July 9th, 2012: Many of these blogs are about moments that surprise us on our travels around the world. Moments when a coach in a program does something more than we expected, or succeeds in ways we hadn’t expected. But some of our participants are not surprising at all. They ooze leadership from the moment we meet them. And it’s just as important to know about these folks as the ones that surprise us.
Three days from the end of our two-week stay in the Northern Ugandan town of Pader, we headed off to a local primary school with about forty teenagers from Friends of Orphans (FRO), a local vocational school that focuses on educating and rehabilitating teens. We were asking our young coaches to run a session at the primary school, which is a tall order because the school has over one thousand students, and more than ten percent are physically disabled in some way. But Douglas Ibrahim showed up with a training top tucked tightly into black dress pants. And he carried a whistle. You don’t bring a whistle to a session with a few hundred schoolchildren without knowing what you’re going to do with it. Douglas had planned ahead. When we asked what games to play with the kids, he had a roster of suggestions. When we got started, he stepped to the center and delivered clear instructions in Acholi, the local language. I wasn’t sure what he was saying, but the kids’ behavior soon told me, as they executed
games we had taught Douglas and his classmates over the past two weeks: darting in and out of the circle of friends, executing warm-up exercises and clasping hands and shouting their names when they reached the other side; walking, then pretending to dribble, through a series of ball skills developed from the famed Christiano Ronaldo; and explaining a hopping exercise that asked players to leap to pre-designated spots numbered one through four. Douglas even finished with a brief explanation about why it is important to warm-up before working hard in the hopping exercise, exhibiting information he had learned from a conversation on this subject during the previous week. Several of his fellow students helped, following Douglas’ lead, repeating his instructions and demonstrations to individual children. Some of these classmates had not been very attentive during our training sessions, but clearly having Douglas at the helm motivated them and gave them confidence to run the session. The Coaches Across Continents staff didn’t say a word. We merely watched. And then we played, pulled into the session by the most intriguing element of Douglas’ leadership: the whistle. He used it whistle lightly, barely blowing into it. The feeble sound wasn’t commanding, as most whistles sound in training. It was supportive, almost congratulatory. It increased participation rather than decreasing it by being chastising. It lured all of us into playing the games and learning the lessons.
Douglas Ibrahim had no previous experience in working with young children. An orphan by age thirteen, he was resettled near
Pader five years ago, and put into an entirely foreign community, even an entirely new family. Ibrahim struggled at first, and his host community recommended him for FRO, which fully funds education for the marginalized youth it accepts. Life at FRO is regimented, but full of encouragement, and Douglas was nurtured by that encouragement. He became more appreciative of his new community, and now has been entrusted by them to develop a tree line to stem erosion in their farm fields. Besides his farming skills, Douglas is studying to be an auto mechanic and works nights as security for a local bank. He’s busy because he has a plan. He wants to save enough money to buy land and build a farm back in his original hometown, where he also wants to start a local football program for children. Douglas was a leader before he joined our Coaches Across Continents program, but his experience and personality helped make the program a success, just as we’re sure he’ll use our games and messages (along with his friendly whistle) to run a youth soccer organization that develops leaders on and off the field.