Just over 20 years ago, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed during Africa’s largest genocide in modern times. Between April and July 1994, hundreds of thousands of Tutsis were murdered by members of the rival Hutu community, in a devastating campaign of violence.
On top of the mass killing, around two million Rwandans were displaced, and the nation has found itself in a period of recovery ever since.
Of all the things in the world to help heal the divisions, cricket has stepped up, and now forms the basis of an inspiring sport development project which is taking place in the country.
Former British Army officer and businessman Christopher Shale, who had worked on social action projects in the African nation for several years, saw first hand the power of cricket in reconciling the different ethnic groups living in the surrounding areas, and decided that a purpose-built facility would develop the sport and increase the positive atmosphere.
Backed by his friend, the former UK prime minister David Cameron, Shale began working under the banner of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF) on an idea for the facility, which would include an educational hub, as well as a much-needed centre for free HIV testing.
After Shale’s untimely death in 2011, his son Alby picked up the mantle, and now the project is close to completion.
“The inspiration for the project came from my father who loved Rwanda and saw how cricket was being used to build communities,” explains Alby Shale. “He went out to Rwanda because he was asked by David Cameron to set up a project with international development, and Rwanda was the country of choice as it was an area screaming out for assistance.”
Ahead of a May fundraising event – in which David Cameron will be present alongside England legends and RCSF patrons Michael Vaughan, David Gower and Clare Connor – Alby told CLAD that the foundation has £120,000 pledged through crowdfunding, and has a further £130,000 to raise to reach the £250,000 needed to complete the facility.
He reveals that the stadium is well under construction, with the pitch almost ready. If all goes to plan with the fundraising, Shale has pencilled in an opening ceremony for October 2017.
THE STADIUM DESIGN
The RCSF has partnered with Cambridge (UK)-based architecture studio Light Earth Designs to design the stadium, which will be made using local materials and land-use technologies intended to catalyse sustainable building practices.
“The project is innovative both from the point of view of sport and architecture,” says Light Earth Designs founding partner Michael Ramage. “The idea of bringing cricket at an international level to Rwanda is very important for the development of the sport in the country, and will allow for fixtures that generate a lot of interest inside and outside Rwanda.
“Architecturally, it will be a building that’s very much of Rwanda built by Rwandans for Rwandans. It will be something the entire country can take pride in. It grows out of an in-country interest in the design, rather than being something wacky and imposed from outside.
“The inspiration comes largely from two places: the green rolling hills of Rwanda and the trace of a bouncing cricket ball,” adds Ramage. “That has influenced the shape of the stadium’s three vaults and the pavilion as they come down a slope between the two cricket pitches.”
To avoid using unsustainable and expensive imported materials, the stadium’s main vaults will be constructed using recycled ceramic tiling and compressed earth blocks formed of 95 per cent soil and 5 per cent cement. These will be constructed into a largely self-supporting structure.
Many workers will be hired to complete the stadium and sharing transferable building skills with local people is a key focus of the project.
The facility will contain changing rooms, a press area, a bar and restaurant and a clubhouse offering free HIV testing for the local community. Spectator seating will extend outside, with green terraces built into the banks on either side of the building, overlooking two international-standard pitches.
A second phase of development, taking place after the first building is constructed, will see a multi-purpose facility added – bringing dormitory accommodation, a swimming pool, a gymnasium and six tennis courts to the site.
The facility will be run on a not-for-profit basis, operating a ‘sport for all’ policy to encourage Rwandans of all ages, genders and backgrounds to have access to cricket. A training, coaching and support structure will also be introduced by the foundation and the government.
While the stadium will act as a home for the elite level game in Rwanda, Alby Shale stresses the facility’s importance to the wider community.
“We are creating an elite facility that checks the necessary International Cricket Council (ICC) boxes for hosting international matches, however it was designed to be a free access facility,” he explains.
“People outside of the cricket fraternity can benefit, and we have forged a partnership with the Surf Survivors Fund, which supports the survivors of genocide through community projects and reconciliation through sport.”
Working with charity Cricket Without Boundaries, RCSF will create a programme for 35,000 refugees from the Rwandan capital of Kigali to teach them cricket and HIV awareness. They’ll also invite cricketers to refugee camps to promote the sport as a “medium to solve social issues”.