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Australian Jockey and Trainer Volunteer in Rwanda

Aug 13th, 10
FRESH from a volunteer trip to Rwanda, this top Australian jockey and trainer have realised there is more to life than horse racing.

They are the inhabitants of a Rwandan orphanage that is home to children either abandoned or orphaned because of AIDS or civil war.

It is here that Melbourne jockey Michelle Payne and Sydney trainer Gabrielle Englebrecht spent four weeks recently doing volunteer work - and realising there is more to life than horse racing.

"Working as a volunteer in Rwanda was a big reality check, it put our lives into perspective," Englebrecht said.

"We whinge if we don't get a winner or something like that but after working in that orphanage, it made our lives and our problems seem so trivial."

Englebrecht and Payne spent their days as carers at the orphanage, doing activities with the children and helping them learn to read and write.

But they soon realised that things we take for granted, like basic nutrition and healthcare, are often denied the orphaned children.

"Their diet is very basic, all they eat is porridge, rice and potatoes every day for their entire lives," Englebrecht said.

"So each day Michelle and I would go down to the village and barter with the locals for 50 pieces of fruit that we would give to the children."

Payne said the demands of her job as a jockey paled into insignificance when compared to the troubles the orphan children of Rwanda faced every day.

"Racing can be all-consuming at times," Payne said.

"Your weight battles and the demands of the job sort of blot out the rest of the world, but this trip reminded me just how lucky we are back here.

"The simplest things bought a smile to their faces."

Englebrecht recalled a harrowing moment when she realised a baby girl was ill and needed urgent medical attention.

"We asked for the baby to be taken to a doctor but the people running the orphanage said she would be fine," she said.

"The next day, the little girl was very unwell, wasn't eating or drinking and had a high temperature.

"But we had to argue for about an hour before we could finally leave the orphanage with the baby. We had to pay for a taxi ourselves to go into the village and find a doctor - it was such an ordeal."

Englebrecht and Payne admitted their Rwanda experience was more confronting than they had expected.

"The genocide there happened only about 15 years ago and the country is still recovering," Englebrecht said.

"Many of the kids we met had their entire families wiped out and are still living the nightmare of the genocide.

"It seemed everyone in Rwanda had a story about hiding from the soldiers, doing what they could just to survive.

"When people of our generation think about war we think about something that happened many, many years ago but after visiting Rwanda, you realise this has happened in your lifetime - it is difficult to understand, almost surreal."

Englebrecht had done some volunteer work at an animal rehabilitation centre in South Africa a few years ago and always wanted to do more.

She had contacted the Global Volunteer Network and had arranged to travel to Rwanda alone before Payne said she wanted to join her.

"We spent four weeks in Rwanda and really enjoyed the experience - I think we would both love to do it again," Englebrecht said.

"For a trainer, it is difficult time-wise to go away for so long but I was really surprised because all my clients were very supportive.

"I love racing and training racehorses is what I want to do for the rest of my life but after going to Rwanda and working at the orphanage, I realise there is so much more to life."

Herald and Weekly Times

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