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Disadvantaged children in Rwanda take up the sport of fencing

Children take part in a fencing training camp at Gisimba Memorial Centre, on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda, Saturday, April 6, 2024   -  
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Brian Inganga/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved


In a children’s foster care centre on the hills of Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Patience Wamungu is hard at work trying to instil the knowledge and skills he has horned over the years in the sport of fencing to his young students.

Eagle-eyed, authoritative and just like his name, he patiently goes about his training session meticulously at Gisimba Memorial Centre, muttering the game’s terminologies, such as ‘Allez’ and ‘En-garde’ - French words for ‘go’, and ‘on guard’ respectively. In fencing terms, the former used by the referee to start a bout and the latter uttered before the start of the bout to signify to the fencers that they should get into positions.

The students, mainly orphans, refugees, and less fortunate children, promptly respond.

They are kitted in worn out gear they borrow for practice from time to time from another professional sports club.

Gisimba was established a little over 75 years ago and took centre stage as haven for children of victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. It is now a social centre dedicated to the defence and protection of the rights of the child population in Rwanda. Mostly on the creation of after-school programmes.

Patience says it's the centre’s history and work with children that drew him to volunteer his expertise there. "So I thought to myself, why not volunteer here and share my knowledge with children of this institution that gave so much to them,” he says.

Even though admittedly he says he has never taken part in a professional tournament, Patience received the best training in fencing in Senegal. The West African nation has long been a giant in the sport and is currently home to the governing body of the Olympic sport of fencing at a global level.

He remembers vividly the day the sport of fencing was introduced to him in 2008. He had gone to try out his hand in badminton when one of the trainers told him about this little-know game. One thing led to another and Patience was on a plane to Dakar for further training.

Upon his return home, Patience served as an official at Rwanda’s Fencing Federation, before leaving the body and devoting his time to growing the sport’s popularity.

Patience is one of only four fencing coaches in Rwanda.

Watching the children train, it is clear they are taking to the sport with enthusiasm and excitement. They are mesmerized by its compelling movement and technical nous.

“I wish to go to America and win for my country Rwanda,” says 9-year-old Holy. As for 8-year-old Roberto, it is all about the prospect of earning money in the sport.

Patience says he's optimistic about the future of the sport in Rwanda and that of his students.

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