Kicks against hate in Rwanda
At Rwanda’s Dream Club, Hutus and Tutsis have no disagreements, they just share their love for taekwondo
All of a sudden, he becomes a fly. Ntawangundi Eugene is 23 years old and a his biceps is the size of a ham, but as soon as he puts the dobok on he seems to fill his body with air. He tightens the fists, zigzags like a bug and throws non-stop kicks to the air. Zap, zap, zap.
As he practices on the grass, the impact of his bare feet in the ground accompanies the cadence of his jumps. When he stops flying, his forehead is completely sweat, Eugene smiles. “Taekwondo is the best thing that has happened in Rwanda in a long time, it helps us to build bridges,” says.
Back in 2011, various Rwandan friends founded the Dream Club, a group of this Korean martial art lovers, in Kigali, capital of the country. Since then, they gather each evening in the Don Bosco Center of Gatenga, located in one of the humble neighborhoods of the city of the thousand hills, to practice and encourage young people to try this sport. From Monday to Sunday – except for Wednesdays, the day on which the Salesians officiate a popular mass in the Center, the club brings together 65 children and adolescents who receive lessons free of charge and have already become a family. When one of them needs to buy material or can not afford a uniform, they open a collection and each member donates whatever they can. There is only an indisputable standard: there is no difference. “Here we have students from just five years up to adults – says Eugene – and the girls and boys practice together. There are no distinctions by age or sex and much less by ethnicity”.
While Eugene talks, a fortnight of kids, some with dobok and others just in sweatpants and a t-shirt, are arranged in a row on the grass and throw punches and kicks at the same time. As the Salesian community free open its facilities to all young people of the neighborhood, including those who don’t study in their school, hundreds of children come to play soccer, basketball or volleyball and occasionally a ball reaches the Dram Team Club training area. The Taekwondo students don’t even flinch. According to Uwamahoro Francine, who began to train in February 2015 with 14 years, taekwondo helps you to focus and have discipline. When she started practicing taekwondo, her family wasn’t much excited about it. “I only have a mother, my father passed away, and at the beginning I did not want to come to the Center because I felt really tired once back home with so many blows, but now I know that it is a good thing for me and I love it”, she says. She particularly likes the fact that in the Dream Club boys and girls are treaten as equals. She doesn’t even talk about ethnic groups.
Despite freezing the whole world in 1994 with its terrible genocide, Rwanda has overcome the episode through the test of time. Another member of the Dream Club, Mugisha Billy, aged 15, winks with surprise when, after several questions abregarding his passion for taekwondo, I ask him about that horrible period in which 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed in barely 100 days. “The genocide was something that happened. I was told that both groups had disagreements that ended up with a lot of people dying. This division no longer exists. Neither here, in our club” he replied.
Rwanda wants to forget, it is forbidden to ask someone if he or she is Tutsi or Hutu, ethnic distinctions are avoided. Moreover, the country is now looking forward because it is an extremely young nation. For Mugisha, as for most of the people in Rwanda, the genocide is past. Sixty per cent of the population has less than 24 years, so they weren’t born at least have no memories of their own from the darkest chapters of the recent history of his country.
Rwanda has deep scars, but today is a stable country that works fine. Its investments to diversify the economy and become a reference in the communications and technology sectors have reduced the number of empty stomachs. In ten years, the population under the poverty line has risen from 57% to 39%. Of course, they still carry some stones in the backpack. In addition to having a government that limits the freedom of expression, Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in the world: in an area similar to the total space of the provinces of Barcelona, Girona and Lleida, 12.6 million people live together.
For that reason, among the kicks to the air, leaps and jumps on the grass, Eugene’s words infer hope for a united and better future.
“taekwondo is a healthy way to teach crucial things to the boys and girls of this country: we are all equal and we must fight, learn and live together”.
Source: La Vanguardia (Xavier Aldekoa)