African aid in the form of … rugby?

Carleton grad Justin Marchesseault chats with a fellow rugby player during a practice in Uganda. His organization, Gainline Africa, uses rugby as a tool to encourage physical education and community building in post-conflict areas. (Photo provided by Justin Marchessault)

It’s an image Justin Marchesseault will never forget.

Teenage boys and girls, some of them former slaves and soldiers, on the ground doing stretches – preparing for their first rugby practice. It was 8 a.m. and there were no coaches or teachers in sight.


As soon as Marchesseault approached, they sprung up to greet him. Not a hint of their many hardships expressed on their faces.


“They were so excited for us to be there,” says Marchesseault, a recent Carleton grad, and founding member of Gainline Africa, a charity that uses rugby as a tool for development in Africa’s post-conflict communities. “We thought at first that we were going to have real trouble … but it was unbelievable how receptive they were.


“I haven’t seen that much self-initiative (at any high school here).”


For 20 years, Uganda’s Gulu province was ruled by the brutal Lord’s Resistance Army. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of civilians were killed, abducted or raped during this time – the majority of them children forced to live as child soldiers and sex slaves.


Though the war ended in 2007, the atrocities have naturally left lasting effects on the region and the people. People are still afraid to gather in public, says Marchesseault. People are still afraid to live their lives.


“There’s been very little conflict in the last five years but people are scared,” he says.


That’s where rugby comes in. Marchesseault says sport can be therapeutic for communities affected by war. It can restore a sense of normalcy and order in an environment otherwise wrought with chaos.


When young boys and girls are still dealing with old wounds – both mental and physical – friendly competitive can be a blissful escape.


“Our purpose isn’t to create an army of rugby stars,” says Marchesseault. “Rugby is the medium, not the message. We want to use rugby as a tool to encourage physical education and community building.”


Marchesseault and company, including his brother David, work with local rugby organizations – and bring in their own expert coaches – to offer the best experience for the kids.


“We really want to … create a proper training session,” he says, adding that the goal is to eventually make the schools self-sufficient and able to train students without their help. “We don’t want to be the type of charity that just drops off 10 bags of goods … and says ‘OK, you guys have fun.”


“We want to create a (sustainable program) and focus on establishing ourselves.”

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Daniel Reid

By Daniel Reid

Whether it’s scientific breakthroughs, political manoeuvres or loaded technical jargon, Daniel Reid loves to untangle complex ideas to make them accessible to everyone. He is currently an editor at @newsrooms and is a former web editor at @CTVNews and homepage editor at @TheLoopCA. You can argue with him on Twitter at @ahatrack.

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