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On Assignment Uganda: X-SUBA Sports4Development

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This is my first in a series of three articles written during my time in Uganda. Read: Part Two | Part Three

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived in Walukuba, a very poor suburb of Jinja, Uganda.  Three-quarters of the population doesn’t have electricity, and those who do have it experience multiple outages a day (I have to top off my battery pack at every opportunity because who knows when it’ll go out next and for how long).  The average annual household income for Jinja is USD100 (yes, one-hundred US dollars per year); here in Walukuba it’s far less. Trash burns in piles everywhere, an aroma giving me fond memories of the infamous toxic burn pits at U.S. bases in Afghanistan.  Even the locals boil their tap water (the ones fortunate enough for plumbing).

What am I doing here?  I was assigned by Photographers Without Borders to document a relatively young Ugandan NGO called X-SUBA Sport4Development Uganda.  I was excited about working with this group before I started, and my excitement grew even more after my first meeting with the director and program coordinators.

Before I get into what this NGO is all about, it’s important to understand why this community is in the situation they are in.

Once upon a time, Jinja was the largest and one of the most prosperous cities in Uganda.  It is perhaps best known for being located at the headwaters of Nile River, coming from Lake Victoria, the second-largest lake in the world.  It was chosen to be a major manufacturing center in Uganda in the mid-twentieth century due to its proximity to hydroelectric power and long-established trade routes to Kenya’s maritime shipping ports.  Thousands upon thousands of factory workers lived in Walukuba Estates and enjoyed steady employment at these successful factories.

Then Idi Amin seized power in 1971.  Amin heavily tribalized his government and nationalized much of the economy (not to devalue his other acts like genocide and cannibalism).  Part of this nationalization included expelling Indians; most of the factories in Jinja were owned and operated by Indians. Long story short, these thousands of factory workers soon found themselves out of work as the factories imploded.

Typical street in Walukuba as children walk home from school.
The interesting array of patterns, colors, and people at the Jinja Central Market.
Children walking past a nursery school in Walukuba, Uganda, on one of the village’s main roads.

A few of the factories survived and enjoyed a little revival in the 1980s after Amin fled to Libya.  But most of the manufacturing was relocated to the other side of Uganda where the current ruling party comes from.  Factory workers and their descendants still live in Walukuba Estates but the jobs are gone. The residents now struggle for survival; there are numerous health problems, high teen pregnancy rates, and little opportunity for education.  During my initial meeting, one of the coordinators told me about a sponsorship program they run, sending students to primary school when the parents can’t afford the $15 tuition fee – a problem most families face.

Difficult problems to solve, for sure.  Kenneth Agaba, a young college grad from Kampala, is giving it his best shot with a small team of volunteers.

X-SUBA staff meet weekly to discuss the progress of current programs, finances, upcoming projects, and issues with students.
Kenneth, co-founder of X-SUBA, chats with some girls that participate in his sports programs as he walks through the streets of Walukuba. Kids yell “coach, coach!” everywhere he goes, wanting to share with him what is going on in their lives.

Kenneth visited Walukuba with a college friend who started a basketball program for disadvantaged youth in the community.  Their hope was that if they could get these kids into sports – kids who don’t go to school and would otherwise find other trouble to get into – they could use the opportunity to give them some tools to succeed in other areas of their lives.  They founded X-SUBA in 2013 upon realizing the potential of this program. Their university educational background in charity, social work, and community involvement was one of the driving factors for its foundation.

Kenneth’s friend has since moved to Europe and his program has grown.  He is fortunate to have found an extremely passionate, dedicated team to volunteer their time for the cause.

X-SUBA now has four main programs, each coordinated by a different volunteer.

The sports program is at the heart of X-SUBA.  They go to different schools in the community and put on organized soccer, netball, volleyball, basketball, and rugby games.  Many of the schools do not have the means to do this themselves. They also provide the same opportunities for children who aren’t in schools, and coach them in the various sports.  Participants were all boys in the beginning, but girls now make up half of the program after netball was added.

X-SUBA coaches split up into groups and lead the children in drills before organizing both soccer and netball games at a local school. X-SUBA rotates through different schools throughout the week to provide coaching and equipment for games since the schools cannot provide these.
Boys playing a pickup game of soccer at one of the schools in Walukuba, Uganda. Their playtime at school is often unorganized and lacks any kind of equipment, but X-SUBA Sport4Development provides bibs, soccer balls, and coaches as they visit a different school each day of the week.
Coach Steve introducing basketball to some boys during X-SUBA’s Connection Day. Every Saturday, youth in the community meet at a local church to play sports and engage in life skills lessons led by X-SUBA coaches.
Boys running basketball drills during X-SUBA’s Connection Day. Every Saturday, youth in the community meet at a local church to play sports and engage in life skills lessons led by X-SUBA coaches.

X-SUBA also has an education program involving children in the community whose parents can’t afford the $15 tuition fee.  This education program revolves around their learning center, where volunteers tutor the children in English, Math, and Critical Thinking until parents can save up enough money to send them to school. The volunteers assist the parents, who are often struggling to put food on the table, with budgeting skills.   A computer center was added just last year, open to all of the community. Another new sub-program called A Woman’s Worth helps women start and run businesses.

computer training
Solomon using a graphics program to teach children how to use a computer mouse. Computer skills are becoming very important in Uganda, and even children whose parents can’t afford school are able to learn these skills at X-SUBA’s new ICT center.
Women's Day
Kenneth, co-founder of X-SUBA, leads a talk with local women during International Women’s Day. These women are current students in the A Woman’s Worth, a program designed to give women the tools they need to succeed in business.

The final two programs include the health program, teaching kids about sexual health and hygiene.  And finally there’s the youth mentorship program, which mostly makes up the management of X-SUBA. This is where interns from other parts of Uganda and even around the world come to participate in the NGO, manage the other programs, and work on fundraising.

I will be going into these programs more in-depth in the next posts.

Can Kenneth save the future of all of Walukuba with this program?  No, and he accepts that reality, which just makes him work harder.

“We can only do what we can.  Hopefully we can help enough kids so that they will in turn help others and spread the mission.  I want to see some of them take over the program when they are old enough so that it sustains itself indefinitely,” Kenneth says of this reality.  And he’s on his way – one of the young kids said that he wants to be the X-SUBA master when he grows up. I hope he sees it through.

The fundraiser for X-SUBA will be open until April 15th 2019.  Funds raised will help Kenneth with operating costs, uniforms, equipment, and primary school tuition scholarships.  Click here to donate

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Thursday 28th of March 2019

Excellent John, I'm so happy you're living this. Brings back so many memories.

John Peltier

Saturday 30th of March 2019

Thanks DC, they're wonderful people!

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