As I sit here in Gulu, Northern Uganda for one final evening, it is so very difficult to put this past week into perspective. Our team of volunteers from the US and Europe have shared a week with our staff and our partner schools that they will not soon forget. The struggles here in Uganda are real, but they are not insurmountable. The pain here in Uganda is real, but it is not beyond healing.
I know that for each of our volunteers there are a few names, a few faces, a few stories that will forever be their Uganda. What we are attempting to do as an organization is not an easy task: bringing hope and positive change into 6,000+ lives across Uganda through soccer and education initiatives. But each of our team members is a testament to the fact that our work is making an impact, and leaving in its wake seeds of hope and positive change.
As the Executive Director for Fields of Dreams Uganda, it is one of my greatest joys to see the winds of change blow through our partner schools. I have been truly encouraged as a two-fold transformation has begun to take place at three of our partner schools in the north, one by way of the physical appearance of the campus, and another by the pride and confidence in which the students have interacted with their teachers, our FoDU staff, and the volunteers this week.
One of those campuses is Gulu PTC Demonstration Primary School. This campus has a long history in providing shelter for the night commuters in the North during the height of the LRA. The campus can be drab and depressing to the naked eye, but slight improvements have started to take shape in the form of better dormitories for the boarding children, including new beds purchased from the FoDU grant monies. The bigger change however is the joy that has been seen and felt from the children. Our volunteer team and local FoDU staff spent Wednesday of this past week on this campus, and all that our team could talk about was the joy of the children. These children have not been exposed to a different reality than the rest of Gulu, they have not been given a bubble to insulate themselves from abuse, hunger, and pain. And yet, all we saw during the day was smiles, all we heard throughout the day was singing and laughter. This does not happen without a dedicated head teacher, and wonderful support staff taking the lead, as our programs provide support and help to undergird the access and quality of the education provided. Gulu PTC is just one example of the positive outcomes that our development work in Northern Uganda is working.
Yesterday, as many of you have seen through the photos, was our Northern Championship Tournament. This is Christmas for the children at our partner schools. What brings me the most joy on tournament days is seeing the friends connect across campuses, and the pride in which the children present themselves. You are hard pressed to find an orphan amongst us on tournament day, instead you see serious athletes combing the tournament grounds cheering on their friends, and waiting for their turn to compete. One special joy from yesterday was a sweet girl named Mary Patience. She was a foot and half shorter than all of the other players, and in all likely hood at least 6 years younger than some of the girls competing, but she held her own on the pitch. Starting all of the matches at midfield, Mary Patience even found a spot on the select team.
As this team of volunteers wraps up their time here in Uganda to return to their respective homes on Sunday, I believe they are leaving this beautiful country as changed men and women. You cannot see what we have seen, and heard what we have heard, and simply remain the same. Uganda has taught us new truths about determination, about joy, about family, about generosity and hospitality, and we are better people for having been immersed into the Pearl of Africa. This is not a land of fairy tales, far from it, but it is a land full of promise and hope, and a nation of children ready to make their positive mark on history.
As I drop this team at Entebbe International Airport tomorrow night, I will be picking up a new team of 18 volunteers to serve our Central Region during the coming week. This team will be distributing hygiene kits, organizing girl empowerment workshops, and hosting soccer clinics at our four partner schools around Kampala. I can only hope that their experience will be much the same.
If you have followed the blogs and photos during this past week, and been moved, inspired, or motivated to get involved, please don’t wait. Life is too short, and too much can happen while we WAIT to get involved. There are countless ways in which you can support our work. We need school supplies and soccer gear for our partner schools; we need monthly donors willing to sacrifice their finances so that our programming can continue to make a positive impact; we need people serving on our board and volunteering in their communities to spread the word about our work; and lastly we need people who are willing to look our students in the eyes and tell them that they are loved, and that their life matters.
Perhaps you are one of those people, and perhaps Uganda could change your life for the better as well! Please consider getting more deeply involved, and registration is still open for our June and July trips.