Today was my first full day in Uganda after a day of traveling from Saturday to Sunday night! I came into the trip with an open mind and didn’t really know what to expect of Uganda or of Uganda Lacrosse. I was pleasantly surprised. This morning, Brandon, Andrew and Oscar (our hosts) and I took a trip to the Sanyu Babies Home where we played with the babies and kids for a few hours. The kids were so excited to have us there as they rushed over and jumped up for us to grab them. Few times in my life have I ever felt that wanted before. All they wanted was attention, and as someone who has loved playing with kids his whole life, I jumped at the opportunity to give it to them. During the few hours we were there, the kids brushed their teeth which was quite entertaining, we read books, and took a walk outside the home to the sidewalk. Here they watched what was going on in the real world outside their home. The kids were so excited to just have someone new there and to be doing something new, running all over the place, some even working together to move the gate entrance to the home. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures while at the home, but the kids were adorable and seeing all the smiles on their faces made my day!
After leaving the Sanyu Babies Home we went to the Uganda museum. Having not been to Uganda before, we briefly learned about its history and about the country’s animals, plants, and traditions as well. The museum was quite bigger than expected and was a perfect introduction to Uganda, who’s country’s animal is the crane if you wondering!
After this we went back to the Fields of Growth house where we relaxed for a little while before heading to the Business School for practice. When we got to practice there were a ton of younger kids running around playing, some of whom came up to me and introduced themselves and saying that they were “captain” of the younger kids. As more of the older players showed up we began practice and I must say they far exceeded my expectations right from the start! We began with line drills where most players could pass and catch with both hands. They used both hands and threw crisp passes, both stationary and on the run. After some more stickwork, we ran a 3v2 drill that is one of my favorites at Cornell and they picked it up right away. After this we split up by position and I worked with the middies and attack. We talked about dodging from behind and getting to 5 and 5 and about dodging from up top. The look on their faces while I was talking showed me how eager they are to learn. They want to get better and are very passionate about getting better. The players got the moves right away, some even doing it at a more advanced level, adding jump shots, etc. They have tremendous athletic ability and it is amazing how far a little coaching could go in just one day! We finished practice with a full field scrimmage as they were all asking too. If we hadn’t stopped them because it was getting to dark, they would have played through the night! After practice, we broke it down and I spent some time with many of the players answering their questions about the game.
Looking back at the day one memory really stands out, one that both reminded me of where I was but also about how much lacrosse means to some of these kids. Brian Yunis, one of the captains and better athletes in the local league showed up to practice a bit lit. Approaching me after practice I figure he was going to want to chat, but instead he apologized for coming late and that he was coming from a friends burial. I paused, and didn’t really know what to say. I simply said I am really sorry about your loss and that I look forward to working with you more towards the end of the week. But then I thought about it, how this kid rushed over to lacrosse practice after a friends burial because lacrosse meant that much to him. Its more than just a game to him, it’s a way to forget about everything else going on, a sign of hope and of better things to come!
Day 2 in the books! Waking up this morning we were planning on taking a Taxi four hours to Masaka, but Andrew, one of the best drivers in Uganda, decided we were going to drive ourselves. Driving in Uganda is crazier than driving in Manhattan. There are motorcycles, bota botas, everywhere and there are essentially no rules to the road. We woke up, packed the car and I courageously took shotgun. I say courageously because Andrew Boston, a graduate of University of Delaware in 2003 who is in the Peace Corp. and living in Uganda for 2 years, questioned my decision and said it was a bold move. However I want the full Ugandan experience and I got it. The trip to Masaka was quite long, but eventful, with some car troubles along the way. This was just another bump in the road, literally, and after a quick fix we were on our way. We picked up some fruit along the way as well, jackfruit, mangoes, and miniature bananas called ndizis. I am craving jackfruit right now as I write this, its unbelievable! The ride was great as I took in the many sites Uganda has to offer and also got to know Andrew Musambi, my host. We talked a little about everything and it was great to be able to spend some quality time with him.
The highlight of the car ride their however was stopping at the Uganda Equator where you can stand on both sides of the equator at one time. It was pretty awesome, I don’t think many people can say they have done that in their lifetime!
Once we got to the Bishops house in Kindu, we had lunch, which was matoke, spaghetti and rice with some mango. It was my first taste of matoke, little did I know there would be two more that day! We then headed off to see the Fields of Growth Barefoot Truth Children’s Choir perform for their families and us. To say this was amazing is an understatement. After an introductory song by the choir we had dinner with their families while the choir prepared for more performances of singing and dancing. After dinner, I sat in awe as I watched these kids perform and just smiled as I looked at the smiles on their faces the whole time. It was amazing to see how happy these kids were and their families. After their performances we handed them CD’s that were made with their performances recorded on it. This was the first time they were ever able to hear themselves sing and they sang along for some more entertainment.
It was an incredible experience seeing how talented these kids were and the hard work and practice that must go into these performances. Afterwards we hung out for a little while and took some pictures. I jumped at the opportunity to play with some of the younger children. They are adorable and just come right over to you and are eager to play!
After heading home we ate dinner where I had jackfruit for the first time and then we just talked for a while, lounging around the guesthouse. Andrew Boston is incredibly smart and knowledgeable about Uganda and its history and listening to him talk to Andrew and Francis is allowing me to learn as well. They are all incredibly bright but eager to learn as well. Andrew and Francis will often ask me questions about lacrosse and how to do this or what is that, etc. and it is my pleasure to talk to them about it.
Today was quite a humbling experience, seeing the conditions in which these people live and seeing the constant smiles on their faces. It really makes someone such as me really appreciate what I back home and is truly a life changing experience for anyone! And its only the second day.
If you’ve ever seen Gladiator and the end scene where he is walking to his family through the fields in the middle of nowhere, that somewhat resembles where I was today. Driving in the middle of no where to the middle of no where and then parking the car, getting out, and then walking further into the middle of no where is what we did today. It was the most humbling experience of my life and totally worth the 22-hour flight to Uganda in itself!
After waking up early for church and being welcomed into mass by the priest, herding seven terribly behaving goats about four miles up the road to the HOPEFUL School and riding a bora bora back to the bishops house for lunch, we spent a majority of the day traveling to the homes of families whose children or grandchildren attend the HOPEFUL School. To say that these families have nothing is an understatement, and a simple act of us spending $25 to provide them with sugar, rice, soap, and cooking oil, made their day. It made mine as well, seeing the smiles come across these family’s faces and how thankful they were to us was amazing. Our first stop was at the Fort Family Home who Kevin Dugan first met when he was in Kindu and one of the main reasons behind the Fields of Growth Initiative. Living in huts, wearing clothes that have been washed in days, maybe weeks, no shoes on their feet, many of these families rely on digging and growing their own crops for a source of income in which is spent immediately on food and on school. They spend this money on school in hopes that their children will be provided with the resources in order to live a better life than they are currently living.
The irony of the situation came when these families want to give something back to you and it is disrespectful not to take it. Taking from these families is probably one of the toughest things I have ever had to do but they insist and insist on you taking it. One family gave us a chicken and a jackfruit in return and another gave us groundnuts. Other families had nothing to offer which is expected.
Throughout the day I was also able to speak to Master John Kakande who is the headman in charge of the HOPEFUL School. Master simply means bachelor. I think I am gong to start calling my Uncle Jim, Master Metzger…fitting! He told me about his ultimate goal of constructing these two schools, making a teachers headquarters and then eventually a home on the school grounds where orphans can live and attend school. Another problem is that grandparents, who are sick and old, are supporting many of these children. The question is who will look after these children when their grandparents are no longer capable of doing it or their. Many of these kids are left on their own to provide for their brothers and sisters. These families aren’t small either. This home on the school grounds would provide a place for these kids to stay and be looked after. Hearing this really got my attention, as I couldn’t imagine living on my own as a 12 year old. This is a project that needs to happen soon and will only cost $7,000 but make a world of a difference in many peoples lives.
ROB PANNELL – DAY 4
Alarm went off earlier than normal this morning to get a head start on a long day of digging and celebration. Andrew Boston, who was supposed to head back to Soroti, decided to not leave us in the trenches alone. Arriving at the Hopeful School at around 8, we wasted no time and immediately grabbed some trench digging tools, shovels, hoes, etc. to get straight to work. Ill be honest I was not prepared for this amount of work. About fifteen minutes in, blisters started to appear so the shirt came off to be wrapped around my hand and grabbed another one for my other hand. If it wasn’t for this I probably would not be able to type this blog right now. It was quite impressive watching some of these men dig, their technique so consistent. My goal was to reach their level by the end of the day. Safe to say, goal not achieved. After about 6 hours of work we finished and were able to lay the foundation bricks for the second classroom. This has been made possible with the money raised from my Hopeful School fundraiser. Thank you to all those who contributed!
Also throughout the day we sacrificed one of the goats we bought as a celebration for the new goat house. This was also made possible through all those donations! It was quite an experiment seeing a goat being slaughtered, skinned, and cooked right in front of my eyes. I also participated in skinning the goat a little bit myself. I figure you have to try everything while you can. I mean who knows when you’ll get the chance to skin a goat ever again. We also cooked a chicken that was given to us the day prior on our house visits. Both the goat and chicken both tasted very well along with some roasted corn and chapattis. Chapattis are essentially dough that’s fried, similar to a pita and you make rolexes with them, which is the Rolex watches of food in Uganda in my opinion. Its two chapattis, eggs, tomato and hot sauce rolled together. UNREAL!
To finish the day we toured the Hopeful School seeing all the projects that Princeton’s Tom Shreiner and Chad Weidameir made possible. Once it is all put together it is going to be quite amazing for the community up their in Kindu! I can’t wait to see the finished products and eat some of the pineapple. We also planted a tree overlooking the classroom being built. This tree was planted in honor of my visit and we called it the Eamon McEneaney and George Boiardi Tree! They have looked down on Cornell Lacrosse for years know so I thought it was fitting that they too look down on the children of the HOPEFUL School!
After meeting the Bishop of Fort Portal and eating some food we were on the way back to Kampala. Driving at night is pretty much impossible as there are no street lights and made me think how impressive it is people get from place to place with no road signs and no GPS. My dad, known as BobBob on the road (upgraded version of TomTom) would have trouble getting around these parts! Up next, an exciting weekend of lacrosse!
ROB PANNELL – DAY 5
Today we got up and went to the Uganda Martyrs Shrine where I learned about the religious history of Uganda. We went on a tour with the man who overlooks the shrine and he was very nice and extremely informative. Immediately following the visit to the shrine, we headed to the marketplace, a great spot to buy some gifts for the family back home. Andrew and Francis told me I had to go around on my own to all these different stores and bargain with the people on what I was buying. They told me that they would try and take advantage of me because I was a “mzungu.” I would not allow this to happen and I can proudly say that I was able to get the price dropped on every item that I bought.
A little later that afternoon we returned to the lacrosse field where I would coach my second practice with the team. Those who showed did a great job and are eager to learn and pick up things quick. However in speaking to the team after practice I tried to emphasize how important it is to be consistent in their efforts. Andrew, Maurice and Francis have explained to me that some players who have great potential don’t show up everyday and will skip a few days at a time. I explained to those who were there, those who want to get better that they need to practice on their own as well and also get those who aren’t at practice to consistently come. That will allow for a smoother running practice and will allow former drills to be implemented. Right now I think stickwork is most important and the more drills that can be implemented, the better. I most say there is a ton of athleticism and potential out on that field and by the 2014 World Games, they will be a completely different team. Also what is great to see is the younger kids playing, copying the drills we were doing and scrimmaging at a fast pace as well. It’s incredible to see these younger kids playing with both hands, moving the ball, not just shooting on the open not, cradling with one hand, and with sticks that are probably dated back to the early 2000s. Ill be honest, I’m not one that is easily impressed and right away these kids who have been playing for such a short time, impressed me.
After practice we went out to a local place and it was great to spend some quality time with the guys. On the way however I was amazed to see some of the wealth in Kampala and then a few hundred yards away, such poverty. There was a brick house that would be big by New York standards that was just placed in the middle of such a poor area. It was mind blowing to see this and to be honest quite hard for me to comprehend. I was able to talk to Maurice about this while we were sitting in traffic, which I thought only existed in New York. However Uganda brings traffic to a whole other level. Maurice is the youngest of 18 children in his family and has lived in Uganda his whole life. He is a professor at MUBS in finance and strategy. He is incredibly smart and informative and it was a pleasure spending time with him in traffic.
All in all it was another great day in Uganda and I am looking forward to the start of their season tomorrow!
ROB PANNELL – FINAL BLOG
In going to Uganda, the main purpose of my trip was to coach, serve, and learn. The itinerary devised by Kevin Dugan, Andrew and Maurice I don’t think could have been planned any better to make that happen. It allowed for the perfect blend of everything into seven days and allowed me to take in the full experience while in Uganda.
First, I traveled to Uganda to coach, share my knowledge of the game with a very eager, hard working and passionate group of Ugandans. It was incredible to see how far they have come in such little time and their desire to get better. The athleticism is there, and with consistency in both practicing on a day to day basis and coaching, they will be at a high level a lot sooner than some would expect. It was great to see the league they already have put in place and the first day of games that were played on Saturday. The players on the field are extremely competitive and passionate about playing. There are rivalries that already exist in the league and fans that already follow their progress. Local media covers the games and the league as well and it was great to be able to get on one of the main radio stations to talk lacrosse and spark interest in the community! What is most promising though about the development of lacrosse in Uganda is the younger kids. They practice prior to the older players and stay till after they are done. They mimic the drills that the older teams do and constantly have the stick in their hands. This excites me about where lacrosse in Uganda will be years down the road when these young ones are older!
Second, I wanted to serve while I was in Uganda and in some ways was more of the reason I wanted to go. One of the things I love about lacrosse is the opportunity it has allowed me to give back. Cornell Lacrosse loves to give back to the community in any ways that we can and I figured this was a way for Cornell Lacrosse to give back in a major way. Chad Wiedmaier and Tom Schreiber have put in a tremendous amount of work in developing the Hopeful School in Kindu and it was great to become a part of their projects as well as start Cornell Lacrosse’s own within the school. It was eye opening to see the way in which people live that attend the school and to put a smile on their face and help them out in any ways that I can was worth the trip in itself. We were able to break ground for a second classroom being built after a hard days work of digging and setup a house for the goats that we purchased. While I was there we were also able to visit some of the families and deliver to them some holiday gifts that will go a long way as well as spend some time with them. By the generosity of all those involved with Cornell Lacrosse and my personal life, these projects were made possible and many people’s lives will be changed as a result. I thank you for that!
Lastly, I went over to Uganda to learn. During my trip I was able to go to some of the main places in Uganda to learn about its history as well as constantly asking questions to Andrew, Maurice, Francis and Oscar and them constantly informing me of things as well. I was able to learn much about Uganda’s history and about the geography of Uganda as well. Aside from learning about Uganda as a whole, I learned about the people who live there and what it is they do on an everyday basis to provide for their families and themselves. Whether it is walking miles to school or to get water, digging to earn some extra money, or tending to their crops or livestock, the people of Uganda are hard working and extremely thankful for what they have. It was a lesson learned by me while I was there to be extremely thankful for what you have because you have no idea how incredibly different it could be.
All in all the trip was an incredible experience and I thank all those involved for making it happen and all those who donated to my cause for making a difference in the lives of many!