As Another Season Ends, The Future Looks Bright

26 Sep

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.

Focusing on Vulnerable Youth

29 Aug

Last month we welcomed seven youth groups from the Gulu Youth Development Association (GYDA), a vocational training center.  We have worked hand in hand with GYDA since TRP’s inception.  Kilama, GYDA’s Director, is an inspiring character who believes in innovation and creativity—we get along very well!  He selects youth from extremely vulnerable situations and helps them overcome the barriers that prevent them from earning a living and being productive members of society.  TRP provides the psychosocial backing for their program through our Outdoor Adventure program.

Yesterday we had 90 lively youths from GYDA in the forest, and one young man in particular stood out.  Let’s call him Henry.  Henry is known among his friends for having spent time in prison.  He came in wearing an under-shirt and with boundless energy.  Rest or observation weren’t part of his personality—he wanted to be in the center of each activity.  Henry was larger than life!

He was the first to pass through the “Chicken Plucker”.  We all laughed when he shouted, “You see, I’m strong!!!!  The way I almost broke the chains that were tied on me in prison.”  His passion was surging and lifted others up.

At the “River Crossing” he insisted on being last to cross.  In the debrief he said, “I’m not the most skillful personforge the river in the group—but I found a way of leading and allowing other people’s skills to come out.  I was the last to pass because I wanted to make sure the whole team was safely over.  I had a plan to carry the timber over to the other side, and I really wanted us to succeed.”

Many of the youths from GYDA have, like Henry, been in conflict with the law; some are pulled straight off the streets and given accommodation and skills training.  The forest was vibrating with the energy of these young people—some of whom have decided to place their energy within a new-found light of self-worth, confidence, and hope rather than spend their energy on destruction, cruelty, anger, and hopelessness.  With 80% of Uganda’s population under 30 years old, and only 1% in northern Uganda making it to University—it is crucial that we pay attention to and support these vulnerable young people who are defining the country’s present and future.

Thank you for reading and being a part of The Recreation Project.

TRP is Looking for Interns

27 Aug

TRP is seeking interns to assist the Fundraising and Development Coordinator in leading stateside awareness and fundraising efforts to support our work in Northern Uganda.  This internship will be based out of TRP’s Denver office space in the Posner Center for International Development.  This position offers a lot of freedom to pursue areas of personal interest and to meaningfully contribute to our vital work bringing healing and hope to post-conflict communities. Check out the full job description for more information about the position and how to apply.

We Came, We Saw, We Got Muddy!

12 Aug

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On August 2nd, TRP board members and friends took on the Big Dog Brag Mud Run in Colorado Springs.

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Our mud runners were supported by eighty donors who helped us raise nearly $5,000 to support our programs inspiring youth in Uganda to overcome fear and patterns of war.

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We also had some wonderful volunteers who manned our sponsored obstacle- the cargo net climb.

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We’d like to send out a great big THANK YOU to all of our runners, volunteers, and supporters!

We could not continue our vital work bringing healing experiences to communities traumatized by war without your generous support!

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Climbing Club Members Reach New Heights

31 Jul

Two former members of our Climbing Club program, Kichel Denis and Rubangankene Godfrey, have joined TRP’s staff as Level One Facilitators. Both men feel their participation in climbing club was a life-changing experience that empowered them to overcome the obstacles of their past and make a better future for themselves.  Here are their stories:

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Kichel is a former TRP Climbing Club member.  He came to TRP when invited by the local Councilor to join a club that provides weekly training sessions in climbing and life skills.  He is one of many who came to town to seek refugee from the rebels, and spent his nights at the nearby hospital.  “Many of us have nothing to do these days, so there are a lot of bad behaviors.  Most of us are looking for day-jobs to get something to eat.”

Kichel is the second born of 9 siblings.  His father is a farmer and cultivates bananas, sugarcane, and raises fish, and bees.

“I am so proud of my job at The Recreation Project,” says Denis.  “As the leader of the climbing club, I learned how to deal with my age-mates who used to show up to sessions drunk—it hasn’t been easy.  But through this process I have built a lot of confidence in myself and have become a very determined person”

 

Godfrey (640x427)Rubangakene Godfrey

Rubangakene came to Gulu town in 1996 when violence pushed people from his village to nearby trading centers or towns.  He is a former climbing club member that was invited to the club by a fellow volleyball player.  His team “Ker meri ubin” (Thy kingdom come) was practicing when he eagerly accepted the invitation to try the new sport.

Rubangakene lives with his uncle.  Even though he finished high school and was admitted to agricultural college, his family didn’t have enough money for the school fees.  A couple of years ago his friend offered to rent him a motorcycle and since that time, Rubangakene has been working as a boda-boda driver (motorcycle taxi).

“Some of us (climbing club members) had nothing to do,” Godfrey recalls.  “But after being part of the club, we realized that we could actually pick ourselves up and keep trying.  The Wilderness Excursion was a changing point in my life and many of the other guys.  I got a new perspective of myself, and knew that I had new horizons”

“Working with TRP has allowed me to support my ageing parents and sustain myself. I always remind the guys at the climbing wall to preserve—we never know how high we can go.”