By Josh Massoud
October 09, 2008
END-of-season trips don't get more insane than this. We're talking six footballers, three flights, 38 hours of sleep-deprivation and a sombre display case bearing 27 human skulls.
Rwanda, meet Nathan Hindmarsh, Todd Carney, Justin Poore, Jarryd Hickey, Todd Payten and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.
Fellas ... meet Rwanda.
This is the rugby league equivalent of putting man on the moon. They've gone where no league player has been before: into deepest Africa.
Behold the Third World - malaria, mass graves and a charity project called the Village of Hope.
The simple township sits just outside the dusty Rwandan capital, Kigali. Australian missionaries established the village to accommodate widows left behind after the country's 1994 genocide which saw a million people hacked to bits.
But what business do half-a-dozen NRL stars have here?
Enter Paul Osborne, the former Canberra Grand Final hero with a passion for Africa.
About three months ago, Osborne decided to take his 14-year-old son Jacob to Rwanda to help build the village. Then he got thinking.
"I thought, if an experience like this works for a 14-year-old - to help turn him from a boy into a man - then why couldn't it work for these guys," Osborne says.
"A lot of today's footballers have never grown up. I've had a real thing about Africa for a few years. The developed world needs to realise what's going on here."
He made up his mind. He decided to choose six players to come along.
"Off the field, it's been a tough year for the game," Osborne continues. "Everyone knows about that. What people don't see is the good things that happen in the NRL.
"I'm hoping this will open people's eyes, including the players."
So here we are at Sydney airport. Less than 24 hours after the decider, waiting for QF63 to Johannesburg. Osborne goes through the players one by one, explaining why they were hand-picked for this journey.
Hindmarsh: "He doesn't tolerate fools and I respect that."
Payten: "I've known him for a while and he's done a lot of charity stuff in that time."
Hickey: "(Former) Bulldogs trainer Scott Campbell has two Ethiopian kids and he recommended him."
Poore: "He's a nice kid from a good family. I knew he would appreciate something like this."
Carney: "I've watched him from afar. He needs a mentor."
Waera-Hargreaves: "I'd never met him. He's only 19 and hasn't played first grade yet with Manly. But his manager insisted he come because his father served in wars in Africa."
Almost 40 hours later we trudge into the Banana Guest House in downtown Kigali.
Gentleman, this is Africa. Red dust covers everything like a light sweat. Nothing makes sense to us.
The landscape is all hills, picturesque to photograph but infuriating to navigate. The biggest hill opposite our lodgings is home to the Kigali Memorial Centre.
The players agree to forgo much-needed sleep and go there a couple of hours after arriving.
The centre is testament to the genocide - a calculated 100-day spree of rape and decapitation in which the Hutu majority attempted to eradicate their Tutsi countrymen, women and children.
The players enter in a jovial mood but during the next 90 minutes not one wisecrack is heard. Not one word.
This is why. Upstairs is a tiny exhibit with huge photographs of 12 murdered children. One of them is Ariane Umutoni, a wide-eyed little girl with a slight smile. Her inscription reads: "Age: 4. Favourite food: Cake. Favourite drink: Milk. Enjoyed: Singing and dancing. Behaviour: A nice little girl. Cause of Death: Stabbed in the eyes and head."
On account of his own two children, Hindmarsh couldn't bring himself to go inside. The lesson was apparent, nevertheless.
"The NRL does a lot of seminars and education, but this is something totally different," he says afterwards.
"The life skills they try to teach are nothing compared to what you read and see in that museum."
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