I met the Ugandan national Lacrosse team yesterday. A scrappy team brought together to play a game introduced to their country in 2010. My friend, Andrew Boston, travels nearly 11 hours, one way, to coach the team. Lacrosse was brought to Uganda by an organization called Fields of Growth. They began by creating small leagues the first few years, then taking the best players from that league and creating the National Ugandan Lacrosse team.
They gathered in the afternoon, after a night of heavy rainfall, to find that the field had been turned into a muddy wet mess that resembled a rice patty. Andrew took one look at the field, turned to us and said, “They don’t even have the right equipment to practice in these conditions.” The dream all year long has been to get this team to participate in the World Lacrosse Championship. Fields of Growth has been hustling and fundraising to get this team visas and to cover accommodations while Andrew has been on the ground dedicating his free time to coaching and gearing them to participate. Nobody on the team has ever been on a plane and most of them had never left their country. Today, Andrew told them, that they were going to the World Tournament.
“We are making our family so proud,” said Tabu, one of the players on the team. “And our country too!” The rest were smiling ear to ear.
“Who’s your first match?” I asked.
“Ireland,” responded one of the players that had shown up to practice in pretty worn down dress shoes. “Are they good?”
“Yes.” I said almost somberly. “They are very big and some of them play lacrosse since they were little.”
I am not familiar with the Ireland Lacrosse team, but this much I know. I also know that the Ireland team is not practicing in dress shoes and having to call off practice because their field has been turned into a mud bath. I’m also sure most of the national teams have appropriate equipment to train and condition with. At the very least, their trainer is not commuting 11 hours to teach them the basics of lacrosse. Yet despite the odds, they are going to the World Lacrosse Championships.
“But we are good too, and we are fast. They will know who we are,” said Tabu, with a smile so large it made his eyes squint.
“Yes.” I agreed. It’s the 1st African country to participate in such games, and the first Ugandan National team ever. They have an all expense paid trip to USA and upon arrival will be given a care package full of training and lacrosse equipment.
“Your also each getting a case of lacrosse balls, “ exclaimed Andrew as he read off the list of items they were being gifted. “Which is ironic since there are currently only 8 balls in the entire country of Uganda.” The team laughed.
A few of the players were from the North of Uganda. Judging by their age, it was safe to assume they or their families came to Kampala fleeing the LRA (Kony’s army that went around kidnapping children and turning them into child soldiers). We just funded a project in their home-town, that’s 75 kilometers south of South Sudan, where a civil war just broke out. We funded the project to build a basketball court, the first in the region.
“You did!” exclaimed one of the players after Andrew introduced us and explained what we had just done. “I very much want to be a part of this project! That is my home.” He said delighted.
I’m not sure where these 18 players will end up in the tournament or if they will even win any games. I know little about lacrosse and even less about the Ugandan team. But I do have a feeling that this tale of success has little to do with the destination and all to do with the journey.