From Newcomer to Community Leader: Jeremiah Lukeka to Represent SWB on International Stage
Jeremiah Lukeka was 16 years-old when he arrived in Kampala, Uganda for the first time in 2008. Facing an unstable and insecure climate, his family had uprooted from the Democratic Republic of Congo and found refuge in Kampala. Though he was safe, Jeremiah was a stranger in a place where he didn’t speak the language and didn’t know how he would make friends.
He never could have imagined a future when he’d be known as “Coach Jerry” — Senior Program Coordinator at SWB Uganda, a teacher, coach, and mentor for a new generation of refugee youth.
“One of the challenges I faced in my early days was finding a place where you can build a family and community,” said Jerry. He found a football team early on, but it wasn’t a good fit. “I was not really welcome and if I made a mistake everyone would shout at me.”
A couple of months later, Jerry met Raphael Murumbi, a fellow refugee from the DRC and the founder of SWB Uganda. It was an encounter that would completely change the course of his life. He describes coming to SWB as finding home. “I found a community where people spoke my language and I was able to make friends,” recalled Jerry. “Rapha started mentoring me and I found hope.”
It didn’t take long for Jerry to go from playing football with SWB to becoming an English teacher and coach, something he had never dreamed of before his arrival in Kampala. In those early days of SWB Uganda, the program didn’t have all the resources it does now, but it had people who were committed to serving refugee youth. Now based at the Soccer Without Borders Refugee Youth Center, Jerry oversees the football program and mentors alumni coaches. His own experience makes him uniquely positioned to connect with refugee youth who arrive in Kampala without any existing connection to the area.
“I’m so thankful to have the opportunity to be a support to someone who needs the support I once needed,” said Jerry. “Over the years at SWB I’ve seen how much sport can transform someone’s life. I’m so grateful for that."
This past February, UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) invited coaches worldwide to apply for its Future Leaders in Football Conference, a five-day course focused on developing skills to tackle challenges in sport and society. The conference is presented in Munich, Germany, in conjunction with UEFA EURO championships this June and July.
When word of the conference spread, Steven Davis, SWB Uganda Director, immediately thought Jerry would be the perfect candidate. “He is our longest tenured coach by a number of years and has developed into not only an SWB leader across the global organization, but a trusted community leader in Nsambya, Kampala for people of all nationalities.”
After a detailed application process and interview screening, Jerry was one of just 20 coaches chosen to participate in Future Leaders in Football from a global pool of candidates. Not surprisingly, he is focused on how his participation in the conference will positively impact his colleagues and SWB participants.
“This will be a big inspiration and motivation to the group of coaches and kids we work with,” said Jerry. “From zero to hero! In my leadership, I always like to inspire people so I feel like this is a great opportunity to inspire the coaches we work with and the kids. They’re going to be very excited and motivated.”
The FLF Conference has been shifted from in-person to a virtual platform, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Jerry remains confident that he will have a positive experience and build connections between SWB and the European community. His goals for the conference include learning more about getting girls and women into sports, building skills for coping with a changing world, and creating sustainable programming.