hope through soccer

Sometimes I struggle when I know I should write about one thing and I feel uninspired. It is these times that I wish a writer would modify my words filling them with eloquence that would better express what is in my head and my heart. It is not that I am uninspired by what I should write about–quite the contrary. What I do not know is how to take such a fantastic and inspiring series of events and present them in an image that will portray a piece of what I experienced.

On Saturday the final game of a 13 team, 52 game, soccer tournament was held in the midst of a grand ceremony. This tournament was a dream of our partner in Northern Uganda who saw young men being idle in their villages unsure of how to fill their time and lacking hope after 10 years in IDP camps (internally displaced people camps). Yes, stability is returning to the region, safety is the norm rather than the sacred, and villages are being rebuilt. But the rebuilding of a village is easier on paper than in reality, and hope is a magical tool. And so our partner dreamt up and created a soccer tournament where they fund uniforms and soccer balls, and there are prizes of bulls and goats to eat, and a beautiful trophy for the winner to display. Participation requires the building of latrines and hand washing locations, and soccer scores include community transformation in terms of WASH (water, hygiene, and sanitation) and half-times are filled with song and dance about WASH created and performed by the players. I could never come up with a plan so brilliant–not in my most wild imagination.

The day of ceremonies included a parade of the players through town, demonstrations of latrines, washing stations, and hand pumps. Officials present included not only local and regional officials, but also the Minster of Water and Environment of Uganda; she was impressed by what she saw. The final soccer game was exciting and demonstrated the impressive skills of the players. The song and dance were both beautiful and inspiring.

As we visited communities in the two days following the ceremony, we saw transformation beginning in communities. We saw biosand filters and hand pumps and hand washing stations and dish racks. We saw hope and we saw soccer players filled with ownership of their program. One year. This program has only been running for one year and already the impact is tangible. In the coming years the program will grow–the hope is 60 teams within three years.

I wish I could capture these events for you. Smiling women. Laughing children. Welcoming men. Stories of triumph and a sense of pride. Over it all, hope. I am at a loss of how to share this, of how to construct this image, and so I close simply wishing that I could have transported you to a soccer field in Northern Uganda for a day of celebration.

apoyo matek

Thank you. Apoyo matek. Thank you for coming to Uganda, and in particular, to Lira. Thank you for visiting. Thank you for breakfast. Thank you for lunch. Thank you for dinner. Thank you for water. I thank our God that we have been able to meet. Apoyo matek. Thank you for joining our celebration. Thank you for inviting us. Thank you for welcoming us. Thank you.

Those are the words that fill my ears and exit my mouth all day long. I am now in Uganda which, like much of Africa, is a thanking culture. Little can be assumed about any event–the starting time, how long it will last, what will occur, or what will be expected of me–except that I will say ‘Thank you’ and be told ‘Thank you.’ Sometimes it gets old and I begin to think that it would be great to hop skip and jump over the many thank you’s, effectively thinking, “Let’s move on and not spend more time on this.” And then I remember what it is like in America where we say “Hey” and “What’s up?” with more frequency than “Thank you” and suddenly my patience increases. Apoyo matek.