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Here is Eric Murangwa Eugene's story about how football saved his life during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda, and how he continues to use football for hope, peace and unity.
When I was younger, due to my love for football, I always wanted to become a professional footballer. This dream came true when I joined Rayon Sports, the football team based in Rwanda’s capital Kigali.
But what I didn’t know then was that football would later on save my life. During the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, while ethnic tensions erupted into widespread violence across the country that left an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead, the bond formed through football between my teammates and me remained strong. In fact, despite our ‘supposed’ differences, my teammates provided me with shelter and care, ultimately saving my life.
Weeks after the conflict ended, my colleagues and I organised a football match between Rayon Sports and Kiyovu Sports that brought together Rwandans for the first time in many years. Football proved to be, for many, a powerful first step towards peace and unity.
In 2010, I started Football for Hope, Peace and Unity (FHPU) to use sport to change the lives of Rwandan youth, the same way it changed mine. FHPU tries to instil a sense of responsibility in the youth we work with, by educating them about their country’s past and teaching them to use football to foster respect, tolerance, and team spirit. As well as working with young people in Rwanda, we work with diaspora communities around the world to form teams and organise matches. FHPU provides boys and girls with the possibility to escape their everyday hardships and to simply enjoy the game! In doing so, they learn valuable skills about confidence, discipline and teamwork which transfer into their everyday lives, giving a sense of purpose and optimism.
This year, we plan to commemorate the 20 year anniversary of the genocide, not only as a reminder of Rwanda’s tragic past but also the bright future that awaits. Our Play to Remember: Rwanda 20 (PTR Rwanda20) initiative began on April 6th, to celebrate the first UN International Day of Sport for Development and Peace. This also kicked off the 20-year anniversary that will continue for 100 days, symbolising the duration of the 1994 Genocide. We are proud to announce that we will be working with Coaches across Continents to implement conflict resolution programs in schools throughout the region, organising tournaments for students to compete in. We hope to use these nationwide tournaments to sustain peace and non-violence throughout the country, as well as providing an enjoyable and bonding experience for all of the participants.
This will set the ground for our plans for Peace Day, 21 September, where, as part of the One Day One Goal initiative, we hope to once again see football matches played in the name of peace and unity across Rwanda and beyond.
Join us in using the beauty of football to spread respect and unity in order to prevent tragedies like the events of 1994 in Rwanda, as well as anywhere else in the world.