This winter, Rapids Youth Soccer staff members, Brenda Hause, Jasmine Basile, and Kati Dugan, packed up 300 lbs of donated clothing and equipment from our CRYSC members and traveled around the globe to bring them to Uganda! The trio volunteered with the non-profit organization, Field of Dreams Uganda **, spending an unforgettable ten days working with local youth and soccer coaches.
In our latest blog post, we sat down with Brenda, Jasmine, and Kati to discuss their experiences traveling and volunteering in Uganda. Read about their trip below!
** Fields of Dreams Uganda (FoDU) is a non-profit organization that provides hope, empowerment and a future to the vulnerable children in Uganda through the vehicles of soccer and education. If you’d like to get involved with the organization through CRYSC, please contact our local FoDU representative Jeff Oleck at [email protected]!
First, a little background on where you went and why? What did you bring? Where did you stay? Etc… Anything about the details of the trip you think a reader should know?
Kati – While FoDU offers service trips year round with different goals, our trip was focused on soccer. We traveled to two regions in Uganda. First, the Central Region (Kampala, Uganda) for a couple of days, then we traveled up to the Northern region (Gulu, Uganda)
We stayed in guest houses, which are essentially bed and breakfast type hotels. We had western toilets and amenities where we stayed. At the fields, we used pit latrines and lots of hand sanitizer!
We each brought two (2) 50-lb bags full of gently used soccer gear (soccer balls, donated uniforms, socks, pennies, ball pumps, etc…). Then we had a separate small roller bag of personal belongings and a backpack for the plane.
I packed less than 25 lbs of personal items (clothes, toiletries, etc…), so that I would have more room for donated gear.
What about Fields of Dreams Uganda attracted you to volunteer? Have you worked with them before?
Jasmine – This was my first time working with Field of Dreams directly. I had heard so many great things about the organization from our coworker Jeff Oleck, so I was very excited to get involved. I love FoDU because they are so much more than a “soccer organization.” What FoDU is doing is creating sustainable living for the children of Uganda, while providing hope through different outlets. I feel like a lot of other organizations will say one thing, but then not have the results to back it up. Field of Dreams allows you the opportunity to see the tangible results of where your money and time are going. To walk through the partner schools, walk through the gardens, meet the teachers and see the kids in a tangible setting and to actually see results unfold right in front of you was life altering.
Brenda – This was my first trip with FoDU. I was introduced to it by Jeff Oleck, the Director of Goalkeeping for Rapids Youth Soccer. He has been involved with the organization for many years. A few FoDU representatives attended a coaches game night. They shared their stories with us and explained how much of an impact FoDU had on their lives. Jeff sent an email telling us about the next trip to Uganda. It was a December trip that would focus on soccer. I was very intrigued, but I am not a soccer coach. I spoke to Jeff and he said it would be good to have people from the administrative side of soccer, as well.
Kati – I was attracted to volunteering because I have a huge heart for working with kids and I felt a call to use my gifts of coaching, compassion, and love to serve the needs of the children in Uganda. I was attracted to this particular organization because it is not a “band-aid” organization that throws money at problems in Africa in hopes to solve the generational poverty, hunger crisis, and lack of infrastructure. Instead, Fields of Dreams Uganda empowers local Ugandans to live out the mission of the organization to promote long-term sustainability and change.
What was an average day of volunteering like?
Kati – On a typical day, we would wake up and eat breakfast at our guest house. We had big breakfasts to hold us over for the day. By 10 AM we would be on the pitch with the players, running training for each age group. Sometimes we would break for lunch at the nearby school and have rice & beans with fresh pineapple and bananas. We would finish training in the afternoon and try to leave by 4 PM to avoid a “jam” through Kampala. Then we would eat dinner at a local restaurant and have a team debrief to process the day.
Brenda – We would get up, eat breakfast, and then head to the fields. The first two days at each site were spent training the teams. We trained groups of children from FoDU schools the first day and community teams the next. The coaches we were with ran sessions for each age group. The coaches and players were so excited and eager to learn. At times there was a language barrier, but soccer (football) is a universal language and made it easier to communicate. The third day at each site was a tournament, where FoDU teams and Community Teams played each other. We would visit the schools, gardens, and students throughout the day. The students prepared us lunch of fresh fruit and rice. At the end of the day we headed back to the guest house, showered, ate dinner, and shared our experiences from the day with our team.
Jasmine – While we had a similar schedule most days, each day brought new memories. We would wake up around 7 AM and meet in the dining area of our hotel for an 8 AM departure. Our group would spend the mornings drinking coffee and getting to know each other. Herbert would then pick us up and take us to the fields. The soccer coaches would have a session planned for the players and I would help out however I could. Sometimes I would jump in and play and sometimes I would just observe. After being on the fields, we would get on the bus and head back to the hotel. After showering and cleaning up, we would meet in the dining area for dinner to decompress. The Executive Director Mike would have us go around and talk about our highs and lows. Each day our highs and lows would be drastically different from the next and each person would have such a unique story to tell that some of us didn’t even notice. It was a great way to take in the experience and see everyone’s perspective.
What was the most memorable day of the trip? Why was it so memorable?
Jasmine – The most memorable day of the trip for me was day four. We had a six hour bus ride to Gulu, northern Uganda and I had just spent day three bed-ridden with a stomach bug. Needless to say the six hour bus ride was ROUGH but the experience along the way made it all worthwhile. About three hours into the bus ride, the Executive Director Mike told us that we were going to stop at pig farm of one of the Field of Dreams alumni. Kosmas had been a student in Field of Dreams and the organization helped him get on his feet and create a sustainable life in Uganda. Not only did Kosmas run a successful business, he also had the most remarkable smile and contagious laugh. One of my favorite things about him was that he named one of the piglets after his wife, Whinnie! When he told us that he let out this big laugh and could not stop laughing. It really was amazing.
We continued on the remaining three hours of the bus ride. When we got to Gulu, we went straight to the school and fields for the training session. At this point, my stomach had still not fully recovered so I was in no shape to be on the fields. One of the teachers at the school, Florence, asked Mike if he wanted to see the garden they had been working on and I jumped at the opportunity to tag along. On the 20 minute walk to the garden, we stopped at the headmaster’s house, Lawrence, and he invited us over to try some of his and his wife’s organic honey. We sat outside with chickens around us in the beautiful Ugandan sun and ate fresh, organic honey straight from the comb. It was arguably the best honey I have ever had. We continued on the walk to the garden and Florence told us all about the garden and agriculture. Her knowledge of agriculture and everything the garden does for the community was astonishing. The garden that she and the school ran provided food for the school and the community. It also teaches kids another useful skill that they can use in their everyday life, reiterating FoDU’s goal of creating sustainable living for their kids.
Florence is such a welcoming soul. I felt like I had a great connection with her. On the walk back from the garden she held my hand as we walked and pointed out the different plants and taught me things I never knew I would learn. She offered to drive me back to the hotel on her “boda boda” (small moped style bike). I was so excited because we had seen so many in Central Uganda but it was too busy to ride one. The ride through Gulu was great, even though we got a lot of strange looks from the community.
It was overall an amazing day back to life after being bed ridden the day before.
Is there any specific family, child, or adult that you met that you’d like to talk about?
Kati/Brenda/Jasmine – Kati’s favorite day of the trip was Tournament Day in Kampala. We got to be “moms” and “dads” to our FoDU kiddos cheering them on from the sidelines. Tournament Day was the day Kati bonded the most with Christian. Christian was her shadow all day, standing next to her, playing with her, drawing with her and watching the matches. He didn’t know much English, but she was able to learn the most about him and his family through his drawings. He drew a house, and then drew his family. He drew his dream. Christian wants to be a pilot and fly to America when he grows up. As a FoDU beneficiary, he is able to go to school, play football, and pursue his dream of being a pilot.
Mike Warneke, Founder and Executive Director. Mike is arguably one of the most inspiring people on this planet. One of the days we had community kids watching our training and Mike brought them a few bananas and juice boxes because we had extras. Overall just an incredible human being.
Jonathan, the Uganda National Director. Jonathan pours his heart and soul into FoDU. At the end of our trip, we heard business proposals from the youth counsel and Jonathan offered some incredible advice to the students and even offered to personally tutor a young woman named Joy in accounting.
Florence, an advocate in Gulu and an amazing boda-boda driver! One of the most incredible humans I have met. She spends so much time with the children. She also plants and harvest the school garden.
Sharon, a social worker. She helps the students through everything. SO many things that I would never even think of being from America. And she does it with a smile!
Joel, a player on the Club team and new coach for some of the younger players. I was able to see him grow as a coach and mentor in just the few days we were there. Such an amazing young man.
Irene – I have had the privilege of meeting Irene at the coach night in Denver and then again on the Hope Tour just prior to my trip. While in Uganda, we visited Irene at her school. Thanks to FoDU, she completed her schooling to be a nursery school teacher while we were in country. I was so excited to see that and to see how excited she was! She embodies all that FoDU is and can do for children and their families.
Najib – one of the youth players from Kampala. He loved football. He wanted to make sure we were coming back the next day. Wanted me to watch him play. Loved his smile!
Our Hope Tour team – Jasmine Basile, Kati Dugan, Brenda House, Grant Williams, Tyler Pagano, Mike Jones, Abby Springer, Mike Warneke. We became a family over those ten days!
What did you learn while there? What will you take from this trip that will impact you going forward?
Brenda – This was a life changing trip for me. I met so many amazing people doing amazing things. People I will never forget. Many of whom I still talk to today through social media. It is hard to put into words the effect this trip had on me as a person. I look at things differently now. I find joy in things I overlooked in the past. I am more hopeful. I look forward to helping this organization help as many people as possible.
Kati – Throwing money at a problem rarely fixes the issue. Football is a global sport with a global impact. SHOW UP. Showing up goes a long way. It doesn’t take travelling across the world to show up. Be present in your day. Show up for your friends, listen to them. Show up for your coworkers. Show up for your kids, they are watching your every move.
Jasmine – There is so much to learn and take away from this experience. But I think the biggest thing is to really do your research on any organization you want to work with. FoDU is everything that I believe a successful, well-hearted organization should be. They don’t just throw money at issues for a quick and easy fix. They are creating and providing sustainable living and giving children the platform to succeed on their own without giving a sense of false hope.
Do you plan on going back?
Brenda – I would love to go back and hope to do so in early 2022. FoDU has multiple trips throughout the year. I hope to bring my children back with me to share this amazing experience.
Jasmine – Absolutely.
Kati – Definitely.
What would you say to anyone interested in volunteering with Field of Dreams Uganda?
Brenda – I would say DO IT!! I can not emphasize that enough!! You have the chance to touch and influence the lives of so many. You will never regret it!
Jasmine – DO IT – this organization is unlike any other.
Kati – A trip to travel to Uganda and to use your gifts and resources in a tangible way will change your heart. You will fall in love with the kids, they will fall in love with you. You will learn more from them than they will learn from you. I am a better coach today because I traveled to Uganda. I communicate better (lots of body language!) and I’m more compassionate to the world’s needs.