Look at all the smiling faces…..

Our second Tuesday dawned with a new arrival. Andy Hobbs (aka Hobbsy), one of the original founders and now a trustee of Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB) joined us, taking a break from his role with the ICC in Dubai. We also celebrated Jamie’s 32nd birthday, and Tall Giles sensibly decided to take a well earned rest day inspired by the consumption of a dodgy spicy sausage.

Before we left in our new team bus (which actually has more seats than members of the team – a rare treat) we waved goodbye to our trusty driver Steven. He’s been a remarkable resource to us – a true guide, philosopher & friend as well as an expert behind the wheel on some absurd dirt tracks. We welcomed our new driver Eddy. Wheels rolled at 815am and off we went.

GS Gahanga Primary was an innocuous enough sounding school. Smiling kids came out to greet us on arrival, then more, then more. In the end we counted 600! A record for one session on the tour thus far. In such circumstances our carefully crafted coaching plan went out of the window & it became a test – less about HIV/AIDS messages & Cricket Skills and more about crowd control and survival! We passed. In truth we were a pretty weary bunch by 1030am, which is where the wisdom of Hobbsy help lift spirits hugely. “ Don’t be so concerned you could not do what you planned” he said. “Look at all the smiling faces”

Surprisingly we then had a mere 50 kids for an hour after a short break. I say surprisingly as we’ve never had such a small group all tour. And could they hit a ball? One broken window later we had to reposition our batting game! They were a pleasure to coach, and they sang Jamie ‘Happy Birthday’ too.

After a proper sit down hour for lunch we were back at GS Gahanga. Were we training the same kids again or had they produced some more? I’m still not sure. However this felt like a model session in terms of scale plus the coaching & messaging we could achieve.

At this point we split into two groups – one to continue at GS Gahanga, the other at a care home for the disabled run by some nuns. We were told the home had 40 residents, and were there thanks to the eagle eyes of one of our team who’d spotted a sign for the unit a few days earlier.

The children and young adults were severely disabled. Some were wheelchair bound, others could not hold a ball. Yet many of them made visible strides in the hour & a half we spent there. One woman in particular, called Chantel, aged 21, had an incredible smile despite being immobile. She could only hold the bat with one hand whilst sitting semi upright on the ground, yet within half an hour she could hit a ball off a cone 25 yards.
Chantel told us she wanted to be a journalist. With determination like that she stands every chance.

Another lad, wearing a Barnsley FC shirt, could barely crawl around. Nick, our resident Barnsley FC season ticket holder, and I did what we could to stimulate him with a ball. He smiled and seemed to appreciate it, however he was severely handicapped, and eventually lost interest and crawled away. A tough moment for us both.

Apart from the impact on the children, we connected the Centre’s physical therapist with our local Rwandan ambassador Joseph to discuss a bespoke Programme for the kids in future. And we played cricket with the nuns.The nuns were ecstatic – I’ve never seen a hugging nun until today, nor nuns playing cricket. A visit none of us will ever forget.

We reunited with those who’d stayed to fulfill our promise to finish coaching at GS Gahanga & ended the day with a game of Cricket Without Boundaries with some very talented young cricketers at the national cricket stadium opened last October. Cricket Withdrew Boundaries is a bit like Street Cricket – no boundaries, you keep running until the ball is bowled again, everyone bowls 4 balls, and batsmen are retired at the umpire’s discretion so no one player dominates. A great game that produced two tight results including a tie. Then back home in the dark for a quick change before celebrating Jamie’s birthday with something suitable thirst quenching, before the heavens opened and a tropical thunderstorm descended. A day that had it all, especially those smiling faces….

‘Short’ Giles Watkins

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