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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.

Play Ball

30 Oct



Game 6 of the 2013 World Series is just a few short hours away. Fans from across the nation are decked in their team colors. People are making plans to watch the 8:07pm EST game start. Bleachers will be full, stands will be packed, and homes and bars across the country will be crammed with excitement and dueling hopes. Hopes that David Ortiz hits a few more out of the park tonight to seal in the victory and crown the Sox with their 8th World Series win. Cards fans will be glued hoping to see a miracle win on the road to force game 7 tomorrow night and to have a chance to take home the championship.

While we all root, cheer and hope for the next World Champions, there is an overgrown field with fresh tracks from a group of kids leaving practice for the day just hoping for a shot at the big leagues. In a country recovering from an astounding 25 year long war, waged in the currency of youth, Bishop Negri Primary School’s little league team has made considerable strides over the last year. Last year, with a few committed coaches, some gloves and some baseballs, our kids finished second in the Uganda National Little League Tournament.  As a result of a technicality with the 1st place team was disquallified, our team was offered the spot to compete in the Africa/Eroupe regional finals and a chance to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS). Due to a significant lack of funds, time and recourses, our kids were unable to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity.

diamond (more…)

Cassie Says Wabinen (See You Next Time)

5 Aug



What can I possibly say to summarize my last two months being part of The Recreation Project and living in a culture so different and new to me? Well, let me begin by saying that I have loved every moment of it, even the challenges!

I’d like to reflect on some of the highlights from my summer here in Gulu.

First of all I was welcomed in a way like never before. The staff, beneficiaries, the community, everyone welcomed me by showing me unexplainable hospitality.

There were also the groups I got to facilitate in the Forest. I certainly hit the ground running when I got here with a group my first day, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I have enjoyed more than anything being with our groups and watching them undergo change in the matter of our program. I loved all our groups, but working with the girls rescue home from Zion Project was one of my favorite memories. Those girls have come from backgrounds I cannot begin to comprehend and they choose daily to face the challenges that are presented to them with a confidence I have never seen in a child their age. They are resilient, energetic, fun, loving girls, and it was truly a life changing experience to work with them.

I too enjoyed the week we worked with rugby groups from different secondary schools around Gulu. I was challenged in that week by the differences from group to group. We had groups that were easier to work with and others who caused me to stumble as I facilitated because they were stubborn or couldn’t cooperate well together, but it was a growing and learning experience none the less.

And I cannot forget to mention my joy from working with the primary schools coaching softball and baseball. Watching those kids grow in the last two months has been a delight. The boys at Negri Primary blew my mind with how honestly great they were at baseball, but they continued to grow and learn. The boys and girls at Vienna Primary also were a great deal of joy as I watched them transitions from not knowing how to pick and put on gloves to swinging bats and playing the game. It has truly been a joy and blessing to have so many experiences with The Recreation Project. I cannot thank TRP enough for letting me come be a part of them for this short while and for those of you who continue to support the project.


Besides the groups I too fell in love with the people I had the opportunity to work with day to day. Like I have said before their hospitality is unexplainable and their friendship is true. I love facilitating with Charles, Irene, Josie, and Robert. I’ve loved seeing Ben’s heart and passion for this project and having time with his family. I too have loved coaching softball and baseball with Mike and Patrick. The staff, facilitators, and coaches connected with The Recreation Project don’t do what that they do because they need the job or want the fame of doing it, they really do it for the beneficiaries we work with, they do what they do to empower the youth of Uganda.

And to talk about what is next may be a bit premature, but I will be home and soon to start my final year of University. I plan to stay connected with TRP by starting our first campus chapter at my University. I will also be planning a new program that, when I graduate in May 2014, I will hopefully have the opportunity to come back to Gulu, Uganda and put into action. I have every God-given dream and desire to do overseas mission work and having the opportunities I have had here with TRP and in Gulu have done more than prepared me for my future.

So for now I say Wabinen, which in Acoli means see you next time.


Room For Growing- Staff And Facilitator Training

19 Jul

Training day
The team was divided into two and put on opposite sides of the hoops and told that they had to cross to the opposite sides with their legs tied to those next to them.

The team was divided into two and put on opposite sides of the hoops and told that they had to cross to the opposite sides with their legs tied to those next to them.

This past Tuesday the Forest was ringing with laughs from none other than the staff and facilitators of TRP. We came together for a training led by our intern Cassie Buelow.

Ben’s thoughts on the day were summed up in saying that Cassie did a great job training us in a bunch of new games and leading our team. The training was both beneficial to our team and staff in bringing us together, but it also gave us a new set of games and initiatives for our future programs. The day tested our teams own teamwork and teambuilding abilities. In all was a nice break in routine from our beneficiary groups and programs, and it gave us a chance to reconnect and grow as a team.

Robert said-It was a good training. What I learned was creativity as we were given few materials, a time limit, and told to create something that would protect a water balloon when dropped from the tree house.

Charles said- It was good for building a team that The Recreation Project can depend on. It was fun, a lot of laughs, and it strengthened our personalities on how to facilitate.

The team was given a blanket and challenged to fit everyone onto that blanket. No big deal right? Then they were challenged to flip the blanket over without stepping off of it!

The team was given a blanket and challenged to fit everyone onto that blanket. No big deal right? Then they were challenged to flip the blanket over without stepping off of it!

Cassie reflects on the day in saying that leading a training for the TRP staff and facilitators was an amazing opportunity. She didn’t think upon leaving the United States that all the games she learned in girl scouts, dance, cheerleading, and through numerous leadership roles would play a role in her work here with the project. She loved the energy that the staff and facilitators brought and enjoyed seeing not only relationships grow, but also a team grow closer together. Cassie was not surprised at how the group worked together because she has been among them for six weeks now and they have been together for a bit of time, but she was surprised that they grew closer as a team, and even more so surprised that they each grew more as a person.

Cassie couldn’t decide what was more fulfilling; watching the group come together and then divide only to come back together when challenged to create a protective shelter that when dropped from the tree house would not pop a water balloon, or listening to the group laugh when doing an energizer called group juggling where the group stands in a circle and they pass a ball around to each person and then starting over while adding in as many objects as possible. She actually just really enjoyed the whole day!

As the Forest grew quiet the potential it has expanded. We always emphasize that those who come into the Forest take with them the things they have learned and apply it to their lives outside of the Forest and I do not doubt that the staff and facilitators will do that very thing. The staff and facilitators here at The Recreation Project are all one of a kind, unique, fun, loving, energetic, amazing, joyful, and creative characters who have all been drawn to one mission of inspiring the resilience of people in post-conflict communities by providing active healing experiences through outdoor adventure and sports.

A team that plays together stays together. The TRP staff and facilitators also need some quality time for team building and fun in the forest!

Cassie explaining to the group what to do.

Cassie explaining to the group what to do.

A Story of Generosity

30 Apr


Innocent and Ben

On our recent overnight wilderness excursion, the wind and rain forced us under tarps, trees, and small caves.  As I moved around to see how our club was holding up, I encountered groups chatting, laughing, and dancing in the rain.  Underneath one tarp I found just one of our guys providing rain protection to a young boy who had wondered to our campsite from a nearby village.  The boy had a reserved happiness about him.  This climbing club member named Innocent befriended the boy (named Moses) and listened to his frustration with arriving to school late because he didn’t know what time it was: he had been kicked out of school.  Nobody in his house had a watch,phone, or clock.  Innocent was moved and gave the boy his watch.  I was humbled to learn that Innocent himself was in the midst of struggling to survive.  He is an orphan who dropped out of elementary school to support his older and younger sisters.  Daily he wakes up early to dig a small sugarcane plot to pay his sister’s school fees, even though he would love to go back to school himself.

Why is it that the less fortunate give more proportionately to others in need than do those with excess?  Psychologists have termed it “compassion deficit”.  Many propose the driving force to be empathy—the ability to relate to the needy person’s situation.  The hearts of the fortunate have no “deficit”, but lack the opportunity to experience what the needy experience.

It’s interesting: last week when the Juvenile Detention boys were cleaning the health center the guards who accompanied the boys were demanding for a “day allowance”.  When the In-charge explained that this was part of a day’s work, they said, “there’s nothing like working for free”—implying that they needed additional payment: this said in front of over 20 boys who worked all morning without pay.

It’s better to give than to receive—indeed.  There is something so healing about giving and not expecting anything in return.  Altruism is scientifically proven to be therapeutic.  Why don’t we do it more?  A challenge to myself and those reading this blog…

Later on I asked club members to draw their life path in chalk on the rock, noting several of their most influential moments–good and bad. I have done the lifeline exercise for years, but this time Innocent did something I’ve never seen before . At a certain point, Innocent’s lifeline split into two—one for himself and one for his sisters.  It was a beautiful picture of empathy.

What have you noticed about generosity and empathy?