Jean-Claude Rugigana: One athlete’s work to instil values in childrenthrough Karate

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Jean-Claude Rugigana: One athlete’s work to instil values in childrenthrough Karate
Jean-Claude Rugigana: One athlete’s work to instil values in childrenthrough Karate

Africa-PressRwanda. It has been close to 3 years since Jean-Claude Rugigana, a Rwandan Karate player, started a programme to train children about the fundamentals of the martial art.

The training, which takes place mostly during holidays, have seen hundreds of children benefit. Rugigana says Karate is a good sport that helps instil discipline and values in those who practice it – especially children at tender age.

In exclusive interview with Weekend Sport this week, Rugigana explained how he came up with the initiative, why he chose Karate, and the future prospects of the project.

Excerpts:

How did you come up with the idea for ‘Holidays Karate for Children’?

I was driven by impact. We have been holding this programme for over two years at the Champions Karate Academy. Then in June 2019, I had the opportunity to attend the 59th International Session for young participants at the International Olympic Academy in Greece where I learned about the IOC Young Leaders Programme.

While in Greece, I learned a lot and was inspired to even take my karate training with children to another level; that is how the ‘Best Holidays Karate for Children’ programme came up. It is also in line with the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG3) – good health and well-being for all. Thankfully, I also secured financial support from the International Olympic Committee to implement the project.

We decided to put the training in holidays because during off-school period, children are often wasting time watching television, or on video games, a concern that is shared by parents. They wanted a place where their children can be safe but at the same time be occupied with something that would benefit them.

Besides karate – which is the main sport, the youngsters also take part in badminton, basketball and chanbara sports.

Why did you choose Karate?

Karata was chosen as our flagship sport for many reasons. Firstly; I am a karateka with Black Belt 3rd Dan, so I understood and its core principles than any other sport. Secondly, I am a long-time member of the Champions Karate Academy, so it was easy to secure venue for training. Thirdly, I wanted a sport that is less demanding and needs minimum equipment.

When you have uniform and a place to train from, that is enough to practice karate.

Lastly, and the most important reason, karate has great ability to teach discipline and values than most sports, and that is what I wanted the children to take from karate.

Where did the resources to run the project come from?

Our main funders are the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Panasonic and the Yunus Sports Hub who are the mentors of the IOC Young Leaders in implementation of our projects.

But since the project is aimed at making impact at community level, obviously we also needed the involvement of local partners and they did not disappoint. I thank the Ministry of Sports for availing space at the national stadium for us whenever we asked for it, and our development partner – the National Olympic Committee – who gave us an educator for Olympic Values to speak to the trainees.

And then, the Rwanda Karate Federation as a development agency of the martial art in the country, they provided us with coaches and top athletes to inspire children during training.

What has been the impact of the project, and how do you measure it?

The project has really been a joy to watch and see the kids we started with growing and earning promotion in belts (promoted in grades). We also received positive feedback from parents on behavioural change; both at school and at home.

Most parents agree on two key things about the impact of our training; their children are now able to focus and accomplish the tasks they have been given to do at home and at school, and have gained self-confidence that allows them to express themselves in public.

Some of our young karatekas took part at this year’s Karate Ambassador Cup in February for the first time, and that is encouraging because they could be karate champions of the country in future.

A year since the project was launched, I think the Champions Karate Academy has been equipped with the tools and knowledge that will continue to be used to educate children and work with the IOC Young Leaders programme in future projects.

What challenges did you face?

I won’t dwell much on what didn’t work because we have achieved so much to be happy about, but maybe I will mention just two challenges: Covid-19 disrupted some phases of our training programme, and the lack of enough local partners so more kids could participate.

How many children did you work with, and what do you need for the programme to be a permanent one?

Only this year, despite the coronavirus pandemic, we were able to work with 229 children – including 75 girls – between the ages of 4 and 16.

It is also my wish that the Holidays Karate for Children Programme can be permanent, and what is needed is just partners to work with and make it sustainable, and also the active involvement of parents.

Jean-Claude Rugigana, a Black Belt 3rd Dan holder, is the founder and project manager of the Best Holidays Karate for Children programme. / Photos: Courtesy

Noel Nkuranyabahizi, a coach with the national karate team, is the chief instructor of the best holidays karate for children.

Teamwork and discipline are some of the values participants are taught during the karate training sessions.

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