By Bertrand Byishimo
Roaming through Bugesera District, you’ll notice many women who are casually doing something considered ‘a man’s thing’ — riding a bicycle. A woman riding a bicycle, sometimes with a baby in her back, is a common sight here.
In the same district, a bicycle is one of the resources given to a couple to take to the new home before marriage.
It is here that Serge Gasore, a former athlete, noticed the enthusiasm of cycling among women and opted to start a team of female cyclists; the “Bugesera Women Cycling Team”.
“Cycling has become a culture in this community, that is why I sought a way to turn that hobby into a development activity, especially for the women, because they are as capable as the men,” Gasore tells The New Times.
Starting its operations in 2020, the team has grown to seven teenage girls and young women under the age of 20, though the development was disrupted by Covid-19’s outbreak in mid-March.
Early in the morning, the team wakes up and starts cycling practices for kilometres, which increases depending on their schedule.
When we visited, the young cyclists were coming from Gako Military Training Camp to their school in Bugesera. It is a 24km journey that was carried out in less than three hours.
According to their coach, Valerie Uwizeyimana, the team has developed from a ride of less than five to 90 kilometres.
“Yes! They can even ride from Bugesera to Muhanga (more than 100km) and end the race within seven hours. However, most of them could not even walk five kilometres when they first came here,” she comments.
Divine Tumukunde, the 16-year-old captain of the team, recalls how she decided to join the team as a way to develop her talent.
“I realised I had cycling skills. I wanted to develop those skills and so I joined the team. They helped me practice a lot and I became the first runner-up in the district competition. This is the result of the practices we are given here,” she explains.
The whole team opts to live at the campus where they carry out daily exercises, but the priority is education, according to Innocente Uwamahoro, the secretary general of the cycling home.
“Cycling is not our priority; our priority is education. The ladies are here to be educated, learn disciplinary values and later on, we move on to cycling, but it is not our first intention,” she says.
The same views are echoed by another teenager present at the campus, Claudine Tuyishimire, a 16-year-old senior three student.
“I also enjoy the way this foundation wants to develop well-rounded individuals with disciplinary and moral values. So, we take discipline courses, we have time to revise our studies, so it’s not only about cycling,” the young cyclist says.
The female riders who consider Valens Ndayisenga and Abraham Ruhumuliza their role models performed well during the last Rwanda Cycling Cup as they were among the top winners.
The cycling home whose biggest target is sending their players to participate in Tour du France, was founded in partnership with Bugesera District, Rwanda Governance Board and The United Nations Development Program.
Apart from the women’s cycling home, the former athlete also works with several other public institutions like hospitals, libraries and schools that aim at supporting survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. 33-year-old Gasore was also capped “Umurinzi w’igihango” (Protector of Friendship Pact) by The Unity Club.