Such Great Heights

20 Aug

At 1:00 EST PM today on ESPN the Uganda Little League Baseball team will take the field against the Dominican Republic in the 2015 Little League World Series. (The details of this match-up are highlighted here by NPR.) This is the third Ugandan team to qualify for the World Series. The 2012 team became the first to appear at the Little League World Series after the 2011 team qualified and then were denied the chance to compete due to visa issues with the US embassy, shining a light on both the potential for baseball in Uganda and the challenges facing a Ugandan team in doing so.

Kids playing on Gulu's first baseball field, built by The Recreation Project

Kids playing on Gulu’s first baseball field, built by The Recreation Project

Today is a celebration of the hard work and determination of the Uganda Baseball Community. At TRP we have had the privilege of being a member of that community since 2012, having sent a team from Northern Uganda to the National Little League Championships yearly (and finishing second in 2013!). Since the inception of baseball in northern Uganda through TRP, baseball has been introduced in 3 schools across Gulu District and impacts 500 youth each term through our PE training sessions, Little League games and practices, and teaching sessions which challenge the ballplayers to take what they have learned from the game and apply it to their life.

In fact, TRP centers much of its organizational philosophy on the creation of safe ‘spaces’ for youth to think, play, and create.   What we do is differentiated from what one might traditionally see programmed in Uganda by the fact that we use seemingly simplistic methods (games and sports) to instill high-level human and relational capacities.

We use bats, helmets, baseballs, and gloves to create moments where kids who are traditionally viewed by the Western world as ‘other’, ‘poor’, and ‘under-privileged’ can live out identical moments to those that countless youth in the United States and other countries enjoy daily. Although youth in Uganda don’t have all of the newest gear, it is in these culturally-transcending moments where they are on a level playing field with any other young person playing out their dreams and talents across the globe. In these moments, they are not poor, traumatized or hungry; they are simply kids who throw the ball 75 MPH at 12 years old. They are simply kids who can run bases a speed that will completely entrance you. They are simply kids who boot ground balls, get upset, and require coaching and guidance on how to get up and move to the next play. Like any athletes, even professionals, they cry when they lose in big moments, and they cry when they succeed in big moments. They are our kids. They are your kids.

Often, after a great day on the field, we ask them:

What activities enthrall you?

What in life do you find irresistible, a source of inspiration, a reason to get out of bed?

What dream do you chase?

What do you love to discuss and ponder?

What is your primal source of Joy?

Questions like this (taken directly out of a favorite team book by Kevin Carroll, called ‘Rules of the Red Rubber Ball’) allow us to transition the lessons just learned on the field into soul-searching teachable moments, explained further here by Mr. Carroll:

“Your Red Rubber Ball is what grabs you by the soul. It’s what captures your imagination. It’s what you do when no one tells you what to do, when you’re alone in your room, on the playground or in your head. It’s what you daydream, and that dream can become your life’s work, when you let it.”

Asking questions like this will do more to push Ugandan youth into positive futures than any hand-out ever could. Questions like this provide dignity to their dreaming, hoping, whole selves. Questions like this say ‘you are more than your base physical needs or your circumstances’.

At TRP, we believe if we roll a baseball out on a field and challenge the youth of northern Uganda to do something big with it and, eventually, with their lives that maybe, just maybe, you might see them one day in Williamsport, PA at the Little League World Series. That maybe, just maybe you might see them one day at Wrigley Field, or the Staples Center, or in the Olympics. Or perhaps that little ball will make them believe bigger for their futures and they will become positive change-makers in their country, helping to reshape an identity previously represented by images of need and poverty into one of light, hope, and prosperity. May we be lucky enough in our lifetime to see the youth of Uganda reach such great heights.

So if you can today, flip on ESPN and watch these young boys play, and after you finish marveling at their incredible skill and passion, do pause for a moment and imagine with us that passion translating into something bigger and more beautiful than we could ever dream.


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