Chris Cardoza

Photo Essay: The Rise of Basketball in Rwanda

Basketball is rising in popularity in Rwanda, and one nonprofit is using the sport to tackle some of the country's biggest issues.

Dec 25 2015, 2:30pm

Chris Cardoza

In Rwanda, people have been showing up in masses to an unlikely and uncommon place: the basketball court. Like most of the world, Rwandans love soccer. But for the past three years basketball has emerged as a new favorite, especially among people under the age of 25, who make up 67% of the country's population. The story of Rwanda's hoop culture consists of much more than just the game itself. The courts are different compared to your blacktops in Harlem—what with goats feeding on the sidelines and banana trees lining the baseline. But courts also act as schools and community centers where health professionals, politicians and local organizations show up to influence the younger generation as the country tries to move forward from its genocidal past.

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A Boston based NGO, Shooting Touch, is fostering the emergence of the sport with the deliberate goal of using the game to educate. They have built five courts in Rwanda's Eastern Province, strategically placing them next to HIV/AIDS testing facilities, libraries, and hospitals. They organize massive tournaments attracting hundreds of players, spectators, government officials and local celebrities while giving lectures on malaria prevention, gender based violence and basic health tips during half time.


Erick Niyitanga, 18, in his bedroom in Nyamirama, Rwanda. Erick is a basketball coach and provider for his entire family of 5. He dropped out of school in order to work odd jobs, such as cleaning and construction every morning. Erick never misses a practice and goes to the court at least twice a day along with his brother and sisters. He credits basketball with teaching him about trust and how to be a man.


Erick sits in front of his home in Nyamirama, Rwanda. His home has not had electricity in the three years since his father passed away.


An artist paints the Adidas logo on a court in Kayonza, Rwanda following a sponsorship from employee Chris Rivers.


A team warms up before their practice on a court sponsored by Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager, Sam Presti.


Pasifique Mutabazi, 14, crosses up a defender during a semifinal game between Rwinkwavu and Nyamirama for a spot in the weekend's tournament.


Pasifique Mutabazi, 14, shoots a free throw in Nyamirama, Rwanda.


Fabiola Niwenshuti, 23, (left) a pharmacy student in Kigali, leads an HIV/AIDS lecture on a court in between games at a Shooting Touch tournament in Kayonza, Rwanda.


A court in Kayonza, Rwanda next to the Kayonza Youth Friendly Center where free HIV/AIDS and pregnancy testing is administered.


An athlete shows of his new basketball shoes compared to his old ones.


Just like in the States, is a huge part of basketball in Rwanda.


Athletes in Kayonza showing off their new LA Lakers jerseys.


Gideon Ndatimana, 11, of Kayonza shows off his follow through.


Isaac Turatsinze, 8, of Kayonza holds on to an old rim for repairs. The rims keep breaking off after dunks, as the backboards rot during the rainy season.


A court in Rukara, Rwanda. It's often a child's responsibility to care for the family's animals throughout the day, so they take their cows and goats to the court while they play.


Djihad Bizimana, 14, on a basketball court in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda.