Seven Young Ambassadors from the DfC Uniting Communities programme headed to Rwanda in late August on a Commonwealth Games Council led journey where they engaged in a world leading programme covering Human Rights in Sport.  They attended the Commonwealth Games Federation’s General Assembly and a session of the Commonwealth Forum for National Human Rights Institutions which will be running concurrently in Kigali.  It was a hugely eye opening visit for all the young people and below is the story of their visit in their own words.

Lauren McAreavey:

Our trip to Rwanda was an invaluable learning experience for the whole team. We learnt a lot about Rwandan culture and how important community is for them; about the genocide which devastated the country and how the people have come together to rebuild their society and work towards a more positive future for all - whilst commemorating those they have lost. This approach is something we can apply at home in relation to the lasting impact felt in Northern Ireland due to 'The Troubles' and our work in the Uniting Communities programmes.

Thursday was a full on day of travelling, leaving Belfast at 6.30am and arriving at our accomodation around 1.30 in the morning the next day.

On Friday we were straight into our work and helped run a session discussing the Human Rights charter with a group of volunteers from Rwanda. It's was great to get their insight and perspective on the different elements featured in the Declaration but also hear how they think it applies to sports and life here in Rwanda. There were some barriers with language and the difference of meanings in how we interpreted the charter, however there was brilliant discussions and some really interesting examples of good practice shared and a hope for these good practices to become the norm.


On Friday evening we went to the Ministry of Sport and watched the Ladies and Mens basketball playoffs. This was a great opportunity to see some sport in action and just how well the Rwandans engage with it. The atmosphere was absolutely electric particularly the stop/start of the men's match and with 2.7 seconds remaining, we were all holding our breaths awaiting an underdog victory!

On Saturday morning the group headed out to Umuganda. Umuganda roughly translates as 'coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome’, I've never seen anything like it before! Hundreds of people came together to resurface a mile and a half of road using piles of dirt, spades, picks and hoes. Absolutely shattered afterwards with the sun beating down on you the entire time but everyone was so welcoming and friendly and wanted to get us involved. Our clothes came out worse for wear but it was worth it for the construction of Belfast Boulevard!


After the hard work, there was a town meeting which started with celebrations of dancing and music, and we all got involved but Aaron being Aaron ended up surrounded by a circle of Rwandans engaged in a good hearted and playful dance-off, check out the video below! Really good fun.

In the afternoon we went to the Kigali Memorial Centre which was incredibly eye opening - shocking and totally unfathomable. My key takeaway was that one person can make a difference after I saw a quote which read, 

He who saves a single life saves the world entire.

I found this such an enlightening quote, which supports the idea if we can make a difference to one person, we can spread that positive change and contribute to the greater good.

Sunday was billed as a car free day in the city so we had an early start, we were lead to believe we were going to a yoga session. Little did we know, it was a full on aerobic workout with it must have been at least 500 people taking part!  Despite the surprise, it was brilliant to see the community come together and get active - which as we've seen through our programme helps bring people together, has massive health benefits and doing it as a group helps keep everyone motivated. 

It was incredible to see how they maximised the opportunity of having no cars on the road to turn it into a fun fitness day. Behind us there was even an area for free health check ups!

Unfortunately, you can't imagine something similar in Belfast, which is a huge shame as everyone was enjoying themselves, improving their health and doing their bit to help save the environment. We can definitely learn a lot from Rwanda.


The Genocide Memorial Museum was tough, I think we all found a lot more hard hitting than we expected. Above all for me it was  the personal stories. Young men and women were talking about watching their entire family being slaughtered. The eeriness of the detail. It left me disturbed. At the very end there was a section dedicated to the children of the genocide. It was at the point where I had to take a break. Hearing the barbarism committed against kids gave an image of a society plagued with sickness.

25 years later and they're smiling, laughing in the street, getting fit and have an extraordinary sense of community and respect for each other and the environment. It's impossible to try and work out how this society came from the society of 1994.

After the long and emotional day, we gathered as a team for dinner. This was a great opportunity to try some of the local dishes. We had goat and tried plantain, which we kinda think tastes like a potato, but a great way to reconvene as a team after a difficult day.

On Monday we officially registered as guests for the conference and then helped the staff and volunteers with some organising in preparation for the conference and delegate arrivals. Following this we set off for the Kaplacki Craft Market which was fascinating - filled with colour and crafts of all kinds. We made a stop at the Belgian peacekeepers memorial before heading to the city Market where we got caught in the rain and sought refuge in the shops with the locals.


On Monday night, we were invited to the welcome reception of the Commonwealth Games Federation General Assembly. This was a great opportunity to meet delegates and individuals from across the Commonwealth. The reception was held in the new basketball arena which was built in just six months! The arena is far beyond anything we have back in Belfast.

On Tuesday we had to be up and ready to go for 7.15 to help set up and prepare for the Human Rights Conference with representatives from various human rights commissions from across the Commonwealth. This was a great opportunity to develop our understanding on human rights and how this can be connected to a sports setting. 

The discussions had were very informative and gave us all a true taste of what conferences and conventions were like. It was clear to see everyone improving their networking skills as we ended up befriending many of the individuals representing the National Human Rights Comission (NHRCs).

That night we had dinner with the NHRCs and was good to be able to get dressed up and have a nice change of tone from the serious conversations we'd had with these individuals to being able to let your hair down with them.


Wednesday was another day of the conference, however a slightly less early start. This day was focused on building from the conversations we had with the NHRCs yesterday and brought NHRCs and their respective Commonwealth Games Assemblies (CGAs) together. It was fascinating to see that this concept was being spearheaded by Northern Ireland, with both David from our Human Rights Commission and Conal from Commonwealth Games NI taking their place on the table at the front, relaying the template they formed for their relationship to the rest of the Commonwealth Games Nations.

This is were the declaration came into play and we did our bit engaging with the various NHRCs and CGAs. We showed and talked through the declaration and really highlighted how Human Rights can be implemented in sport, starting with a simple 10 point, one page document, something everyone can understand from grassroots to international federations. It was rewarding to see the fruits of our labour, hearing countries like Malaysia saying they're gonna adopt the declaration with their NHRC, really hit home how we were genuinely making a difference across the world.

That afternoon we took time to regroup and very competitive games of 'don't let the ball hit the ground' and piggy in the middle took place. This opportunity to unwind was much needed after the information overload over the last number of days and was a bit of craic for us all. That evening we were invited along to dinner and again witnessed the incredible dance, food and culture of Rwanda.

On Thursday whilst the different elections went on at the general assembly, we gathered to have lunch with the Centre for Human Rights and Sport and some of the Rwandan volunteers. The purpose of this was to hear the views of young people in relation to human rights in sport. The conversations were varied with discussion on accessibility to opportunity, funding and resources and discrimination in terms of gender, age, ability to name a few topics covered.

Thursday evening brought us to the Closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games General Assembly at the Kigali Craft Village. We got the opportunity to see some children and young people take part in the dancing we had seen over a number of events and those of us who don't have two left feet happily joined in. We also had the chance to more informally chat with representatives and volunteers we had met throughout the course of our trip.


Friday saw the final day of the trip and after such an amazing experience, tiredness truly hit and we all felt it. Most of us took a walk to the convention centre and met some of the volunteers along the way, saying our goodbyes. When we got back we debriefed one final time on the trip, thinking about how we can put some of the lessons we've learned out here into practice back in Northern Ireland. We went for a final walk into the busier area of town for our last look at this amazing place before we had our final team dinner before making the long journey home.

Nicole Breslin:

Our trip to Rwanda was a spectacular, breath-taking, inspirational and heart-breaking experience all rolled into one. Learning about the countries conflict riddled history was undeniably difficult, but watching how their communities are constantly striving for peace and unity through community work and sport was eye opening. It was an experience that has changed my life for the better, and one that I will never forget.

The DfC Uniting Communities Young Leaders Training and Ambassadors Programme is being delivered in Northern Ireland in partnership with PeacePlayers on behalf of the Department of Communities.