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Hockey Night in Rwanda

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Mark Koop and the team at Youth Unlimited, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of young people, have one aim: to transform a generation, from the inside out.

The counselors gravitate towards youths with similar interests and that has Koop, an area director for North Vancouver, mentoring teens that enjoy skateboarding.

Part of the mission of Youth Unlimited is to connect local youths with kids living life to the fullest, albeit quite differently. For Koop, that entails traveling to Rwanda every two years with a group of teenagers and this summer the 42-year-old will make his fifth trip to Rwanda and he’ll bring 14 wide-eyed teens with him.

The youths have to raise money for the trip and to help them out, Koop recently organized a fundraiser at a church in North Vancouver called Hockey Night in Rwanda; 300 people gathered for a BBQ, there were silent auction prizes and everyone took in the final Vancouver Canucks game of regular season, a 3-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers to clinch the team’s second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy.

To get the crowd pumped up for the Canucks game, and to help connect everyone at the fundraiser with the trip to Rwanda they were supporting, Koop showed a three minute and 27 second video that touched everyone in attendance and has since gone viral.

A month ago Koop was in Rwanda on a pre-scouting trip in advance of his excursion this summer when the light bulb went off in his head.

“We wanted everyone at the fundraiser to make the connection to Rwanda, so we thought we’d get the Rwandan kids talking about hockey and the Canucks,” explained Koop. “The funny thing about interviewing the kids was that we set out to interview them, but they were all in class at the time, except there were these kids walking down this path towards this other building. So we just started stopping them on their way and we talked to them as if they knew exactly what hockey was all about and as though they knew exactly who the Canucks are.”

Because kids say the darndest things, hilarity ensued.

While the majority of the kids interviewed were more than happy to embrace the Canucks and this new fandangled sport called 'hockey,' one boy, we’ll assume the rabble-rouser of the group, used the platform to let the world know he’s an Edmonton Oilers fan.

His name is Magnifique, French for magnificent, exactly what this touching video is, largely because of this young boy’s antics.

“It really surprised me, so I questioned him on it and he kept saying 'yes' over and over again, so then it became a mission of trying to turn him into a Canucks fan,” laughed Koop.

While Koop eventually got Magnifique to quietly chant ‘Go Canucks Go’, Koop later found out there was a good reason Magnifique was displaying some rebellious flair earlier on.

“It turns out that while walking on this path, all these kids of different ages, they were on their way to the washroom, so we’re these stupid foreigners interviewing kids about a sport they know nothing about while they’re desperate to get to the washroom,” explained Koop, with a chuckle.

When in Rwanda in a few months, Koop and the youths lucky enough to be part of the trip will surely take another run at fully converting Magnifique into a Canucks fan and teaching others about Vancouver’s team, while Rwandans will in turn help broaden the horizons of their visiting friends.

“The reason for the trip is that as we work with youth here, we recognize many are experiencing their own kind of poverty, poverty in a boarder sense of the word. It may not be financial poverty or economic poverty, especially compared to people in developing countries like Rwanda, but many Rwandan’s are far richer in ways that we’re poor, and that’s in relationships, sense of community, and a sense of caring for one another.

“By connecting the two it opens up their eyes to a whole new reality of a new kind of poverty, at a time when they’re ready to graduate from high school and go into university, so there’s a whole new education that happens. It helps create a whole new worldview for them.”

Click here for more information on Youth Unlimited.

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