When driving through the immaculate, litter free streets of Kigali it is hard to imagine what these same tidy roads looked like in May 1994. The shadow of the Rwandan genocide, which claimed up to as million lives almost 18 years ago still looms large over this country but as we’ve travelled from school to school these last few days the children we have worked with have convinced me Rwanda’s future is in safe hands.

A visit to Kigali’s harrowing genocide museum on our first day provided our group with a sharp reminder of the sheer terror which engulfed this country following the shooting down of President Habyarimana’s jet and the 100 days of chaos which followed. The museum was a sobering experience and many of us were left shaken by the stories, pictures and relics on show. I’d defy anyone not to be moved to tears.

Thankfully that night a fantastic curry with the officials from the Rwandan Cricket Association at least allowed us to go into our first day of coaching in a positive frame of mind and we weren’t disappointed by the kids at Greenhill Academy. Talented, enthusiastic and wonderfullly well behaved, our morning there was a fine way to ease us into the Rwandan mind set. It was a poignant sight for me to see happy and united children running around with the name ‘Nelson Mandela’ on the back of their shirts.

The afternoon presented a greater challenge as we visted the far less affulant school of Aimees des Enfants. After a slow start we were gradually joined by 40 teenagers and a number of smaller children all keen to try out their batting, bowling and fielding skills. We were also helped by local cricket star ‘Big’ Eric whose enthusiasm and skill was a good testament as to how far Rwandan cricket has come in an incredibly short space of time.

Our second day of coaching took place at Rwanda’s international pitch ‘The Oval’ which has some way to go to match its Kennington namesake. About 60 kids joined us and the challenge here was to communicate the AIDS awareness messages of CWB to children with little grasp of English or French. A lively two hour session ensued but once again there were scores of smiling faces at the end and some boisterous chanting of CWB’s ABC motto (Abstain, Be faithfull, Condom in case you were wondering!)

The afternoon provided us with an opportunity to visit the Rwandan Orphans Project. The ROP is an orphanage and a center for street children located just outside of Kigali who provide housing, clothing, food, health care, education and many other needs to nearly 100 vulnerable children from around Rwanda.We were taken on an fascinating tour of their facilites by Sean and Jenny. Most of these children are found in the streets begging or scavenging for food and money, washing in sewers and wandering aimlessly around. Others come from the extreme poverty of Rwanda’s rural areas, where they may have gone days without having access to a decent meal or clean water. Some have lost their families to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, while many others have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS, malaria or other diseases. There are also many who were simply abandoned to fend for themselves by families who could not afford to keep them.

Despite so many heartbreaking stories it was impossible not to be rejuvenated by the hundreds of smiling faces we encountered as the kids swarmed around us, introduced themselves and played like any normal child should. It was a beautiful experience and despite the charity’s modesty it was clear to all of us what an amazing job they do. Sean said that it was impossible to solve Rwanda’s many problems but that it was there job to deal with it – looking at the sparse but lovingly put together classrooms, toy room and library and the dozens of sewing kits which they use to teach some of the boys a trade it was clear they were doing much more than that.

Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves….