• Soccer without Borders

Language, Literacy, and Leadership: How SWB Uganda’s Youth Center Sets Newcomers Up for Success



Along with soccer and community, education stands as one of three core pillars of Soccer Without Borders (SWB) programming. Serving more than 4,000 newcomer youth annually, we recognize the vital role that language plays in the pursuit of inclusion, growth, and personal success. There are few better examples of this pillar in action than the Refugee Youth Center at SWB Uganda, a specifically-designed program providing language development opportunities for local refugee and newcomer youth. In addition to soccer, community building, and other activities, the Youth Center, based in Uganda’s Capital of Kampala, offers free-of-cost access to educational activities and programs to over 500 youth each year.


Many of our participants hail from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, and Burundi. In each of these countries, English is not the primary language. Upon arrival in Uganda, language becomes a significant barrier in the way of a newcomer’s pursuit of success. Many newcomers cannot afford to attend formal classes at a local school, but even if they can, they often lack the English language skills necessary to make the most of their education. Because of this, they are often denied admission or held back. They are placed into classes that are 3-5 years below the level that they had reached previously in their country of origin.


The current literacy curriculum used at SWB Uganda was developed in 2018, with support from the Dorothea Haus Ross Foundation, and was designed to complement Uganda’s national curriculum for primary school students. But more than that, it was designed to be flexible and adaptable. This is a crucial way of ensuring that we meet youth where they are, and that every participant who walks through our Youth Center doors is provided with instruction that aligns with their current level of understanding.


The literacy program at our Uganda hub includes eight different classes, each focused upon accelerating English language literacy and numeracy while helping participants develop the social-emotional skills necessary for healthy development. With opportunities to lead certain lessons, and by working together with peers, participants are able to build meaningful connections, establish lasting relationships, gain confidence, and develop a number of valuable leadership skills.


“Refugees come with significant needs that are beyond their control,” says SWB Uganda Program Manager Jules Mayele, “they range from language gaps to setbacks in their social and emotional well-being. Knowing the language and making meaningful relationships contribute greatly to a newcomer’s resilience and ability to thrive in their new community. Our Youth Center provides all this.”


At each level of the program, participants at SWB Uganda spend more than 40 weeks in the classroom each year. This, along with its enriching soccer activities and emphasis on creating belonging, truly makes the SWB Uganda Youth Center a place where youth are supported to reach their greatest potential on the field and off.


"There is a strong diversity of coaches here that are able to connect with the kids and then help them learn the language to interact with in the society," remarked SWB Parent, Babane. "This program is a medicine for many things like trauma. I made a mistake keeping the children in compound for a long time. Since they started coming to this program, I am seeing them very confident and more outspoken. The are now speaking the language very well and the greatest thing I would not want to forget is that SWB welcomes you no matter what condition you are in."


>> Stay up to date on the latest happenings at the SWB Uganda Youth Center by visiting their Facebook page.


>> Experience a participant-led tour of the SWB Uganda Youth Center.


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