Published: 25th October, 2017
In the summer of 2013, Surrey CCC were approached by a passionate young man with an eccentric request.
In the autumn of 2017, the club is proud to be represented at the opening of a brand-new cricket ground in Kigali, the capital of the east African republic of Rwanda. The four year story is worth reading about.
The story begins long before 2013, with the setting up in 2011 of the Rwanda Cricket Stadium Foundation, a charity acting in the memory of the late Christopher Shale, who had tragically died earlier that year.
Shale was passionate about cricket and equally passionate about helping the country of Rwanda, an extraordinary place that was battling to move on from the events of 1994, when a shocking genocide saw over 800,000 men, women and children slaughtered by their own countrymen.
Many million Rwandans had fled the country to save themselves and their families from the genocide. A great many of them ended up taking refuge in the cricket loving nations of Kenya, Zimabwe and Uganda. Whilst in exile, they learnt about the game and started playing it regularly.
As Rwanda started to emerge from the shadow of the genocide, generations of Rwandans felt able to return to their homeland and start to build a new life. Many brought with them a new found love of cricket. However, this passion was tested upon their return home due to a stark lack of facilities to play the game.
The only cricket ground in the country was in the capital, Kigali. A solid concrete pitch with an ancient green mat on top and a tendency for balls to rear from a good length combined with a bumpy and uneven outfield and a lack of decent changing facilities to make the game unattractive to all but the most dedicated of cricketers.
This combined with the facility’s location, on the site of the most grotesque events that occurred during the awful summer of 1994, a massacre of 2,500 residents of the Kigali neighbourhood of Kicikiru that had taken refuge on a complex occupied by a catholic school.
When Christopher Shale passed away in 2011, his family and friends combined his twin passions of cricket and Rwanda and set up the Rwandan Cricket Stadium Foundation (RCSF); a charity with the goal of building a brand new cricket facility for the people of Rwanda.
How did Surrey get involved?
After two years of hard fundraising, Shale’s youngest son Alby – one of the main driving forces behind the project – thought that an arduous physical challenge would help draw attention to his cause.
He decided to attempt to break the world record for the longest ever individual batting net. Previously held by an Australian, Alby needed to bat for 26 hours (taking just a five minute break once an hour) to secure his place in the Guinness Book of Records.
However, there are relatively few locations that such a challenge could take place. The Ken Barrington Cricket Centre at the Kia Oval is one of them – and when the charity wrote to the club asking for help we were very happy to do so.
As planning for the event continued, individuals around the club were inspired by the passion and drive shown by Alby and his fellow volunteers and decided that, once the record was broken, Surrey would continue to help wherever it could.
Surrey Supporting Rwanda
This support has manifested itself over the subsequent four years in many different forms.
As well as donating a minimum of £10,000 a year to the charity, the club has given them free use of space at the Kia Oval on a number of occasions and worked internally to help raise the profile of the charity in international cricketing circles.
After two years, and following the completion of the work in Sri Lanka that was funded by the tsunami relief charity match staged at The Oval in 2004, the RCSF was appointed as the club’s next official Overseas Charity Partner.
A Future for Cricket in Rwanda
After completing their initial fundraising effort earlier this year, work has now been completed on a new ground for Rwandan cricket.
Located in the south of Kigali, it is being launched with the inaugural Cricket Builds Hope tournament, which is taking place in Rwanda this week.
Eight teams – Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya U19s, a Christopher Shale XI (sponsored by Surrey CCC), XIs representing the charity’s other partners Coutts and Yorkshire Tea and touring sides the Grannies and Eton Ramblers – are all battling to be crowned champions in a final that will be played at the new ground on Sunday (October 29th).
The official opening ceremony will take place this Saturday (October 28th) and will be followed by a special T20 match featuring ex England captain Michael Vaughan and former South African opener Herschelle Gibbs.
Once the opening ceremonies are complete, the ground will be in service all year round in partnership with the Rwandan Cricket Association, staging Rwanda’s international matches in the ICC World Cricket League Division 3 as well as community cricket and schools programmes.
The ground is also offering facilities to its local community in the Gahanga neighbourhood, including an area providing free HIV testing.
With the ground constructed, the RCSF are preparing to transform into a new organisation called Cricket Builds Hope, looking to use the power of cricket to grow the game and help in the development of new communities, both in Rwanda and, in future, further into the developing world.
They will do so with the full support of Surrey CCC.