Twenty-seven years since the removal of the notorious dictator Idi Amin, Uganda is still struggling. Refugee camps dot the northern portion of an east African nation ravaged by AIDS. One camp is home to 75,000 people, while new maps of the country list the squalid collection of hovels as cities.
The Westmont women’s soccer team will see these conditions firsthand this summer. In August, 25 players and three of the club’s coaches will embark on a 17-day trip that will include extended stops in Kenya and Rwanda, in addition to Uganda. As for the date she’ll truly begin to think about the substance of the experience, Warrior junior Jane Wyche points to June 1.
“We’ll have all our fundraising done by then,” said the Huntington Beach product, who said her team is about halfway to its goal of raising the necessary $100,000 to pay for it all. “Right now we’ve spent so much time with the day-to-day work of raising money, I haven’t had the time to truly process what we’ll be doing.”
Under the guidance of the Sports Outreach Foundation (a faith-based charity group led by former Westmont men’s soccer team head coach Russ Carr), the club will bring a sports-flavored, Christian message to areas ravaged by decades of war and poverty. The team will donate soccer equipment to churches and towns while also bringing comfort to a continent where two-thirds of the population will be 15 years old or younger by 2010, according to Carr.
Carr said rebels in Uganda have forced residents out of their villages with nighttime raids, where executions are regular. The survivors flee to the camps — where they share space with refugees fleeing war-torn Sudan — with memories of the atrocities stuck in their minds. “The conditions are just terrible. And emotionally, these people are just overwhelmed,” said Carr, who’s taken dozens of similar trips to Africa. “And if you identify with kids, you’re going to be just broken after being in their presence. You’re going to be touched deeply.” Relief for the Warriors will come in the form of soccer games against various local teams, including the Rwandan women’s national club. Also planned is a visit to Kenya’s Victoria Falls, the world’s tallest waterfall.
Accommodations will be Spartan (“Motel 6 is five-star in comparison,” Carr said) but reasonable enough so the team won’t lose sight of its objective. “We’re going to places where Christ isn’t even known,” Wyche said. “We’ll be facing kids with machete-marks on their faces. We’re going to a place that’s broken, but I imagine we’ll see some of the happiest people we’ve ever met.”