Jean-Claude Rugigana: learning through karate

A former national karate athlete, Jean-Claude directed his love and passion for sport into the design and delivery of his IOC Young Leaders project, a sports camp promoting health, well-being and the Olympic values to young people in Rwanda.

Jean-Claude Rugigana - Learning through karate

Please tell us about your background.

I am a former Rwandan national karate athlete and now support the Rwanda women’s national team as an assistant coach. A friend introduced me to the sport and when I entered the dojo (a space where people practise karate), I felt a sense of belonging. I became more and more interested in the sport, and as my level of engagement rose, I earned different opportunities to represent myself, my school and university at different competitions at national level.

The opportunity to serve the Olympic Movement as an IT & Communication Officer for the NOC of Rwanda, where I have been involved in different sports projects, including a visit to Olympia, Greece, in 2019, gave me a new perspective on the power of sport and how it could be used to change people’s lives. And this inspired me to come up with the “Best Holidays Karate for Children” project.

What has sport given you?

Sport has contributed immensely to who I am today. As I reflected on my sports career and my own experiences in sport, I realised that sport would be my best tool to use in giving back to my society.  Being a professional in the technology sector has brought me specific skillsets; however, the skills I learned in sport, such as leadership, team management, partnership and other interpersonal competences, have been instrumental to my personal and professional growth.

Jean-Claude Rugigana - Learning through karate IOC

Describe your IOC Young Leaders project in terms of its objectives, impact and current updates.

Running under the Champions Karate Academy, my “Best Holidays Karate for Children” project is a sports camp taking place during school holidays. The camp was designed with the Sustainable Development Goal 3 in mind, namely good health and wellbeing in addition to a focus on the Olympic values. We bring this purpose to life through sports activities, targeting young people from 4 to 16 years of age. We offer karate, basketball, sports chanbara and badminton, amongst others. 

The project idea was created to address the lack of activities offered to young people during their school holidays. It was apparent that during these breaks from school, young people were wasting time watching television and playing video games, a concern that was shared by their parents. As they were looking for a safe place where their kids could be occupied with sport, learning and educational activities, the project idea and objectives resonated with parents.

Within a one-year period, the project has impacted 229 children and, as participation of women in sports still lags behind compared to some other sectors in Rwanda, we were proud of having 75 girls included in our project. To ensure the sustainability of the initiative and others, I have also founded both the Sport4Change Media and Sport4Change Network to communicate and bring more visibility and resources to projects and initiatives using sport for social change.

How has your project impacted your community?

It has really been a joy to watch the young people who have been part of the project now earning their different-coloured karate belts, exuding confidence and positive energy.  Based on the feedback received from parents and family members, we know that the participating young people have also excelled in their learning environments and at home.  Most parents agree on two key things about the impact of our training: their children are now more prone to focus and accomplish the tasks they have been given to do at home and at school, and they have gained self-confidence that allows them to express themselves fully and with confidence in public.

In relation to sports performance, some of our young karate athletes have competed at international and national karate competitions and performed well because of our camp training.

Jean-Claude Rugigana - Learning through karate IOC

What are you most proud of regarding your project?

Firstly, I am proud to see how the young people taking part have changed their behaviours in positive ways. Secondly, we are proud that two children who were part of my project participated in the first African Kata E-Championship U-14 held from 12 to 20 December 2020. One participant, Aimable Nshuti, aged 9, won a bronze medal, while Kaela Akamanzi Kabalisa, 10, finished in fifth place.

What does the IOC Young Leaders Programme mean to you?

It is always an honour to be called an “IOC Young Leader”, and I have learned from my participation in this programme that it is the ideal platform for young people around the world who are committed to contributing to the IOC's vision of building a better world through sport.

What have been your top learnings from being part of the programme?

My best learnings from being part of the programme have centred around leadership and project management skills, a reminder to never give up despite the obstacles (delivering a project during the pandemic), and to continue to try to understand the power of sport and how it can be used in overcoming the challenges of today’s world.

Please provide two pieces of advice to the next generation of problem-solvers.

I urge all young leaders to take full advantage of any opportunity that will be offered to them to achieve their dreams and to remember, when starting a new project, to pay close attention to the process.

How important has the support of TOP Partner Panasonic been to your project?

In partnership with the IOC, Panasonic has financially supported my project, and this has contributed to the credibility, visibility and sustainability of my initiative.

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