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Coach Rapha Returns to SWB Uganda

Guest Post: Mayele Jules, SWB Uganda

Soccer Without Borders Uganda founder Raphael Murumbi “Coach Rapha” recently returned to Kampala for the first time since emigrating to Canada in 2013. A meeting with SWB Founder Ben Guccidari in 2008 spurred the creation of SWB Uganda, building upon soccer and education programs Rapha was already running with refugee youth.

SWB Uganda Program Coordinator Mayele Jules interviewed Rapha and provided the following reflection on his visit and the growth of the program since its inception:

It was an immense excitement for so many at the SWB Refugee Youth Center here in Kampala to welcome back our own Coach Rapha. Rapha, the SWB Uganda founder and former director, paid a short visit to the center after a period of nearly eight years. Coach Rapha left Uganda for Canada in 2013. This first visit in such a long period was a real THRILL for everyone, especially for our Alumni Staff who were participants back then. Coach Rapha enjoyed touring the center, which is now run in two shifts, hanging out with our Crabs (U8 Girls Team), and taking part in a Dutch Tournament themed around this visit and featuring our Senior Boys teams.

On his arrival, the morning shift classes offered him a warm welcome. As he walked in the center everyone shouted: “Welcome Coach Rapha!” Rapha was touched and all he could say was: “Thank you very much, thank you very much... Thank you for this special welcome and for being together as one person. I am so happy to meet you all.” During his short stay, Coach Rapha enjoyed touring around the center, talking with players and coaches, and leading training sessions for our oldest boys teams, Rhinos and Elephants.

Coach Rapha is at the SWB Refugee Youth Center, surrounded by young people. He has his arm around a boy and everyone is smiling.
Coach Rapha was thrilled to be back in Kampala

Please tell us more about yourself and the start of SWB Uganda. What was your “why” or motivation?

My names are Raphael Mukembanyi Murumbi, a Coach and Teacher, Canadian with Congolese origin. I am currently staying in Montreal and I am pursuing my last year of a Mining Engineering [degree]. I am the founder of Soccer Without Borders Uganda .

It was 2008 when I met with Ben Gucciardi here at Nsambya Pitch. By that time I was playing in a small community team that gathered people to come and play after our English classes. Then later that turned into a small program that aimed at the development of youth. I don’t know what led me to ask Ben what he was doing in Kampala. Ben shared with me what he was doing and about the SWB program that he had founded in the United States. He walked me through the whole program concept which I loved so much and thought like it shouldn’t only stop in the United States. Because they [also] dealt with new immigrant and refugee youths, providing them with a space to connect and interact.

I felt support for the idea and the program’s mission. Ben was so excited that I took up the idea and was willing to carry [it] in running the program here. From there on, Ben came more often to train with the team and then a week later we started a youth U-12 team together that had only 6 youths in 2008. [We grew} from 6, to 10, 15 to 20, then two teams of different ages, and so on.

Sometime later Ben left for the US, and he encouraged me to continue with the programming. It was hard for me to picture this program like it is right now, Soccer Without Borders. In the back of my mind I knew I was just starting something like a team where young people can come play football, express themselves and have fun.

With time, Ben introduced me to coaching and leadership workshops and also managing organizations so I could continue running the program. I was alone by that time, and then I started collecting coaches around. Coach Jeremiah was among the first person I reached out to, he wasn't a coach by then but a very strong English teacher, which helped us start the English program.

I spent most of my time at the pitch coaching, taking charge of about 5 teams a day, training in different time slots. My joy was spending time with the kids and whenever I was out, I didn’t feel myself because I was learning new things every day while coaching these kids.

What was the most difficult thing for you about leaving the program as director and founder?

In 2013 it was my hardest time. I remember my last meeting with the staff and the children at the youth center, I cried a lot. I knew it was going to be a long time before I could come back. I felt there was also a need for me to go and improve myself through university studies. Before I left, I had trained staff to take charge of the program, I really felt the team was ready to carry the program, and I didn't fear that much because I knew the staff was very capable, I am the only one that got affected severely because couldn't interact with the kids on a daily basis and that joy I got spending time with them.

In Kampala a team of young soccer players is on the pitch surrounding Rapha. They players are wearing green and yellow uniforms.
Coach Rapha couldn't resist getting back on the pitch

Coming back and reconnecting with the people, the program in general here — how would you describe those interactions?

I take this opportunity to thank Steve, Jeremiah, Jules and all the coaches for the incredible work you are doing. I witnessed a lot of great things here around the center, the kids are very happy, speaking English, making really good sentences. The kids are speaking English both in the classes and at the pitch. This is a very big change [and] I take this opportunity to thank you all. During the week I got the opportunity to coach and visit the classes, interact with teachers and coaches. I have also played with different teams here for boys and girls. I am extremely excited for all these things you have put in place.

What are some favorite moments you have had for the time you have been around? And why?

I am very excited that youth have a lot of hours of programming, both in classes and on the pitch. And how the girls are given leadership opportunities in different aspects of programming. This is a very useful experience for them being able to take initiatives. I felt like they are getting [support] from their coaches and teachers, enabling them to grow confidence and leadership skills.

The other thing I have noticed is the interaction between the coaches and the kids. It is very nice to see all the kids, they know what is next. When they come here at the center, they know it is class time, they know it is time for the boots, line up, it is time to go to the pitch. They understand so well what is happening. And everything is running smoothly on point. The coaches have really instilled this in the youth. There are also too many youths around, but you have put all these routines in place that are making things very smooth. I am very impressed with this and proud of all you coaches.

Rapha and SWB participants celebrate outside the Refugee Youth Center. Everyone is smiling and giving peace signs
Rapha and SWB participants celebrate outside the Refugee Youth Center

Are there any impressions, some feedback you would like to share with us? What would you say are your takeaways from this visit to the center again?

I would like to thank the coaches who are here currently, especially Jeremiah, Steve, Jules and all the staff together for the big work you are doing. I feel it is a huge burden. It is not that easy to see such a huge number of kids here at the center everyday. I really appreciate and thank you for the good job that you are doing. I can also add on the idea of giving space to the kids to lead, giving them any type of skills, activities that are allowing them and helping them to grow as leaders. I can emphasize that you keep doing that because in the future the program may need somebody to take over.

As a founder, I am really attached to the program. It is something that is in my flesh and I am hoping to be coming more often I believe won’t be pretty long anymore, as I am about done with my studies. I am looking forward to supporting in any way possible.


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