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Scottish football coaches offer helping hand in Rwanda

Hundreds of youngsters in rural Rwanda will be pulling on the colours of Dalkeith Thistle, Spartans and Gala Fairydean Rovers this World Cup.

A total of 16 Scottish youth coaches have just spent 10 days working with groups to provide kits, balls and goals to the country’s poorest communities.

Almost 3,000 football items were handed out during the trip.

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It is now hoped football pitches can be built for the promising young players to use in the coming years.

Scottish Football for Rwanda was formed in 2016 when the Scottish Football Association (SFA) chaplain Mark Fleming was joined by coaches from Hampden and Lothian club, Tranent Colts, to make an initial trip to the African country.

As well as handing out donated football kit and equipment, the coaches held twice-daily sessions for youngsters in communities which were still recovering from the 1994 genocide.

A second party from Scotland, involving seven different clubs, returned to east Africa at the beginning of 2020.

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But the pandemic had prevented any further on-the-ground work until earlier this month when youth coaches from Heart of Midlothian, Musselburgh, Spartans, Gala Fairydean Rovers, Currie, Dalkeith Thistle and Gullane Athletic joined representatives from Tranent and the SFA to fly out to Kigali.

Dave Sparham from Gala Fairydean Rovers was part of the group that visited four different communities in Rwanda.

He handed out tops from his own club as well as donated kit from Melrose FC and Tweedbank Thistle.

Mr Sparham said: “The long-term goal of Scottish Football for Rwanda is to establish a coaching network in Rwanda, but the problem just now is they don’t have grassroots football of any kind.

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“The only organised games of any kind start for players when they are well into their teens.

“We are hoping to change that by coaching the coaches and donating kit to the youngsters and the charitable organisations out there.”

This latest trip included visits to genocide memorials as well as communities still recovering from the slaughter in 1994 of up to one million people from the Tutsi ethnic group.

The coaches also worked with a project that looks after disabled children.

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Although poverty remains rife in many areas, football appears to a lifeline most children cling to.

Mr Sparham said: “These kids don’t have anything – they play on wasteland, covered in boulders and broken glass, in bare feet kicking a ball made from plastic and string.

“But you never hear them complain.

“Before a coaching session we’d have maybe 100 children, and once we started there would be another 100 come out of nowhere.

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“They love football and they certainly loved the kit we gave them. There were a lot of happy children.”

All of the clubs that were part of the most recent Scottish Football for Rwanda trip are continuing to support the project.

It is hoped that a fundraising drive will help the charity create proper pitches in the communities it supports.

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