ON A playing field in a Rwandan town, Abbi Jones is surrounded by excited children.

She has a ball in her hand and is about to throw it to one of the youngsters. Later, she shows them how to hold a cricket bat. Each member of the group is keen to learn and clearly enjoying themselves.

Abbi, 20, from Birkenshaw, is one of a seven-strong group of students who travelled to the East African country to volunteer with the charity Cricket Without Boundaries (CWB), to deliver cricket coaching sessions in schools and local communities.

CWB uses cricket as a vehicle for delivering health and social messages in sub-Saharan Africa. It is run almost entirely by the dedication and enthusiasm of its volunteers. Since its formation in 2005 it has become one of the world’s leading cricket development charities dedicated to helping, educating and developing local communities around the world through the spread and growth of cricket.

A student of primary physical education and sports coaching at Leeds Trinity University, Abbi took part in the two-week long trip, a lasting record of which was made by film student Tyler Kershaw, who made a documentary of their experiences.

During the trip, the students - Abbi, Chloe Crook, Megan Slater, Sam Ashton, Henrik Bader, Jess Bambrough and the university’s sports development manager Sarah Todd - delivered cricket coaching sessions in schools and the community, supporting CWB’s mission to spread cricket through coaching children and teaching adults how to coach.

During their time overseas they coached 3,000 youngsters.

The charity also aims to incorporate HIV/AIDS awareness messages into coaching sessions, and to bring together and empower local communities through the game.

A former pupil at Whitcliffe Mount School and Tong High School, Abbi has been interested in sport since she was a child, and has been studying sport-related subjects since GCSE - but she was not interested in cricket.

“This was worrying when applying for this placement, but after the training and the trip itself, I can officially call myself a cricketer, although not a good one,” she laughs.

She first heard about CWB when looking for a placement that she would enjoy. “I saw the poster in the sports hall. I always thought that I would do something like this when I was young, so when the opportunity came up I had to apply.”

At first the group travelled to the district of Huye in Rwanda’s Southern Province, then Bugesera in the east, then the country’s capital Kigali.

“Rwanda in general wasn’t what I expected,” says Abbi. “There were parts that were poorer than others, but no matter where we went the children and families were always happy. The children we taught were thrilled to be in school and excited that we were there.”

The students, who are studying either primary or secondary sports coaching, were overseen on their trip by CWB’s head of delivery Lee Booth, and worked with CWB Ambassadors Eric Dusabemungu Hirwa, Joseph Karamera and Emmy Uwiragiye.

They took sports equipment over from Britain. “We took a lot, including around 400 tennis balls, cricket bats and other cricket-related items,” says Abbi. “We also decided to bring gifts for local orphanages.

“Volunteers bring as much equipment as they can and leave it with the ambassadors who take it with them when they visit the different schools. As cricket is being played more and more in schools, cricket teams are starting up and CWB offers a chance to compete for trophies and medals in festivals. We umpired and scored in some of them.”

The skills of the children depended on whether the charity had previously operated in the area. Some were more skilled at cricket than we were, but others needed help learning the basic skills which they could work on at school.”

She adds: “By experiencing a different culture of coaching and schooling, I can already see that my coaching has changed in order to adapt with what I have learned.

“I would love to work abroad and volunteer again. This was something I wanted to do as a young child. Actually doing it and helping someone is amazing and overwhelming.”

Raising awareness of HIV/AIDS, which is prevalent in Rwanda - one of the world’s least-developed countries - is part of the charity’s mission statement.

“For one of the festivals, CWB organised a testing station where the public, could get tested for free, with consent of a guardian for under 18s,” explains Abbie. “We had 84 people in one day and only one came back positive.

“We incorporated the health awareness by using the slogan ABCTS, which stands for ‘Abstain’ from sex until marriage, ‘Be’ faithful to one partner, ‘Condom’ or protection, get ‘Tested’ regularly and ‘Stigma’ which is talking about boys/girls, positive/negative, tall/small, and how we can all play sport and cricket together.”

Leeds Trinity University was the first university to partner with CWB in 2013, presenting an opportunity for the institution to engage in global citizenship in Africa and to carry out fundraising and volunteering initiatives.

The Rwandan youngsters play other sports, including football. “We saw a few football pitches and in a youth centre there were some basketball hoops that the older boys were having fun using.”

She adds: “Primary-aged children were more enthusiastic about having us there, whereas the high school children wanted to act cool even though they were enjoying themselves.

“Teachers were enthusiastic to learn the different drills and were keen to continue our work. Teachers joined in with the activities and competed against the students, which was really fun to watch.” Abbie loved Rwanda. “Everything about the country is beautiful - the people, the landscape, the animals. Everyone was really friendly and kind.”

“The experience made me ask myself a lot of questions, like, can we change the way we feel about a situation and see the good as well as the lessons that come from it? The answer is always, yes. We have so much and not everyone is appreciative or respectful of the things they have.”

Adds Abbie: “Cricket and sport in general is a great way to bring people together. It provides a fun, social aspect to keeping fit and learning new skills. CWB has done an amazing job at incorporating health messages into fun sporting activities. Children and adults don’t realise that when they are playing sport, having fun and keeping fit, they can be learning at the same time.”

Says Lee Booth: “The group did a great job. They worked in regions have been identified as crucial for the Rwanda Cricket Association’s strategy for growing the game, and so having this opportunity to work with Leeds Trinity to increase our delivery capacity is a real boon for both CWB and RCA.

“The students adapted really well to the challenges of working in schools with very varied environments and the large numbers attending each session, as well as incorporating key messages about HIV prevention and busting myths about how HIV can be spread. It is always a pleasure to see the students develop as coaches and as people, their confidence and resilience noticeably increased as the two weeks progressed.”*

cricketwithoutboundaries.com and Cricket Without Boundaries blog.