The month of June was enormous for the Recreation Project! With over 200 participants coming through the camp in Gulu; we had tremendous success in helping various youth groups experience joy and learn valuable life skills through rock climbing and the ropes courses.
In addition we held our largest Wilderness Excursion to date! Over thirty six participated in an outing to the cliffs near Patiko. A large number came from the all girls climbing club based at Sacred Heart High School. Two days were spent building camp and practicing rappelling skills that were learned earlier in the month at the TRP camp in Gulu.
In the evenings there was time to relax and eat while stories were shared around the campfire. Ben along with girls from the climbing club created life lines. These were stories drawn on the rocks using chalk that told of hardship and good experiences. Rocks indicated moments of struggle that were overcome while flowers signified happy memories. Poetry and song were also shared throughout the night. One climbing club member reflected on the loss of her parents and how going to school seemed hopeless until she joined the climbing club and found purpose and strength while rappelling from a 100 foot cliff.
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:
We would like to challenge just 10 people to donate 50 dollars a month.
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.
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.
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
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.
Today we received 15 girls from Restore Leadership Academy for our first climbing lesson. We are always so excited to get a new batch of climbers and filled with hope of what will come. We introduced the project, had some practice, and then Irene asked “What are your expectations from this club”. In the past, this question inevitably evokes responses such as: “I hope we will get a sitting fee”, “We need identity cards”, “A certificate”, “Transport allowance”, etc… in this case, we heard a new kind of expectation:
1. Learn how to socialize. ~Joan
2. Gain experience on how to help others. ~Barbara
3. Learn now about our environment and how to be more creative. ~Faith
4. Create unity among students and at home with people in my
5. To be able to lead others. ~Prossy
6. Learn skills with creativity and teach others. ~Pauline
7. Know how to react and to lead people. ~Patience
8. Help friends in trouble and get more skills. ~Leah
9. Learn new leadership skills. ~Bridget
10. Learn more cooperation with others. ~Fiona
11. Learn how to take and live life with others in the environment. ~Vivian
12. Learn how to fit into the community. ~Olive
13. Learn how to help others reach their dreams. ~Anenocan
14. Be more courageous. ~Mercy
15. Work hard to achieve my goal and learn more about leadership.
You guys are doing something right Restore International and the Leadership Academy! They already have so much of what we hope to instill in young people in Gulu. We’re really excited to see where this goes.
Arriving before the rest of the group, Ben and I got a chance to scope out what was in store for the day. Looking over the 80 foot cliff—gave even the experienced climber “Jelly Knees”. Imagining 17 high school girls, whose only climbing experience is a 7 meter climbing wall in the forest, I wondered how or if they were going to attempt the climb. The pride of witnessing all 17 overcome their fear of heights was something amazing to watch. All were nervous with a few wet cheeks rappelling down, but none gave in to the challenge before them.
After watching all of the girls rappel, I was one of the last people to head off the cliff. My experience leaning backwards over that edge was terrifying and gave me all that more respect for the girls club.
To get back to camp we needed to hack our way through dense grass and trees. It was a group effort with each of us taking turns with the machete clearing the way. The hike back to camp was a grueling hour, that fortunately ended with with a hardy meal of beans and rice.
After lunch we set up tents—again, the girls showed exemplary leadership and teamwork to complete the campsite within 30 minutes. With the campsite up, and our things stowed away, we assembled the group to begin another key activity of the wilderness excursion—the LIFELINE. The lifeline was carried out on the smooth rocks using chalk. It’s a creative and simple way for each of the girls to present their whole life story. We asked them to include both positive and negative experiences that they’ve encountered—events that shaped their lives. A curve up shows a positive experience and a curve down, a negative one. I was privileged when asked to come and see some of the lifelines. I saw a number of events about academic achievement and challenges, several instances of death in the family, moving to new locations, but all ended with aspirations of a full and positive future (we had future doctors, lawyers, fashion designers, business managers). I shared my lifeline as well. We shared our stories, challenges and joys, and this created stronger bonds between us.
Around the bonfire in the evening, we were asked to say something positive about someone we saw doing something remarkable. I didn’t expect to be among the people praised, but was so grateful to hear some of the girls talk about the difference I had made for them that day. It was touching, a trip I won’t soon forget.