Left the war in Rwanda – and became a handball coach in Sweden

About 20 years ago the then 24-year-old Fabien Manirebanimpuhwe left his war-torn home country of Rwanda for a new life in Sweden. One thing led to another and nowadays the 47-year-old is a well-liked youth coach at IFK Nora.
– The best thing is to see the joy from the children, says Manirebanimpuhwe to GoHandball.

April 7, 1994. As a part of the civil war in Rwanda, the genocide of more than 800,000 people of the Tutsi ethnic group began. Fabien Manirebanimpuhwe was 18 years old, and 6 years later he left the war in Eastern Africa for Sweden. Today, the 47-year-old lives in Nora, west of Stockholm, where he contributes as a handball coach in IFK Nora.

But let’s start this story during Fabien’s last year living in Rwanda, the years after the genocide back in 1994.

– When I managed to survive the genocide it was all about starting over from scratch. Nothing in the country was working, there were no hospitals or schools. Everything was shut down after the war, Fabien Manirebanimpuhwe says to GoHandball.

Fabien had just finished his education in construction and had already built a couple of houses in the private sector. Then the government in Rwanda decided to use the knowledge that was in the prison system.

– After the war and the genocide a lot of people were prisoners, around 150 000 people. That meant that the conditions in the prisons were quite different from how it is in Sweden for example. People were basically stacked on top of each other. And therefore the prisoners took construction jobs with joy, they wanted to go outside and enjoy the fresh air.

– That meant that we who wanted to work in that business had no job opportunities. And that’s why I had to do something else. During that period a lot more foreign people, among them journalists, started to show interest in Rwanda and what had happened in the country.

At that time Fabien had used some money he had saved to buy a car, a car he used in his new job as a taxi driver. And it was during that period that he came in contact with some Swedish documentary filmmakers, who were visiting Rwanda to make a documentary about Rwanda and the civil war.

– When you do that type of work abroad that the Swedes were doing, half the time is spent on asking for permission for different things. I could offer them help there since I had connections.

– We got along very well and when the project was finished I asked them if they would consider coming back to Rwanda to make another in-depth movie about the country.

The Swedes returned and this time Fabien was also a producer of the movie. The movie needed to be translated to several languages, among them French, and that’s why Fabien moved to Sweden, where he got a working visa for 1 year.

Flash forward a few years and Fabien had decided to move back to Rwanda. However, his boss in Sweden asked him to extend his visa. The Swedish Migration Board suggested that he instead applied for permanent residence in Sweden, which he did.

Time went on and eventually, Fabien got tired of life making documentary movies since he believed that it was more about asking people for money than the actual movie. After a few years in Stockholm, he got married and moved to Nora, a small town 2 hours west of Stockholm. There he still lives today with his wife and their 2 daughters.

How did handball come into your life?

– I did athletics when I was young and asked our first daughter if she wanted to try. We ran a bit but she got to upset when she didn’t win so that did not work.

– When we had a birthday party for her when she turned 5 a couple of her friends talked about handball. She tried it and never missed a practice.

Fabien became a handball parent and started to spend more and more time in the facility. This was back in 2015.

– I did all the things you do in a small club when you are a parent to one of the players, he explains.

5 years later the couple got their second daughter, who also plays handball today.

– Then I spent even more time at practices and matches. As a parent, I want to do everything I can to help my children do great things in their free time.

Today Fabien coaches the youngest players in IFK Nora.

– It looked like the club had to end that team last year since there was no one ready to take over for the coach that had decided to quit. Then I thought that I still spent that much time there, why not help and do my best as a coach even though I had no experience? It’s a team sport and I tried some handball when I was young in Rwanda.

– Today I can say that it was a great decision. It’s amazing to see how happy the kids are.

What’s the best thing about handball?

– The best thing is to meet people. I am very interested in meeting new people. We live in Nora, which is a very small place, and it’s great for people to meet. We can all help each other. And as we say in Africa: it takes a village to raise kids, says Fabien Manirebanimpuhwe.