We are excited to announce that one of our two soccer teams earned a spot to play in the Rwanda Football Federation League, the national soccer league. The team will play in the league's newly established third division, which showcases the skills of lesser known yet promising teams. The League boasts three divisions with the Rwandan national team drawing its players from the top clubs in division 1.
Our Rwanda Learning Center currently has two soccer teams: one formed with children under 17 (U17) where most of our kids fall into, and a second team with children 17 and above (U23 or Under 23). The age requirement to join the National League is 17; this means that the U23 team has had to recruit additional players outside the program to fill the team, until our U17 children can reach 17. We currently have 4 children from our Street Children Program in the U23; the rest of the players come from broken homes, and were often spotted at the court as spectators of our matches.
The U23 team named after our local partner, Amahoro Builders Football Club, qualified to apply for the third division after the league took notice of its winning streaks in local friendly matches. However, the league put the team through a rigorous acceptance process that required our local partner to rent an acceptable field for home games, among other requisites. The team was accepted into the league in May 2023 and commenced its first game on June 24th.
RAS provides funds for jerseys, shoes, socks, and equipment for both teams, as well as a coach who also doubles as a counselor at the Center. One of RAS' future fundraising goals is to purchase a new facility with land that can be converted into a soccer field.
In other soccer news, three other children from the Center are also on their way to the same national soccer league as professional referees. They’ve been part of a training program hosted by the league to recruit young referees as it expands. The trainees have been training alongside Federation referees at local youth matches and will be eligible to officiate division 3 matches when they graduate later this year.
"One of the things RAS encourages is for our children to think about what careers they want to pursue in the future, and we help set them up for success," stated Alphonsine Anderson. When our Rwanda staff learned about the referee program, they shared it with our kids and enrolled those who were interested, paying all their fees. Once they graduate, they’ll have an opportunity to earn money doing something they love.
Rwanda has not been a stranger to the world of soccer. Those who watched the World Cup last year might recall the presence of a Rwandan woman named Salima Mukansanga among the referees. Alphonsine expressed hope for the future of these aspiring referees, saying, "We hope these kids reach their dreams, maybe even joining the ranks of FIFA referees like Mukansanga someday."
We find inspiration in the unwavering resilience of our children, who are actively shaping their own future. Soccer has become a powerful catalyst for our children, instilling in them confidence, hope, and the bravery to pursue their dreams. It fills our hearts with joy to watch them shine not only at the court but also in every aspect of their lives!