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86,400 Seconds

23 Jan

86,400 Seconds
Coach Mike training up ballplayers

Coach Mike training up ballplayers

A couple days ago we posted a blog highlighting the work TRP is doing through baseball. If you missed it, go ahead and take a peek at what we wrote here. Since starting baseball programs in Gulu there are many days that we have felt like we are batting .1000 and that this tool we have tapped (baseball) could unlock so much potential in the youth of Northern Uganda. But during the hard days, it feels like we are taking our best swing, with all of our power, and instead of a home run the ball deflects off the bat forcing us to, at best, eek out a bunt single. There are challenges, and sometimes those challenges seem huge:

  • TRP owns 30 baseball gloves (remember, we work with over 500 kids every year!) that Coach Mike guards with his life. They are about 3 years old and get used every single day. The rest of our equipment is also rather inadequate and overused. When we do find people who want to donate equipment, the cost of getting it to Uganda is so prohibitive we usually can’t get it anyway!
  • Speaking of Coach Mike: he is the number one reason why baseball continues to thrive in the North (you can read about him here). This guy works with passion, joy and gratitude. Because of this we would really, really like to compensate him more than we already do. Not to mention, with the amount of kids who want to play ball in northern Uganda, there is enough work to employ THREE more Mikes! If only we had the funds!
  • The effects of a  20 year civil war are still prevalent, evident in stories like this one. TRP is in the final stages of designing a curriculum to help shift a cultural and mental mindset of poverty and “I Can’t” to “I Can”. With a curriculum that turns lessons learned on the field into holistic life learning opportunities, we hope to see long-lasting change, both on and off the field. This will require more time from our current US-based team as well as additional on-the-ground support in Gulu to implement the teaching.
  • In sports there is a constant need to be pushing to the next level. We are there. Our kids have developed a good understanding of baseball fundamentals so in the next year our goal is to find someone to work with Coach Mike (stateside) on how we can take the next steps on our ballfields.
  • Most of the support staff for TRP baseball are volunteers who work full time jobs, raise kids, and have other extra-curricular commitments while also doing their best to support a program which takes place a thousand miles away. TRP baseball would benefit from the energy of new volunteers who would be willing to give their time .

To help us meet these needs, our goal is to mobilize some additional tangible support by the end of this year’s Little League World Series. Currently, we run our baseball programs on$15,000 annually. To hit a ‘home run’ with baseball funding, and fully address the needs above, we would need $60,000 annually. To start to chip away at that number, this is our goal for the next 10 days:

  1. We would like to challenge just 10 people to donate 50 dollars a month.
  2. We want to find two volunteers to donate their time. We would like one volunteer to train with Coach Mike on baseball development remotely  via phone/skype calls a few times a month. We would like another volunteer to support the team stateside helping us tell our story to a wider audience in the US.

If you are interested in either of these opportunities, you can contact us at or sign up directly as a monthly donor on our website: DONATE HERE

In the last blog, we shared a video of Uganda’s first home run in the Little League World Series in 2012 . This seemingly instant life-making moment actually took a lot of time, hard work, and resources. Regarding this, Kevin Carroll says:

“Each day contains 86,400 seconds, that’s 86,400 opportunities to chase, kick, catch, and run after your red rubber ball. Pursuit must become your daily routine, not a New Year’s resolution once a year sport. It is a constant exercise in listening, learning, preparing, and acting.”

Today, we are asking YOU to join our team. While we understand that most of you already squeeze the life out of those 86,400 seconds each day, if you do happen to have a few spare moments or dollars and you’d like to do something significant with them, we know you will not regret giving them to the beautiful kids in northern Uganda. In return, we promise you they will do their part to maximize the day.

Join Our Team!

Join Our Team!


Such Great Heights

20 Aug

Such Great Heights

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.


The Coach

7 May

Mike coaching

Coach Mike 2

I can remember the first time I met Mike.  It was on a basketball court in Gulu, Uganda and he was a skinny little guy who obviously didn’t have as much talent as the other basketball players.  But his jump shot was precise.  I mean, it was the perfect L, he landed in the same spot he jumped from, he was grabbing the cookie jar at the top, it was everything that I was taught as a young kid at Hastings Basketball Camp.  I have to say I was shocked, as Mike wasn’t anything I had experienced in Gulu basketball.  For weeks I had been impressed by the pure raw talent in these Acholi men.  Power, speed, and aggressiveness had filled the court.  And Bricks.  I mean, serious bricks.  We couldn’t make a jump shot for the life of me and some of the technique looked more like an overhead soccer pass than a basketball shot.  Mike was the opposite, so I watched.


For the next hour and a half I was enthralled as Mike not only showed a discipline in his technique, but he showed a discipline in his spirit.  He seamlessly maneuvered between being a leader and a follower, a listener and one who would speak up, one who took control but also knew when to step back and push others forward.  He had coach written all over him.  But the thing that impressed me the most:  Mike was a giver.  Recently I read a tweet from Pastor Hank Fortner of Mosaic Church in LA.  Hank is someone I listen to on a weekly basis and he tweeted the qualities of a giver:  Listen, Adjust, Pursue, Remember, Offer, Invest, Coach, Invite, Forgive.  That is the core of who Mike is.

At the very end of 2012 the time Casey and I had spent in Uganda came to an abrupt end.  Of all the different programs that TRP does I had been the one really guiding our baseball program.  It was an opportunity that turned a lifelong dream into a reality, and I couldn’t bear the thought of it ending.  Mike had been a part of all the different aspects at TRP but he had latched onto the idea of coaching and leading our young kids in the sports activities with ease.  It’s hard to explain how difficult it was to leave Uganda, but I have to say one thing was very easy:  Giving full control of the day to day activities ofMike coaching TRP sports to Mike.  Everything from his attention to detail, his contagious energy as he guides young men on a baseball diamond, his always eager desire to learn more about whatever he is doing, it all gave our entire team great confidence that he would not only keep the program moving, but that he would push it further than we ever thought it could go.  But at the end of the day, it was this quality of being a “giver” that pushed us over the top.  This was what made Mike the perfect person to facilitate thousands of kids using baseball as a game to dream about being something bigger.  These kids wouldn’t be hearing a message of poverty or war, but one of hope and redemption built on a foundation of love and hard work.  We knew Mike would pour himself out for these kids, that he would put in the long hours of practice it took to push each one to their best, that he would be an example of the type of person these kids aimed to be, and that he would constantly believe in these athletes and subsequently invest in every step of their development.

Almost three years later Mike is still proving himself to us.  Tomorrow he is taking 18 young men down to the annual Uganda Little League National Tournament.  This is the third year that he has ran a league with 500+ kids involved that finishes with an all-star team from several schools around Gulu making a trip to the only baseball sports complex in the country.  I know, this isn’t a big deal for American kids, as it has almost become a right of passage to have this kind of opportunity, but I can tell you it means everything to our young boys in Uganda.  Even though we can roll a baseball out anywhere in the country and have 100 kids wanting to play in 5 minutes, they don’t have leaders who are able to facilitate the opportunity for them to use the sport to grow.  Teachers, adults, etc. just don’t invest the time or resources to make it possible.  It is almost incomprehensible to see this after living the childhood I did, and it can be downright discouraging.  But not for Mike, he refuses to let Uganda’s situation define him or his boys.  He believes with all his heart that we will eventually be watching one of the kids in Northern Uganda playing for the Cubs.  But more than that, Mike is doing the hard work every day to make it happen.

Good luck Boys. Mike Coach 3

As Another Season Ends, The Future Looks Bright

26 Sep

batting tee

Over the last month or two TRP sports has been wrapping up another successful year. Even though the students are on the calendar year schedule, we have our busiest time from September to July, culminating with our national tournament.  In August and September we take stock of where we have been, where we are at, and where we are going.  It has essentially been 3 seasons since we started baseball programming, and we want to give you a picture of where we have been.  A fun way of doing this will be to compare our work in Gulu, Uganda to the Chicago Cubs.  No, not the Cubs that are known as the lovable losers who haven’t won a World Series since 1908.  We feel a lot more like the Cubs of the last three years, who have patiently went on a journey to rebuild their entire team from the ground up.

As the Cubs bottomed out in 2010 with massive contracts for players who couldn’t produce much on a baseball diamond, they ventured on an innovative and aggressive rebuilding of their minor league system. They chose to value youth and long term gains over flashy contracts for flashy players who wouldn’t contribute much to a box score.  As a Cubs fan this has been rather painful.  About a month ago it looked like we were headed for a third straight last place finish and not a lot to look forward to.  But since then, the Cubs have started to call up to the Major Leagues a youth movement they have developed over these three years.  Javy Baez first, who homered in his first game.  Jorge Soler next, who homered in his first at bat!  And then there is Kris Bryant, who is still in Triple A Iowa but is arguably the best minor league player in the game, and will join the Cubs major league team in April.  This list goes on, with Kyle Schwarber, Almindsey Alcantara, and Addison Russell.  Cubs fans can certainly see the fruits of their patience, and a new season where pennants and world series titles can be legitimate dreams.  But it will always be important to remember what it took to this get in this position.  Having a plan, doing the hard work to execute the plan patiently, and waking up with hope each day that your future is out in front of you. dirt field

Plain and simple, three years ago baseball didn’t exist in Gulu. As TRP did its best to launch a program there was a strong push to see quick results.  Anybody who knows sports knows that’s not a sustainable path.  And when you are in the business of changing the life of kids strapped with decades of poverty and war, the quick approach only brings more risk of disappointment and discontent.  We had a volunteer named Chen, from Taiwan, come help us in those early days.  As the kids threw baseballs from long distances trying to impress with how far they could throw and catch, Chen stopped us.  He said, “You need to play catch from ten feet away until they are perfect, then move to 11 feet.”  Chen was right, we had to focus on doing things right from the beginning, trust the process, and give it time to flourish.  So we did that, as best we can.  But there are now big things on the horizon.  We feel like the Cubs a bit, that our planning is starting to pay off, that momentum is building, and that we are entering a season where we can truly start to see the program take off and reach our ultimate goal:  To watch northern Ugandans take the lessons they learn on a field and use it to create the life and community they desire off of the diamond.  So with that, I would like to leave all of you with some accomplishments over the last few years, as well as some of plans in the future.  We hope you all stay on the ride with us.

Big Accomplishments for TRP Sports:

  • 4 coaches have been trained and brought onto our staff in various functions, with 3 of them still remaining with us. Mike, Patrick, and Faith are ambassadors for our program and we hope they stay for many years!
  • We have grown from one school program at Bishop Negri Primary School to 3 school programs, adding Vienna Primary School and Gulu Primary School.
  • We have competed in 3 Uganda National Little League Tournaments, finishing as runner up in our second year! This was a huge accomplishment, and is something the kids look forward to every year. Many have never traveled out of the north, and this allows them to visit their capital and compete against others from across the country, stay in dorms, and just enjoy their youth experience!
  • Mike, our project manager, has implemented a values based training for all of our kids so that while they are on the field we maximize the lessons they are learning. From teamwork, to personal commitment, to how we should live in community and the importance of our spiritual lives, these lessons are vital to the success of our program, and more importantly to the futures of our ballplayers.
  • Weekly meetings with US Staff! Over the last year we have worked with Mike to set up weekly meetings to give updates on progress, ideas for improving programs, and planning for what we want to do in the future. These are so valuable for our team here in the US, and we hope for Mike!

Where we are headed:batting tee

  • We are looking to expand to 5 schools over the next year, including 1 secondary school, Gulu High School. This will allow us to continue working with the youth as they get older and move on to higher levels.
  • We are in conversations with the TRP board about adopting a full sports curriculum for our school programs. This would allow us to consolidate our lessons and make a replicable program where we can train coaches quickly and help them to see full impact. Many organizations have already done this, so we are hoping to collaborate with some of them instead of designing from scratch.
  • With that, we need to build a proper full baseball diamond. 330 ft to all sides! We are in the process of designing a fundraising campaign to challenge donors to be a part of this. Bishop Negri Primary School has already promised to provide the land.
  • Right now our leagues are inter school leagues. Over the next year we will be looking to run leagues that have the different schools competing against each other, which opens a world of possibilities when it comes to personal growth and developing community.
  • We want to be able to fund 4 full time coaches this year. We are right now creating a campaign which will help us reach this goal through monthly sponsorships.
  • Finally, we are hoping to bring Coach Mike over to the US for training in the next year. Our dream is to have him coach a little league team in the US, and also travel around a bit to introduce our program to a wider audience.

This year, as the MLB playoffs begin, and you watch the players take the field and compete, we hope it reminds you that kids half way across the world are being transformed by this game.

The Thread, reflections by Zach and Casey

1 Apr

Boys holding trophy

There’s a thread you follow.  It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost…

William Stafford


To say the past few months at The Recreation Project in Gulu has been challenging, has stretched us personally and organizationally would be an understatement.   A long-time champion and friend of and for TRP, Sister Mary Carla, suddenly passed away this month.  Not only has she loved us and our vision from the time it was but a dream, she has encouraged us as the building and growing has occurred – rejoiced with us in our successes – and the loss of her and her beautiful smile is felt deeply here in the forest.

Times like these, you have but a thread – and at TRP that thread is, and has always been, each other.  The relationships we have with one another, and with you, are the ties that bind our work and mission and make it whole.  We hold onto that thread, when what we’re doing and how we’re doing it seems strange and unusual – when people don’t ‘get it’.  We hold onto that thread when we lose someone who does – someone like Sister Carla – we hold on tight.  We hold onto one another.  We believe in one another.

Which is why it is so important to us to built TRP as an organization with a vision that most, if not all, of the activities conducted here might one day be handed back over fully to the Ugandan community in Gulu, to the Sisters, to the staff who have worked beside us to catch that vision.  This is our hope – that the relationships – and the local people we build into and who’ve built into TRP will one day fully embrace the key that they have been the keepers of all along.  The key to redemptive, holistic, pluralistic change in region and a people that have been historically marginalized and mistreated.

Mike leading young men from Bishop Negri Primary School

Mike leading young men from Bishop Negri Primary School

This vision is already coming to fruition in ways – at the turn of this New Year TRP birthed a local community-based organization called Waveland Academy which will be the umbrella under which all of the youth sports programs will fall under.  Waveland is 100% locally staffed by Ugandans who run day to day activities at the local partner schools where we have baseball and softball programs.  Zach will oversee the operation from the United States and this will continually be an important program that TRP supports – but the staff here in northern Uganda: Goofy, Mike, and Lenny will be ultimately responsible for making the wheels on the Waveland bus go round and round.

The belief we have in one another is the thread that we hold onto – which is why we are so excited and trusting that this step, to send a small group of staff out there to do work on TRP’s behalf, is exactly the right one we need to give TRP, and the youth in northern Uganda, their wings.  It’s funny that by holding on – so many broken things and broken people might be set free.  Thank you for continuing to dream and ‘hang on’ together with us.

–  Casey and Zach

The reason why we do what we do.

The reason why we do what we do.