From JFK to KAMPALA to BUSIA

First Impressions

It has been twelve days since I arrived in Uganda and thus far, my experience has been incredible. As is common with any event or adventure that is yet to be encountered, the fear of the unknown originally made me quite anxious about my time in Uganda. Having never traveled to sub-Saharan Africa, there was admittedly some trepidation presiding over my instincts. The car ride from Entebbe international airport to the heart of Kampala confirmed some of these initial worries, as African traffic and transport has its own set of rules and regulations that I don’t believe I ever could have readied myself for. Nevertheless, as is true with any aspect of a foreign culture (including even the traffic), you learn to adapt. So the past twelve days really have been a matter of adaptation for me, as I’ve had to transition from life in America to a stint in urban Kampala and then ultimately, to a settlement in the more rural area of Busia, Uganda.

Joined by Richard Smith, a fellow CAC member and friend of mine, I reached Kampala on the second of June in the mid-afternoon. Steve Tharakan, another coach on the CAC team, soon greeted us. Over the course of the next three days, two more coaches, Deb Glazer and Ivan Perez, would meet us in Kampala until we were all ready to embark for Busia on June 5. Unfortunately, Steve, Deb, and Ivan all had to leave Busia for the Pader District in northern Uganda later that week. Luckily, we all had a great time in our time together in Kampala.

As the capital of Uganda, Kampala is highly populated and literally always bustling. Since I stayed in a hotel located right in the heart of the business district, I can affirm that some type of industry is occurring at all hours of the night. The surroundings were quite intimidating at first, but the city and its people are all incredibly welcoming and unassuming. Having experienced the city both during the day in such locations as the Gaddafi mosque and Makerere University and at night in various restaurants and nightclubs, I can easily say that I never felt threatened once. Naturally, I received a stare on occasion, but as soon as I greeted anybody with a “Hello, How are you,” a smile from the recipient soon ensued, often followed by some form of friendly conversation.

Remarkably, some of the best conversation occurred in the back of a matatu on the way to Busia from Kampala. A main form of public transportation in Uganda, matatus are essentially minivans that are supposed to fit a range of 8 to 12 people. Somehow, Steve, Deb, Rich, and I joined 16 others in the back of a matatu, successfully cramming ourselves into positions that are probably not supposed to be held for five hour bus rides. The positions were held nonetheless. And although the experience could have been taken as miserable, we had the company of each other as well as many others on the bus, allowing us to make the most of the event. By the end of the ride, Rich had even managed to befriend three small children who were sitting on the lap of a mother from Busia, while Deb arranged a contact with a Kenyan woman who had an extra 20 hours of matatu travel left after our exit in Busia.

Located on the eastern border of Uganda, adjacent to Kenya, Busia is a town that seems much smaller than it really is. Although it only encompasses a relatively limited commercial area, its outskirts stretch for miles. As such, it possesses a sizable population of 50,000. Greeted by Nick Gates, the founder of CAC, as well as two other CAC coaches, Anna Rodenbough and Sophie Legros, we all arrived in Busia of the night of June 5th. The next few days consisted of training in which all the new members of the program, including Richard and myself, learned all the games that we would be using during our time in Uganda. As previously stated, Steve, Ivan, and Deb traveled up north for a program in the Pader district, accompanied by Nick and Sophie. Rich and I, on the other hand, remained in Busia with Anna, eager to start the program that would take place for the next 7 weeks.

CAC’s main partner here in Busia is New Hope Orphanage. As soon as we arrived, the orphanage welcomed us with open arms, making us feel at home in a wonderfully respectful manner. I can safely say that one of the greatest experiences of my life occurred when the CAC team ventured to the orphanage for a welcoming that all the children prepared for us. By the end of the event, we were all dancing and singing together. As Ivan mentioned after the event, I don’t think any of us will ever be able to go to any type of dance back in the States. It simply won’t be able to compete with the fun we had with the children. It really is amazing to contemplate that all of these children are orphans, living on a yearly income that most of us spend in a week, and yet they are always smiling, enjoying themselves, and looking after each other. The unity and joy they possess is hard to fathom, inexplicable really. You simply have to witness something like it for yourself to understand.

Although our main partner is New Hope Orphanage, many other schools and organizations throughout Busia heard about CAC’s partnership with New Hope. As a result, CAC has now outreached to the greater area of Busia, offering our services to 16 schools and thousands of children. Affiliated with Straight Talk, a local youth development organization in Busia, all of these schools will meet with CAC a total of five times each throughout the summer. Each session will deal with different topics including health and wellness, conflict resolution, HIV/AIDS prevention, female empowerment, and most importantly, FUN. Currently, our focus is on Football for Health and Wellness. For this branch of the organization, we aim to teach children why it is important to be healthy and strong. Once each school has a received a session on health and wellness, CAC will transition into a session on conflict resolution, followed by HIV/AIDS prevention, then female empowerment, and finally, fun.

Two of the main problems in Busia that are pertinent to the CAC curriculum are HIV/AIDS and sexual exploitation of young females. Through our units on HIV/AIDS prevention and female empowerment, we plan to educate children on the importance of these matters. The messages that we send through football are often quite straightforward. For example, in our unit on HIV/AIDS, we simply stress the vitality of making good choices (e.g. wear a condom, get tested, etc.) – something that many children in primary and secondary schools already know. However, it is the manner in which we present this information that makes CAC unique. Unlike many NGO organizations that come in, sit children down, and lecture them on what they shouldn’t do, CAC uses football games to offer children a choice on what they should do. As a result, negative language becomes positive language, and children feel as if their voices truly matter.

Another huge component of CAC is fun. The games that we teach are relayed in an enjoyable manner so that even if children are not going to utilize the information we present to them, we at least bring them some joy in the time we spend with them. Looking at our website, you may find an endless stream of pictures in which children are smiling. These pictures do not lie. Having now coached for nearly two weeks, I can promise you that throughout the sessions children are smiling. Whether it is 20 adolescents participating in a session organized for a predominantly male secondary school, or over 150 girls participating in a session arranged for a female primary school, the children all enjoy themselves. In the process, they become healthier, as a 90 minute session filled with fun and education proves beneficial for adolescents of any age group.

With 7 weeks left to go, I look forward to the experiences, challenges, and football sessions that I face in front of me. Although Anna has been with me and Richard in Busia for over a week, she leaves tomorrow. Her experience with the program and expertise of Africa in general has proven invaluable. I am very grateful that I have been able to spend a week coaching with her, as I have learned very much from the style in which she teaches. Nevertheless, even though she must leave, I, along with Richard, am ready to run the program for the next three weeks until Grace, a fellow CAC coach, comes and joins us. Certainly, now that I have learned the games and have adapted a coaching style that can be adjusted when need be, the idea of working with thousands of children does not sound so intimidating. Moreover, the work that we do here does not seem repetitive either. Although we teach the same topics to each group of primary or secondary school children, each session is different in its own right, as all of the groups have their own respective dynamics that make them entertaining and unique.

Furthermore, one of the more rewarding aspects of this program is the respect the African children grant you as you interact with them. Although I am referred to as the muzungu, or the white person, at the start of each session, by the end the children treat me as their equal, calling me JB and giving me high fives and fist claps as much as possible. As a coach, it is this sense of respectful companionship that is really quite fulfilling. But even more so, as a person, you can’t help but smile at people who smile and laugh with you. And man these kids smile. So don’t mind if I do, but I plan on sharing a few more of these smiles and laughs over the next few weeks. Be sure to come back and read about them whenever you get the chance.

Thanks always,
JB

P.S. As always, feel free to visit our website http://www.coachesacrosscontinents.com

OH AND GO USA!!!!!!

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