ARUSHA, Tanzania — As a boy growing up in Tanzania, Juma Kittyler never gave the game of rugby much thought. In fact, he didn’t quite understand the sport until his teenage years. Most African youth grow up playing soccer, or football as it’s known across the continent.
At 19, Kittyler was asked to play a rugby match with some friends and he instantly fell in love with the sport. By the time he reached his twenties, Kittyler began playing for the national team, the Tanzania Twigas, where he’s since competed internationally 15 times.
“Rugby gave me the confidence to do well in school and succeed in life,” he says. “It also taught me sportsmanship and team work.”
A chef by trade, the now 30-year-old Kittyler decided to try his hand at coaching at-risk kids rugby not long after moving to Arusha from Mwanza, his home city.
In 2009, he founded Arusha Rugby Development Programme (ARDP). Kittyler now trains local kids, teachers and parents on the benefits of playing rugby, all while working as a P.E. (physical education) instructor at an international school on the outskirts of Arusha.
“It’s a great game,” he says. “I wanted to use my knowledge of the sport to help those less fortunate.”
After hearing about the work Kittyler is doing training youth to play the game he loves, Lewis Patience came to Tanzania from Scotland to provide support to ARDP and other Arusha sports programs.
As a trustee of Yes! Tanzania – Youth Empowerment through Sport – Patience works alongside Kittyler training youth how to play rugby. Every weekend the pair spend a few hours with students from the Arusha school on Fire Road in town.
Kittyler and Patience stand side-by-side watching the kids practice on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As Kittyler blows his whistle to stop the action, Patience remarks how far ARDP has come over the last four years.
“Juma shows commitment and dedication to the sport,” he says. “He’s also inclusive by allowing girls to compete alongside the boys.”
Girls ranging in ages from six to 14 participate regularly in ARDP practice sessions, according to Kittyler. In the Arusha school match, girls make up the majority of kids in the field playing on this specific afternoon.
“I like rugby,” one young girl says as she catches the ball near the sidelines.
For Kittyler, his rugby program is all about changing the lives of disadvantaged youth around Arusha. He hopes to expand ARDP to other parts of the country to reach youth all over Tanzania.
“In the future I was thinking about renaming ARDP to Tanzania Youth Rugby,” he says.
Rossa O’Donnell is project manager at Playing for Life, an Irish aid organization dedicated to helping children in Tanzania. O’Donnell just finished a trip to Arusha, where he donated 20 rugby balls, t-shirts, cones and water bottles from an Irish rugby club to ARDP.
“I believe rugby has the potential to bring a form of discipline and objective to the lives of Tanzanian kids,” O’Donnell says.”It can allow them to gain an enormous amount of self-confidence and it can result in what I have seen on the playing field, older players passing on the skills of the game to the younger players.”
According to Kittyler, rugby is growing faster in Arusha than anywhere else in Tanzania. Unfortunately in Africa, rugby isn’t a very popular sport amongst youth, excluding South Africa of course, where it’s the national game.
“The game will take time to grow on the continent, but I hope to see it become as popular here as it is in South Africa,” he says. “All I’m trying to do is give kids a chance to play rugby, then it’s up to them if they want to pursue it further.”
For a photo gallery of the ARDP practice session at Arusha school, click here.