My name is Mia Crawley, and I had the pleasure of traveling with the United Kidz Sports Development program this summer to Uganda, Africa. We worked with their local coaches to support them in skill development which will, in turn, enable these leaders and coaches to have a positive impact with the youth they work with.
Another goal we had was to help raise awareness about female participation in sports and discuss the positive impact that involving women and girls in athletics can have for communities as a whole.
I would like to state that volunteering, in general, offers incredible life experiences and skills. However, to have the opportunity to volunteer in Uganda, Africa had a positive effect on me and those who traveled with me.
It gave us such an expanded perspective on the world around us, while also making connections among the volunteers as well as with the youth we worked with.
When visiting Africa, we knew ahead of time that most of the young children we would be volunteering with come from poverty, but it wasn’t until you visit their homes and spend quality time with them that you realize the depth of the struggles their families experience.
However, it is incredibly important to acknowledge that even through their struggles, the kids we worked with come every day happy and with big smiles on their faces. It is profound that sport can provide a common ground for joy and growth.
Due to the landscape and poverty within the communities we worked, one of the differences we noticed was the soccer fields and resources available for the youth in the area of Uganda we were working in.
There were only two fields that had to be used by multiple towns. The goals were constructed of 4 pieces of wood hammered together. Some had nets and some did not. In regards to the equipment available, some of the children played with no shoes or very worn-out shoes.
It was startling to sit back and think about how many players in the U.S. wouldn’t play without shoes or how many have multiple pairs of cleats and can get new ones every season. Yet, the children we worked with in Uganda were unbothered by the lack of footwear because nothing was going to stand in their way of playing a game they love. Their passion was so evident and truly a beautiful thing to witness.
Beyond our experience with soccer, we also had the chance to experience and immerse ourselves in a new culture; this was a culture so rich in traditions, music, and dance. In fact, it was with drums and dancing that they welcomed us to their country. We were able to try new food and learn about their language and styles of communication. This was such a valuable learning experience that will broaden all of our perspectives and enable us to appreciate the diversity amongst us.
When our two countries came together to create this intentional cultural exchange through sports, there were lasting experiences and bonds created.
Programs such as UKSD help create a platform where various countries can come together to exchange stories, celebrate each other’s cultures, and share our experiences in the hopes of gaining knowledge and respect for both our similarities and differences.
Social impact begins with making a positive difference in the world. It doesn’t matter if it is through helping others, environmental reasons, or even like our two programs coming together through sports. It’s about taking some action and making a difference or positive change. It doesn’t matter how big or small the social impact you make is, but it matters that you make every effort to truly connect, to learn from others, and to leave a positive mark on the lives and places you encounter.
I can only hope that our visit encouraged the programs and community leaders we worked with to expand their programming and to provide more opportunities for girls to be involved in sport. We also hope that we were able to share our experiences and coaching knowledge in a way that was helpful and useful to others. More than anything, we also hope that we have created a long lasting and sustainable partnership which will connect us for many years to come.