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  • Soccer Without Borders

A look back at the 2018 Youth Festival

Each year, SWB’s team in Kampala hosts the annual Youth Festival, bringing together our community for week of team building and cultural exchange before launching into a new season and academic year. Youth in SWB’s program come from South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, and Uganda. And while most of our student athletes attending the festival are participants in SWB’s year-round programming, many more join SWB for the first time during the festival each year. Our 2018 Youth Festival was the most successful to date – our 8 staff members were joined by 6 additional volunteers and more than 300 youth from the Nsambya neighborhood and surrounding communities for 5 full days of soccer, celebration, and a lot of dancing. Here SWB Kampala’s Team Leader, Aldo Sainati, reflects on the excitement of our most recent festival and its impact on our 2018 season and academic term… I had heard about it for months. From our students, from our players, from the community at large, and especially from my fellow staff members at SWB Uganda. The annual Youth Festival in January continued to come up in conversation. A bit here, a comment there, and always with excitement – this is it. Get ready. And so we did! With preparations well underway more than a month in advance, everything was set before our winter break to make sure the new year would start out right. Volunteer scheduling and logistics? Food provisions? Local daily DJ? Planned activities for roughly 300 kids? Check, check, check, and… check. With the Youth Festival set to kick off on Monday, January 8th, a group of 6 additional volunteers arrived from the U.S. a few days in advance to get settled and assistant our staff in the pre-festival preparations. Despite a long trip, jet-lag, and being thrown into completely new surroundings, their enthusiasm was high, especially after a staff and volunteers versus youth soccer match the very next morning to get the Youth Festival ball rolling. Already, a few familiar faces from SWB’s youth teams trickled into the community pitch atop the hill in Nsambya to see the newcomers make their soccer debut against some of SWB’s older players, eager to catch a glimpse of what to expect in the week ahead. Likewise, for our volunteers, this was a perfect chance to check out their new environment, get to meet and know our community, and see where a bulk of the next week’s festivities would be taking place. Although the weekend before the festival saw several local meals together, a community campfire, a host of teambuilding activities to help us all get to know each other better, and programming for our volunteers to develop a feel for the country and local culture, we were all – volunteers, staff and kids – anxiously waiting for the event to start on Monday morning. First up on Monday was our youth registration and face painting. After signing in, participants were separated into teams by being given a colored wristband, all to the background of a handful of the most popular Ugandan and Congolese tunes.The festival’s overall theme of the week was, “Change Starts With Us” and each of the five days of the Festival focused on a different topic pertaining to changing attitudes and beliefs.

On Day 1, our inaugural activity was to plant a tree to raise environmental awareness among our participants and within the community. Some of our student athletes took the lead on planting the tree while others opted to join a discussion about why we chose to plant the tree in the first place. Given the high temperature throughout the rest week, we certainly appreciated the extra shade! Day 1 continued with sack races, egg tosses and relays, and a game called ‘Life is Sweet’ where teams had to eat candy off of a string without using their hands which led to a lot of laughs between the loud cacophony of team cheers. Throughout the day’s activities we saw the competitive spirits emerge from each team of players and volunteers. Up next for Day 2 was a series of teambuilding games, group discussions, and co-ed soccer scrimmages, although it was the dance and soccer juggling competition on Day 3 that kept the energy levels high midweek. Despite hundreds of onlookers at the dance competition many of our participants jumped in, embracing our motto of ‘Try everything’ – the dance-off ended up being a highlight of the week for many. As the week continued, we participated in more team building activities, soccer games, and guided discussions, one of which focused on gender equity within our community. Not only did we spend time discussing gender and equality in society, but we also reflected on gender equality within sports and on the soccer field during our co-ed matches and when our Youth Festival volunteers, Hannah and Anna, showed off their skills in the festival-ending staff-match in front of a full crowd of SWB supporters. While Hannah and Anna’s soccer moves were a big hit with many of our participants, it also provided us with a moment to reflect on both the work we are doing to grow our Girls’ Empowerment Program and how we can continue to expand our support for the girls' of our program. When we reached Friday, the Youth Festival came to an end to the sound of music, and of course the clanking of plates, pots and pans. We wrapped up the week with our last lunch of rice and beans with our approximately 300 participants thanks to the help of a few neighborhood cooks. In thinking back to the 2018 Youth Festival, there are many memories that have lasted well into our current season of soccer practices and games for each of for our staff, volunteers, and players. But, like any true soccer fan knows, the highlights can never capture the entire essence of a game. For us, the smaller in-between moments of the week – the fun occasions where you get to know each other better, the experiences of team building, and the moments of cultural exchange – these are the what continue to stand out.

Learn more and apply to join SWB Uganda for the 2019 Youth Festival here!

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