• Impacting 1 to Impact 100’s – Coaches Across Continents in Uganda

    Meet Douglas from Pader, Uganda

    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

    Sophie ran a one week ‘Girls Only’ program.

    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

    Coaches Across Continents Year 3 with FRO

    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.

  • The Eyes Have It

    The orange-red sun was setting behind the tall July corn when I arrived after eighteen hours of flight, followed by eight more of bumpy, overland travel. I’d brushed up on my Ugandan history and current events in the lead up to this trip back in Los Angeles. It would be disingenuous to say that I was still not prepared for the level of penury I’d encounter in Pader, Uganda. Pader 1Indeed, I’d fully expected the half naked, filthy little children; the intermittent availability of power and water; the constant saturation of sweat and 30% deet, caked in red dirt; the choice of three items, the same three items, at all three meal times, for days on end; even the sense of western guilt that would overwhelm me each time I saw a woman walking a kilometer, back to her hut, with five gallons of water balanced on her head after I had just finished complaining about my food selection. I’d expected all of this. I’ve been to places like this before.

    What I’d not expected on this trip to the war torn region of Northern Uganda, came through the anonymity of observation afforded mPader 2e for my role with Coaches Across Continents. Several months back, Nick had put the touch on me to shoot and edit an updated video for CAC. Intrigued by the notion of his partnering with a local organization that was working on reintegrating the former child soldiers and child “brides” of the Lord’s Resistance Army, I quickly accepted. When I was last in Uganda eight years ago, the horror still raged in the out-of-bounds north.

    The Lord’s RePader 3sistance Army (LRA), simply put for those who do not recall, was a marauding rebel force in the north of Uganda that raided villages and abducted children, coercing them to murder and/or serve as sex slaves for the militia. Among other atrocities, these children were often put in the impossible situation of having to kill their own families or face certain death. Distraught parents, desiring any chance of life for their young ones, would tearfully plead with their own children to comply with the macabre orders of the night raiders. So, in a moment, a young person would be saddled with the recurring nightmare of, say, chopping off the heads of his parents, with a machete, at an age when most western children are on a track to be haunted by matters far less weighty.

    Friends of Orphans (FRO) runs a local trade school program designed to reintegrate these shattered lives, robbed of everything, installing them back into the local communities. They’ve asked Coaches Across Continents to be involved in the “Sport for Development” part of their curriculum.

    Everyday now, through the lens of my video and still cameras, I see the joy and laughter that has re-entered these now young adult lives. While our western coaches instruct the students from FRO on how to become Soccer for Life Skills coaches, I wander amidst the activity, freely glimpsing into the souls of these people – these Pader 4children. If that sounds too dramatic, be aware that to smile and laugh – to reach out at all – were efforts that one might have assumed these young people would never again have attempted. Inspired by the work of the dedicated volunteers of CAC, I look through a 200-millimeter zoom lens and see new found hope for Pader’s future. So candid is my view, for not being the direct focus of the students, that I am often rapt, intimately exposed to the unfettered jubilation in their eyes.

    Kevin is filming the new Coaches Across Continents documentary in Pader, Uganda.  the new video will be ready in October 2011.