birthday song rendition and beats any party he could have had and my nephews will always have a unique experience that they relished in their hearts forever. We can only hope the boys of EDD got as much from our visit as we did them.


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