Coaching female empowerment to the field in the aftermath of Joseph Kony


    By Kevin O’Donovan


    The Montréal Review, May 2012


    It would be disingenuous to imply I wasn’t prepared for the level of penury greeting me in Pader Town, Uganda-former slaughter zone for Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. I fully expected the half naked, filthy little children; the intermittent availability of power and water; the constant saturation of sweat, 30% DEET, and red dirt. I knew to expect the choice of three items, the same three items, at all three meals, for days on end. I’d been to Africa before. What I’d not expected was an upfield drive from the most violated demographic.

    In early 2007, well before the tragedies of Northern Uganda so captured the interest of the social media generation, my buddy Nick sat sipping his fruit juice in my apartment. Without a trace of his usual dry British wit, he asked, “Can you think of any games-any soccer games-that could convey positive messages in Africa?”

    Nick’s then involvement in Play Soccer, a US-based organization, had always been vague to me. As vague as my background in the arts was to him. After all, we had other common interests. My wife and I met Nick on the Inca Trail in 2003 and ever since, nearly all companionship has involved swapping travel stories.

    In the summer of 2011 our travel narratives would cross paths again.

    Nick recruited me to shoot a promotional video of his sport-for-development NGO, Coaches Across Continents (CAC). Now in its fourth year and established in thirteen countries, CAC was recently partnered with a local organization that reintegrated the former child soldiers and child “brides” of the Lord’s Resistance Army into the larger community.

    For those who do not recall-or have thus far missed the unprecedented YouTube video Kony 2012 -the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), was a marauding rebel force in the north of Uganda that raided villages and abducted children for more than two decades. Joseph Kony and the LRA were pushed from Uganda in 2005/2006 but continue to wreak devastation in neighboring countries. Abducted youth were coerced to commit a variety of atrocities. Children were ordered to kill their own families. Parents tearfully pled with their children to comply, lest the children themselves be killed. Boys became the militia. Abducted girls were forced to service the sexual appetites of the militia.

    While essential efforts such as Kony 2012 must be aimed at meting justice, still others must take on the task of developing futures.

    Coaches Across Continents in Uganda

    The CAC modus operandi, whether in equatorial Africa or elsewhere, is loosely the same: to partner with an up-and-running organization helping children and young adults grapple with issues like health and hygiene, HIV/AIDS, female empowerment, social inclusion, conflict resolution or what ever else is needed. CAC then develops soccer games designed to mirror problems and resolution strategies. CAC’s instructor coaches teach the games to local student coaches who in turn become Soccer for Life Skills coaches and teach the games to local children.

    In Pader and other parts of the world-hold a soccer ball and you have the undivided attention of the local youth.

    My first morning in Pader, I begin to set up my gear. The CAC instructor-coaches-Brian, Sophie, and Ellen-discuss how to teach the morning’s game to the group. The waiting student-coaches rush across the open ground in a pick-up game of soccer. A continent away in Germany, the anticipation mounts for the quarterfinals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011.

    Roving through the physical activity afoot, I capture my initial footage. One young lady turns away and smoothes her dress before turning back for a better take. In another direction, a boy who eagerly gives his name as Jonathan makes a spectacular kick to a waiting receiver in front of the goal. I return his gesture of triumph, and he laughs.

    Raised voices and clapping from the instructor-coaches gather the group. The games begin.

    The object of today’s first drill: in the time allotted, run to as many crushed water bottles preset on the field as possible, planting oneself on two feet before jumping forwards and then backwards over them.

    I take a wide shot of the boisterous activity. Dressed in an ill-fitting silver velour top and a well-worn black skirt, Tuesday, one of four female student-coaches, jumps back and forth over a flattened plastic water bottle. Breathily laughing, running, rushing, and dodging her way around the crush of eager young men, Tuesday finds her way to the next available bottle and jumps back and forth over it, barely finding the air to count out loud: “Eleven!”

    Brian- back home, the coach of the University of Hawaii-Hilo’s women’s soccer team-leaves the fray at my signal. He confidently approaches the camera. “This game is called Marta Agility. A big part of what we do involves female empowerment. We force the boys and . well we don’t force . fuck.” He rolls his eyes. “Lemme try that again.”

    I hit record again and give him a nod.

    He flashes a charming smile. “When girls and boys participate together, it not only fosters mutual respect, improving relationships, but it involves women in sport and promotes women’s health.”

    Kevin filming with Coaches Across Continents

    On the surface the Marta drill employs competitiveness to spur the participants quickly from bottle to bottle. But it’s competitiveness that both boys and girls engage in on the same field. It reminds, if not informs, everyone that women do have a place in sport. The Marta Agility game is modeled after the skills of international female soccer icon-Marta Vieira da Silva. Marta is no stranger to the challenges of playing “with the boys.”

    I notice Jonathan and Tuesday running at a good clip. They arrive at one of the bottles and jump. They collide in mid air. Jonathan lands and carries on with no apology or acknowledgment. Tuesday lands, stumbles. Kicking up a cloud of dust, she hops on one leg until she regains her footing and can head for the next crushed plastic bottle.

    Rubbing her shoulder she shakes her head and smiles through it. “Fifteen!”

    Although not the single focus of CAC, female empowerment is one of the most important. If a local organization wants to partner with CAC, they must ensure women are involved-and on equal footing with men. Brian makes the goal plain: ” Female empowerment has the ability to change economies and local governments, alter the utilization of resources, draw attention to human rights violations and other important issues-all from allowing girls to play sports. I cannot overstate its importance.”

    Friends of Orphans (FRO) is a two-year, co-ed trade school and the local organization partnering with CAC in Pader. FRO, founded and administrated by former child soldiers of the LRA, aims to rehabilitate, reintegrate, and empower the former abductees, child soldiers, child mothers, and orphans of the region through academic and vocational education.

    While FRO has made tremendous strides, CAC still faces challenges on the field. The first is the large size of the group-93 male and female vocational students with varying levels of interest in coaching soccer. The second challenge is their wide range of ages-anywhere from 13 to 26. Third, equipment is non-existent-CAC devises makeshift pylons from water bottles for students in bare feet and tattered clothes.

    In the afternoon, we visit FRO for a series of formal welcoming events.

    A couple of administrators give us a complete tour of the FRO compound. A welcome dance lifts the red dust of the courtyard above the cries and calls of the traditional song. As the singing and dancing continue, I capture a quick collection of cutaway shots. A young man shaded in the woodshop across the yard feverishly planes a slab of wood. A disheveled rooster pecks at the earth below a bush near the perimeter wire fence where two shabbily clad children cling, peering in from the outside. A teenager moves dried bricks, one at a time, beneath the midday sun. Other students ready benches on the sheltered porch of the main administration building in preparation for our next stop.

    Arrived and sitting in the newly arranged benches, the touching tribute takes an odd turn when the students take up positions for an old-style debate.

    Today’s topic, chalked on the board reads: Is it better that a woman be educated or uneducated?

    The air is painfully still. Those against female education step up first. Confident voices announce that an educated woman is more likely to cheat on her husband, to neglect her children, to ignore her household duties, and to demand a higher standard of living then can be afforded.

    Nearly agape, but trying to smile through it, our team listens thoughtfully. I try to send white light and positive energy in the direction of the flailing debaters for female education. I see Judith-aka Dr. Judith Gates, board member and Nick’s mother-telegraphing patience, hands crisply folded in her lap. Something between sadness and outrage simmers in her eyes.

    Judith describes herself as someone who has dedicated much of her life to the empowerment of women. Her doctoral thesis for the School of Education, Durham University, UK, From Chance to Choice: The Development of Teachers in a Postmodern World, inspires much of the basic philosophy that drives Coaches Across Continents: to take youth past developmental stalling-points inherent to their community. By exposing them to choice, CAC aims to get a community past the acceptance that events in life only happen by chance.

    In Pader, choice faces the traditional field of defenders that block women from being able to make bolder, more informed decisions.

    Baby steps. Baby kicks.

    Four days and many games after the debate, I stand under the cloudless African sky, removing my gear from its bag. On the walk to the field this morning, I heard mention of the Women’s World Cup quarterfinal results. Courtesy of a USB modem, we’ve been able to find out that teams USA, France, Japan, and Sweden have survived.

    Capturing faces with Coaches Across Continents

    As I attach a $1,200 camera to a $150 tripod, I notice two semi-naked little boys pulling a toy truck on a string-a contraption manufactured from cans, plastic lids, and other scavenged garbage. A barefoot, expressionless little girl wears a dress stitched from an old tablecloth. I pull out my $700 Nikon. She watches the boys. Soon, she catches me staring. She laughs and waves. I snap her picture. She runs off.

    Before arriving in Uganda, Judith and I had Skyped about our goals for the trip. Judith wanted local Ugandan girls to take pictures of themselves and of things they wanted to change in their world. With so much to coordinate, the curriculum of life-changing pictures never made the final cut – not in that format anyway.

    Behold Scary Soccer:

    The most unrestrained game in the CAC arsenal-Scary Soccer-despite its name, is not soccer. In fact, there isn’t even a ball. It’s a full-body, strike a pose version of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Those making the losing choice must run fast to their safe line before getting tagged. The tagged losers are conscripted by the winning team.

    Before approaching the line of scrimmage, two teams of student-coaches huddle in the dust to conspire about the best choice for their mutual “attack”: midfielder, striker, or goalkeeper.

    Goalkeeper beats Midfielder

    Midfielder beats Striker

    Striker beats Goalkeeper

    Amidst hushed whispers and random peeks to be sure they are not overheard, the opposing teams huddle and wipe sweat from their brows. Nick has appointed a young woman named Prudence the captain of her team. She has the responsibility of corralling the group-a group largely composed of boys-to a consensus regarding their attack.

    Conflict starts up immediately. Prudence warns that the other team will overhear them. But fists clench and pulses quicken as voices rise louder. Prudence dances to the middle with a smile. In moment, two of the alpha boys simply bypass her interjections, taking over the center to argue with each other.

    Calmly circling around the outside, Nick interjects, “She is the captain. You must listen to her.”

    Her bounce restored, Prudence speaks up once more. But she again gets jostled out of the center as her team panics.

    More forcefully but with his hands clasped behind his back, Nick surprises them, stepping into their huddle. “In life, if we all talk at once, can we make a decision?”

    Concerned, a boy named Badar steps forward. “We cannot!”

    Nick puts a hand on his shoulder and nods toward Prudence. “Right then. She is the captain, she has the final say.”

    Grumblings. Then calm.

    Prudence’s two bare feet are planted firmly in the dirt. Her face is serious as she stares down the tight jaws of the boys and the slack endorsement of the few girls. She has determined, after much group input, that the choice is Goalkeeper.

    One of the most vocal boys huffs once, looks at the ground, and mutters, “Fine, Goalkeeper.”

    Prudence and her team step up to the line.

    Brian walks by me and whispers, “You’re gonna love this.”

    I roll the camera as Nick steps to the head of two twitching teams. Just one meter of dirt separates them. He gives Brian a grin before slowly counting, “One. Two. Three.”

    A unified bellow follows:


    Prudence’s team gasps, realizes they’ve won, and dashes forward-arms outstretched and screaming with laughter.

    As always, Judith surrounded by children.

    CAC, by their own admittance, is not making professional footballers. Further, many who get involved with the program will not even go on to be coaches. However, everyone in the program is exposed to various ways of approaching challenges that could help them be better parents, leaders off the field, laborers, teachers and non-sport community members. Nick admits, “I really believe that I learned more skills that I use in my life through playing football than in graduating from Harvard or from running successful businesses around the world.”

    Nick gathers the student coaches around him at the end of Scary Soccer. He recaps precisely what the game can teach an up-and-coming generation of kids. He pauses to ask questions when attentions wane:

    “So how did you solve your problem when no one could agree?” or “What’s the difference between a mistake and cheating?” or “Can a woman coach a team of men?”

    The responses vary. Some are delivered while toeing at the dirt. Some come with a cathartic step forward. Some appear in my lens as nothing more than a knowing smirk accompanied by a little dance.

    Judith along with Ellen, an eager twenty-something in her first year with CAC, steps to the front of a group of Ugandan women gathered at the FRO compound. Judith is determined this event go in quite a different direction than the distressing debate just days earlier.

    Judith smiles warmly, looking around as the women settle back onto their stools. She reserves a special smile for Fayola, whom she has already come to admire in the coaching sessions. Also, it was Fayola who argued for female education in that debate. A guarded, confident and thoughtful 24-year-old, Fayola spent her childhood under the pall of Joseph Kony and his unique brand of barbarism. While she seems, hands down, the likeliest female hopeful for a breakaway, Fayola also has the most dubious of smiles, as if aware that peace can turn for the worse on any given day. She is enrolled in the welding program at FRO and intends to open her own shop.

    At the upstage wall of the veranda-cum-lecture-hall, Ellen fumbles with a sort of static dry-erase sheet. On the sheet, statistics compare women of the West to the women of Uganda using a variety of factors: the incidence of marriage before the age of 19, the regularity of contraception use, the rate of maternal mortality during childbirth, the birth rate itself, and the occurrence of infection with HIV/AIDS.

    The dry-erase sheet won’t stick to the wall, so Ellen cheerfully holds it. Judith glances toward her acolyte, reviews the numbers, and then turns to the women. The students are focused, still and alert, their eyes wandering between the numbers and Judith. Regardless of any age difference, each studiously steadies a note pad in her lap with one hand and a ready pencil in the other. I zoom in on a young girl with a baby in her lap. I can’t remember her name.

    In her refined British dialect, Judith patiently articulates, “Today we would like to tell you about the lives of women in places such as America and England, but also we would like you to tell us about the lives of women in Pader.”

    A basic element of Chance to Choice is that personal reactions to events around us are our interpretations based on our worldview. What make up that worldview are previous events. A cycle builds out of everything we’ve experienced, been taught, or seen and heard.

    Therefore, whether witness to the massacre of families or a viral video attesting to such atrocity, worldview can impel anything from apathy to global outcry.

    Judith carefully reads the statistics from the sheet: “In Uganda, on average, every one of you will have seven children. Some will have ten. Some will have four. In England we have just under two. In America, every woman has on average two children.”

    The young student in the back row quells the mewling baby-the only young child present today. Judith looks at the child, smiles and continues on. No one near the baby, or in the rest of the group for that matter, seems to give the child a second thought. When she sat down, the young girl with the baby had seemed quite engaged. But these few minutes into it, she begins to look weary, her eyes staying shut a couple of beats longer when they blink.

    Judith continues. “So in Uganda you have more than three times as many children as woman in England and America. That means more children to care for, more children to look after, more children to educate, more children to feed, more children to wash. . .”

    From my angle, I am able to frame both Judith and the girl with the child. Suddenly the girl catches me quite by surprise when her gaze looks straight down the barrel. Her stung expression appears to almost object, but only for a moment-before she goes emotionally limp.

    ” . . . more children to find clothes for, more children to find shoes for, which is a very big job for Ugandan women.”

    I zoom in on Judith until the girl and her child are out of frame. As Judith moves on to her next point, I look up, over the camera. The girl is softly rocking side to side, her head tilted, staring off at nothing.

    Once Judith has read the statistics, the girls are divided into smaller discussion groups. Each is assigned one of the statistics in hopes that they will return to the larger group and present their own ideas.

    In time they return to the porch, Judith welcomes them back, and I hit the record button.

    As the first group’s presenters shyly step forward, I am still drawn to the girl with the baby. She is glazed over entirely, rubbing the baby’s head, softly mumbling something, a mantra or a lullaby perhaps.

    Why do Ugandan women have so many children? The group’s speaker rocks slightly side to side on her feet: ” . . . the children is needed for work in the garden . . . it bring food for the families. Also have there are chores . . .”

    The air is instantly still. I draw in a breath. Of course-their worldview is sustenance living. Perhaps the average child can tend and harvest more food than they eat.

    A day or so earlier, Judith told me something key to her approach: “When you educate a woman, you educate a family. Educated families lead to community development and country development.” Admittedly, there is strong evidence that the more educated the Ugandan women are, 1) the longer they wait to get married, 2) the more likely they are to use contraception, 3) the longer they wait to have children, and 4) the fewer children they have.

    However, as I glance at the baby, I wonder if the desire for formal education doesn’t pale by comparison to the immediate need for more practical lessons on gardening, thatching a roof, etc.

    In time, Fayola steps forward to represent for her group. Tuesday’s wide eyes happily focus on Fayola as she steadies the paper for Fayola to read. Sweat drips into my eye, burning and blurring my view. I look over my shoulder, toward the yard, rubbing my face. One of the young men cranes from the midfield, as if he’s some sort of deep-lying playmaker. Tuesday notices him, looks away, and her paper slips momentarily. In looking from her to him and quickly back to her again, I bump the camera. Merry, the girl next to me, reaches to steady it. Thank you. She shrugs demurely and smiles before turning her attention back to Fayola.

    The girls pay a different kind of attention to Fayola. Despite her late position in the line-up, all fidgeting and sighing stop.

    Fayola breathes in and exhales: “Why are so many girls that are married before age 19?”

    Scary Soccer with Coaches Across Continents

    She turns to the group: “One, the children have lost their parents and they do not have proper care from their . . . stepmothers . . . that one can also lead to early marriages. Second also, lack of money for education. For example if I don’t have money where will I get money for educations? I rather stay at home but if they will not let me I find myself a boy from outside there and find myself pregnant.”

    As with the other girls, English is not Fayola’s first language but she handles her stumbling differently. In fact she does not stumble, rather she comes to the edge of tripping, pauses, takes a breath and then continues without blinking or apologetically looking away.

    “With some of our parents, if they drink alcohols, there becomes a problem . . . maybe you find yourself running away . . . you find your own way . . . becoming a street children . . . and these guys . . .” Her eyes panic, wild for a moment. She looks straight into the camera. I freeze. Her voice lifts.

    “These guys, they will find you and they will rape you . . . Rapes . . . this is so common.”

    Several of the women instantly, as if on cue, look down into their laps. I gaze over the viewfinder to scan them and realize I’m holding my breath.

    Fayola nods and squeezes the marker in her hand. “Also the war in Northern Uganda, we Northerners have been experiencing this war . . . many moving from one place to another without knowing where your parents are.”

    Tuesday’s eyes begin to dart left and right, the top of the paper crinkling slightly under her grip.

    Fayola’s eyes fire up, and she begins to move around the space. “Or we find that in our family, we find that sometime for example maybe they say that Jennifer you excluded . . . this one I love, this one I love . . . you find you are by yourself . . . my parents they don’t love me . . .”

    Several of the woman in the group blink, looking left and right as if checking to make sure each other is all right.

    Judith takes a seat with the others.

    “Also there is this one. Because I may see that Judith is very rich . . . maybe I want to be rich like Judith why don’t I follow this type of Judith and maybe I will get this man who is so rich, that he has the vehicle, lots of money and the big shops . . .”

    A delicate scowl briefly crosses her face. “Then I will also consider myself to be rich.”

    She looks to Judith, falters slightly, and returns to Tuesday’s list.

    “Oh yes, and there are love affairs.” She scans the group, making eye contact. Several look away or begin to shift in their seats. Others curl their feet beneath their chairs or make a note on their pad. “You cannot take one single day of thinking about that world unless we have a proper voice. Unless we have voice you will find yourself admiring what other people have.”

    Next to me, Merry is thoroughly still, but her usual shy expression now displays utter incredulity. She gives me a wounded glance as if to elicit a man’s opinion. I smile, nod, and look back into my camera and peripherally notice her quizzical furrow dissolve into a flirtatious grin.

    Meanwhile, light years of social development away, in Germany the crowds are filing in to cheer on the women of Japan, USA, Sweden, and France as they battle the Cup down to just two opposing teams.

    Two days past the female empowerment talk, on our last day before moving on to Buwate in the south, I could set up my gear with my eyes closed. As I pop the lens cap off my still camera, I feel a bump at my side.

    It’s the little girl in the tablecloth dress. She looks at me. Dirt is caked in the crevices of her ears, around her nose, and in the leathery corners of her eyes. I lift my Nikon and snap her picture before giving her bald head a rub. She squirms and giggles before straining to see the image on the back of the camera. I bend to show her, as I have for so many already over these past nine days. She looks at the image, pleased at first, but a moment later, she appears concerned.

    As I stand to go back to my work, she takes gentle hold of my arm, pulls me, wishing to see the image again. I pause. Usually when I turn to leave, they too just walk away and we simply left click to the next story-as if the encounter never happened.

    But this time, something does happen.

    Looking at the camera’s image, the girl puts her finger to her ear, to scrape away at the dirt. She looks towards me and then to the ground while sheepishly attending to the other ear. When finished, she smiles and indicates that she wants me to take another picture. So I do. I show her the new improved image-she laughs and runs off clapping.

    This little girl reacted to a picture that I took. She changed. The world changed.

    Baby steps. Baby kicks.

    Kevin O’Donovan’s passion is world travel. He has been to roughly 70 countries and all seven continents. While he has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef and hang glided off a cliff in New Zealand – among other adventures – his global experience involves more than just pure adrenaline rush.

    In his travels he has assembled school desks in Arusha, Tanzania, rebuilt homes in Khao Lak, Thailand after the Asian Tsunami of 2004 and most recently, he visited the northern Uganda to video a promotional piece for a Sport for Social Development charity currently working with the former child soldiers of the LRA.

  • Sometimes you’ve just got to SMILE!


    June 6th, 2012:  Take 90 seconds to brighten up your day and smile with the some of the wonderful teachers, coaches and children that we meet every day.  Coaches Across Continents work hard to impact social change around the world but we never forget the impact a smile can have on a day!

    Enjoy the video!

  • Meet our Partner Programs in Uganda

    Meet Kampala School of Excellence Ministries
    1. What is your name and what is your organization? Ntale Daniel Kiseka and am the founder of Kampala School Of Excellence Ministries

    2. What is the biggest message you try to teach your kids through the game of soccer?  Our main answer with football is to teach goal setting because we believe that it helps one succeed in life. We believe that participation in sports gives a child fun, practical and active way to learn about goal setting.

    3. Who is your favorite soccer team? CHELSEA Football Club
    4. If you could meet any famous soccer person in the world, who would it be and why?
    Didier Drogba, I would feel so great seeing a blood brother succeeding in life to famous world.

    5. What is the thing you are looking forward to most about working with Coaches Across Continents? 

    With the help of working with your organization, a number of our trained coaches have become more engaged with their teams while helping them to steward each player towards a positive outcome, such as going to or playing in college or beyond.

    Meet Buwate Youth Sports Academy

    1. What is your name and what is organization? My names are KATO RICHARD SSEBUNYA. THE ORGANIZATION IS BUWATE YOUTH SPORTS ACADEMY.
    2. What is the biggest message you try to teach your kids through the game of soccer?
    HIV/AIDS awareness, social Development, and to keep out of Drugs
    3. What is your favorite soccer team?
    4. If you could meet any famous soccer person in world , who would it be?
    BECKHAM AND MARTA THE FEMALE so that I can tell them about our organization. 
    5. What is best thing about working with Coaches Across Continents?
    To gain knowledge and to promote our organization.

    Meet Friends of Orphans (FRO)

    1. What is your name and what is your organization? My name is Anywar Ricky Richard and the name of my organization is call Friends of Orphans.

    2. What is the biggest message you try to teach your kids through the game of soccer?

    Friends of Orphans runs games and sports program to help in peace building and reconciliation among the people of northern Uganda who have been at war for over 21 years. FRO supports many different games and sports teams in northern Uganda through training, supplies of games and sports equipments and holds games and sports competitions, which draws teams from many different communities – this encourages interaction and engenders a sense of community. FRO trains peace builder’s educators – who are able to instruct, educate and also monitor human rights’ violation – and community groups.

    3. Who is your favorite soccer team? Arsenal

    4. If you could meet any famous soccer person in the world, who would it be? Thierry Henry because he looks very humble and kind.

    5. What is the best thing about working with Coaches Across Continents? Bringing in well experienced coaches to work with Friends of Orphans. Also for using soccer as a way to mobilize communities to teach them in various aspects of developments.

  • A Letter from a former child soldier in Pader, Northern Uganda

    May 7th, 2012.  In response to Kony 2012, Ricky the founder of our partner FRO, wrote this objective letter to Coaches Across Continents

    Coaches Across Continents in Uganda

    I am writing from Pader, Uganda because I believe the recent conversation about Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army and Invisible Children is not including the voice of those that matter most in this conversation – the people of Northern Uganda who have had their lives and families terrorized by the LRA. I know more than I would like to know about the LRA, not from watching Kony 2012 or reading insightful accounts of the conflict, but because personally I have seen it, have lived it and have been in it. I was one of the now famous “child soldiers”. I was abducted at the age of 14 years with my brother by the LRA and remained with them for nearly 2.5 years. We were picked up in front of our home, our powerless family members were burned to death in our grass-thatched house while we were forced to watch and hear them cry for help. I saw brutality beyond description; I saw tortures, rapes, killing, abduction and war. Since 1999, through Friends of Orphans I have worked to rehabilitate countless former child soldiers and others affected by the war to reverse the massive amount of damage the LRA has done to my community and our youth. I know for real how bad the LRA rebels are and I demand for the immediate end to this conflict. I believe for this to happen, OUR voices must be heard.

    At this moment, more than ever, the optimism and hope of the people in northern Uganda for the end of violent conflict and return of peace in the region is more prominent than ever. This is a direct outcome of the protracted negotiation that previously took place in southern Sudan. Even though the peace talks headed by Riek Machar did not result in a peace agreement between the LRA and the government of Uganda, it has brought relative peace to Northern Uganda and people have moved back to their original villages from the refugee camps, at least for now there is no Joseph Kony in Uganda.

    I support the peaceful means of ending this conflict rather than the military approach. I encourage it continually since it has brought tangible results and has saved many lives that would have been otherwise lost to the war. The people of Northern Uganda believe more in a peaceful means of resolving this conflict because it has been tried and it has worked, they have seen the result.

    Invisible Children are known in Northern Uganda as a scholar organization supporting former abductees education, which much needed in the region. But they are not known as a peace building organization and I do not think they have experiences with peace building and conflict resolution methods. I totally disagree with their approach of military action as a mean to end this conflict. Since 1989 the government of Uganda has been consistently used military campaigns against Kony including major operations like operation Iron Fist and Lightening Thunder. Operation Lightening Thunder was highly expected to end the war by either capturing Kony alive or killing him. This was carried out by UPDF (Uganda army), DR Congo army and the SPLA southern Sudan army on Kony in DR Congo with the technical support from the USA government and still it failed and instead spread the atrocities to Central African Republic as Kony relocated there. The only known result of the military attacks on Kony is dispersing the rebels into smaller groups from their base resulting in all kinds of atrocities on civilians including the Baralonyo attack in Lira district, (http://ugandaradionetwork.com/a/story.php?s=34980) the Kanga Pa-aculu attack in Pader district and many others where a lot of civilians lost their lives. It is also well known that a majority of the LRA soldiers are abducted children, he uses these abducted children as a shield to protect himself from any military attacks, as a result any attack will be on the abducted children.

    Now, how can this be done? Instead of campaigning for military action as a means to end this war, I suggest a continuation of the failed peace talks. I would urge everyone involved in the process to examine what made the peace talks fail and how can we improve and reinstate the process. As an example, the government of Sudan, a key player in the financing the war, was left out and not involved in the previous peace talks. I strongly believe they can play a greater role in the peace process.

    Furthermore, there seems to be a continual call for Kony to be taken to the ICC if captured. Communities agree that if Kony is captured he should be brought to book to answer for the war crimes he committed. Some want Kony to be taken to the ICC while others says he should be tried locally in Uganda so that it act as a lesion to others who would have bad intentions like that of Joseph Kony and bring closure for the communities affected. This becomes ever more complicated because others suggest that both parties involved in the war should be investigated and possibly tried too. People like Doctor Olara Otunnu, the president of Uganda People’s Congress, has written widely about the UPDF’s involvement in causing various atrocities during this conflict. The Government of Uganda has denied any wrong doing on its part. What is certain is that is not a simple problem that can be solved with a simple solution, this will inevitably require intervention in the form of a systematic approach in bringing Kony to book if reconciliation is to provide opportunities to all people affected by war and the wider communities to have a voice in peace building, reconciliation and societal healing. This will prepare the communities in Northern Uganda for subsequent rehabilitation with a view of shaping their immediate future through promotion of social inclusion and demonstrated ownership.

    Coaches Across Continents leader “Vidic’ in Pader

    What we want is to stop the war in a way that will not cause any more atrocities because the people of northern Uganda have shed too much blood from this war. We do not want to see more death and destruction in the process of ending the war. Nobody supports Kony in Northern Uganda; we are only tired of wars and now want to look at ways in which sustainable peace can be restored in northern Uganda without seeing more people dying.

    This brings me to my last point. We should also remember that the effect of the war is more painful than the war itself, so we need to think of more practical ways to rebuild and heal our community. We are now at the beginning of a long journey ahead. My vision is to build a Northern Ugandan society in which the vulnerable are empowered to achieve their full potential and contribute to the development of their community. In 1999 I founded Friends of Orphans (www.frouganda.org) to work with former child soldiers, orphans, child mothers, war and HIV/AIDS affected and infected communities in Northern Uganda to rehabilitate, reintegrate and empower them. We provide education (both vocational and academic), health, peace building, human rights, income generating activities and livelihood support programs. FRO is now working to build a radio station to help give voice to the voiceless through radio communication. The goal of the radio station is to promote peace and human dignity throughout our area. Our aim is to ensure that the perspectives of the people whose lives are most affected by development (mainly the poor and marginalized) are included within decision-making. The aim is to use information to empower the disadvantage communities economically and fight poverty so as to improve on their standard of living and contribute to the development of their communities. Just as Invisible Children is doing, we are trying to amplify “the voice of the voiceless”, however instead of through social media, we just want to start with radio. To do so, we need the support of all those who now know what we have endured and will not stand for it.

    We thank Invisible Children for making you aware of what has happened in Northern Uganda and request they continue to focus their enthusiasm and resources toward building a better Uganda.

    Anywar Ricky Richard is a former LRA child soldier and founder of the charity organization Friends of Orphans (FRO) www.frouganda.org Ricky and FRO have been awarded the2008 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award and the 2008 Humanitarian Award from World of Children.



    Brief History of Friends of Orphans (FRO):

    Friends of Orphans (FRO) was founded and is administered by former child soldiers and abductees from Pader District, all of whom were and continue to be affected by the war in Northern Uganda. FRO founder Ricky Anywar Richard and others

    Seeing the smiles in Pader with Coaches Across Continents partner, FRO.

    conceived Friends of Orphans in 1999 when some of its organizing members were pursuing their degrees at the University of Makerere. From our experiences as former abductees and orphans, many of whom also lost immediate and extended family members, friends and neighbors, suffered displacement and continue to suffer those losses, led us to commit to the ongoing and unmet needs of our community.

    We formally prepared ourselves as educators, medical officers, administrators, environmentalists, and in other professions through university education and work experience to enable us to organize an organization with the vision and ability to meet the psycho-social, education and training, economic development, peace building, human rights, livelihood support programs and family service, cultural and social needs of children and women affected by conflict in Northern Uganda.

    Since 1999, we have launched community-based education, vocational skill training, HIV/AIDS prevention, peace building and community development programs in Northern Uganda which address the immediate and long term needs of the community, many of whom are former child soldiers, child mothers, orphans, youths and women.

    Friends of Orphans,

    P. O Box 29536, Kampala, Uganda.

    Tel: +256 772 383 574,

    E-Mail: ,

    Website: www.frouganda.org

  • Off the beaten path: Our program in Pader, Northern Uganda

    Charles "Vidic" who is the captain of the FRO coaching team

    July 25th, 2011:  Brian talks about our program in Pader with Friends of Orphans.

    It is mid July and I have just left Pader, Uganda. If you type that into Google you may be able to figure out that Pader is in Northern Uganda, about two hours from Gulu. Dig a little deeper and you might learn that this was one of many towns and communities recently ravaged by sixteen years of war by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony against the Acholi people. The violence between the LRA and government forces displaced nearly 1.6 million people in Northern Uganda and the LRA abducted over 66,000 children to serve as soldiers for their campaign of violence. Almost every type of atrocity you can imagine was committed during this insurgency. Many of the abducted children were forced to murder their own parents and family members, burn their homes and villages, beat fellow soldiers and escapees to death, and raped. Northern Uganda was a horrific place for nearly two decades. Every person was affected, and every aspect of society was altered.

    Fortunately there has not been an attack by the LRA in Uganda in five years, even though they still operate in the neighboring DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Before the war waged by the LRA, Ugandan history includes the violent dictatorship of Idi Amin (portrayed in the movie The Last King of Scotland), five years of civil war in the early 1980s, and a successful coup of the government by the National Resistance Army (NRA) in 1986. In short, the almost fifty-year history of Uganda since independence from Britain has been brutal, bloody, and violent.

    You will never find Pader in Lonely Planet or any other tourist guidebook. Just to get here takes a day from the capital of Kampala with the last 100 km a one-lane dirt track. The society that once existed many decades ago has been shattered and they are attempting to re-construct a new one in its place. So what was I doing there? Well, sometimes to see the most progress and feel the most hope in the world you need to go to the place that has the most to gain.

    Before getting into the work that Coaches Across Continents is doing with Friends of

    One of the amazing female young leaders

    Orphans (FRO) I need to try to describe Pader to you. I say try, because unless you have actually visited rural Africa, a war-torn area, or a United Nations emergency relief zone you will only be able to grasp an idea of the level of poverty that exists and the amount of recovery that is needed here. Even by African standards, Pader is an extremely poor village that relies almost exclusively on agriculture. It has high unemployment, inflation, and poor infrastructure with limited electricity and occasional running water in the nicest buildings. For the past five years it was a United Nations Emergency Zone filled with NGOs and aid programs like War Child, UNICEF, World Food Bank, and countless others. However all but five NGOs have pulled out as recovery in Pader is ongoing as opposed to being an immediate humanitarian emergency. The feeling of international intervention is always in the periphery, and the legacy of the NGOs and United Nation efforts are apparent in the signs, large tents, and deserted buildings surrounded by barbed wire that are on the outskirts of town.

    Rural life in Pader

    For now Pader is a town at rest. Its people have had their fill of violence and are quietly living their lives one day at a time, not dwelling on the past. There does not seem to be any animosity or hatred in the Acholi people which makes you wonder how such a brutal war existed among its people for so long. There does not seem to be judgment or reservations about what the future might bring, just acceptance. For now they are slowly recovering and rebuilding their society one day at a time through programs like Friends of Orphans (FRO) and enjoying the peace which that have only known recently.

    I was in Pader working with Coaches Across Continents Hat-Trick partner Friends of Orphans (FRO). FRO was started and is run by former child soldier Ricky Anwar. In fact, many of their teachers and staff are former child soldiers themselves. FRO was founded in 1999 at the height of the war in order to address the huge numbers of unemployed youth, mistrust issues against former child soldiers, reintegration problems, and rehabilitation issues as people deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. FROs mission is to rehabilitate, educate, and reintegrate. They do this through education, counseling, and sport.

    What FRO has built in five years to address these issues is the most impressive and uplifting story I have seen in Africa. FRO support 1,200 needy primary students in 56 different schools, but more impressively they run a FRO school which is a combination of education, counseling, and sports programs for two hundred students annually. These two hundred students aged 16-25 are put forward by their communities as being vulnerable youth. These include former child soldiers (70%), orphans, female victims of war, land mine survivors, and victims of HIV/AIDS. After home interviews and community reference checks these youths are admitted. During their year at FRO, these students undergo counseling as well as learn a vocation that they have an interest in such as welding, computers, carpentry, catering, tailoring, bricklaying, and others.

    So many smiles during our work in Pader

    Coaches Across Continents is now in our second year we are working with all the students at FRO to train them as soccer coaches for social development. As Ricky says, “sport is part of our medicine, it is part of our therapy.” Already they have embraced our program and together we have gone out to work with local primary schools. We had a two-hour session every morning to teach them various CAC games and the important social messages that each game teaches. Even though every session is filled with laughter from start to finish there is a sobering thought that has occurred to each of us Western Coaches: each FRO student that we are coaching has some horrific event in their past, and as a group they are most certainly responsible for hundreds of deaths. However it does not appear that they would be capable of such things because of the joy and laughter that they life their life with each day and from our interactions and friendships with them. Maybe that is the best indication that the work by FRO is succeeding beyond all expectations.

    In the afternoons we went to local primary schools to work with younger students. This is

    Judith surrounded by young children

    a great opportunity for the newly trained FRO soccer coach/students to get hands-on experience under our guidance. Already you can see the talents and enthusiasm these coaches have for the game and teaching the younger generation. This added responsibility and engendering leaders is the long-term goal of both FRO and CAC and we have every belief that this program will be sustainable for many years to come. In just a short time that the FRO students will become coaches and leaders throughout the community without our assistance and be able to pass along life lessons regarding non-violent conflict resolution, health & wellness including HIV/AIDS, and female empowerment.

    As I mentioned, sometimes to see the most good in the world you have to be someplace that has the most to gain. For those of you who have expressed an interest in supporting CAC I ask that you please do so today. Places like Pader are the reason that I decided to work with Coaches Across Continents. You can only take my word for it that it is programs like this that are bringing the most joy, the most hope, and the most improvement to the people globally who need it most.

    Please CLICK HERE to donate. Thank you.

  • What did you do on July 4th Weekend?

    082To get off the beaten path you need to leave the path. Coaches Across Continents is officially off the beaten path. Pader, Uganda is not listed in Lonely Planet, Fromer’s, or any other guide books. It may never be reached by any tourists. Even by African standards, Pader is an extremely poor village that relies almost exclusively on agriculture. It has high unemployment, inflation, and poor infrastructure with limited electricity and occasional running water in the nicest buildings. To get here takes over ten hours from Kampala, the last 100km over a one-lane, pothole-laced dirt road because the government cannot be bothered to complete the highway into town.

    Pader also happens to be recovering from the atrocities fueled by nearly fifty years of violence, bloodshed, and P7040122civil wars wrought by Idi Amin, the National Resistance Army, and most recently (1991-2006) Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The violence between the LRA and government forces displaced nearly 1.6 million people in Northern Uganda and the LRA abducted over 66,000 children to serve as soldiers for their campaign of violence against the Acholi people. In short, Pader and Northern Uganda has been a society utterly destroyed by decades of violence and almost unimaginable atrocities. For the past five years it was a United Nations Emergency Zone filled with NGOs and aid programs like War Child, UNICEF, World Food Bank, and countless others.

    At present, Pader is a town at rest. It’s people have had their fill of violence and are working to recover and rebuild their society through programs like Friends of Orphans (FRO). Led by former child soldier Ricky Anwar, FRO is a Coaches Across Continents Hat-Trick partner. We will speak more of our partnership and work with FRO in our next blog, but in honor of our high school English teachers, we will now compare and contrast our recent July 4th weekend here in Pader with a normal July 4th weekend in the USA.

    A Tale of Two July 4ths


    Pader, Uganda

    Fireworks An explosion of stars and the Milky Way when the power cut out (again) at 9:00 p.m.
    Called/texted/FB updated our friends. The four of us hung out for an hour after dinner (We ate whatever they had!) telling jokes and stories.
    Talked to dozens of friends and family at the neighborhood BBQ Talked to 300 primary school kids who spoke broken English (“How are you? I am fine!) at best.
    Pot-luck means a choice of hot dogs, burgers, ribs, salads of all kinds, and desserts… oh the desserts. Put luck means you’re lucky to have a pot! We chose wisely from the one option – goat stew with chips and bottled water.
    Budweisers Nile Specials
    Traveled to view fireworks in a luxury SUV with CD player and leather seats. The four of us sat on the back of four boda bodas (motorbikes) hired for 1000 shillings each (about $.40) as we navigated the five km to our next primary school
    Flirted with members of the opposite sex. Had a man ask Nick and Brian, “Mzungu, can I have one of your white women?”
    Played Frisbee and set off sparklers in the neighborhood park. Stayed strictly on roads and paths for fear of setting off unexploded land mines (Fact).
    Left the babies at home with a babysitter Met Rob, the biggest naked baby ever playing in the street.
    Toddlers cried when they saw and heard fireworks for the first time. Several toddlers cried when they saw a white person for the first time.
    from the organized parking lot to the top of a grassy hill to view the fireworks. Took a one mile walk with a crazy lady on a dirt path as we headed home.
    Rode in comfort for 10-minutes to the fireworks display. Took 10-hour drive from Kampala to Pader on a disintegrating road.
    Hot tub, hot-water shower, hot-water shave, and multiple bathroom visits. Cold-water bucket shower and flushed toilets once per day.
    Smiled when we saw hundreds of fireworks. Made hundreds of youngsters smile, wave, and say “bye mono!” (mzungu)
    Thought about how great it is to be American. Saw first-hand the progress made by FRO and learn of their amazing organization and how great it was that Coaches across Continents was able to help make a difference.
    Come home exhausted to air conditioning, a shower, and the TV on. Came home exhausted to a room with no electricity or water and mandatory mosquito nets (with holes) to prevent malaria.

    Other than that we cannot think of any other differences to spending the Fourth of July in the USA compared to Pader. It was just your typical holiday BBQ weekend. Needless to say, we have all had the most memorable, and honestly the best Independence Day weekend ever. We hope you did too