Vikes Blog: Women’s rugby players Caitlin Harvey and Sofija Novakovic write about their trip working for Gainline Africa in Uganda

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By Caitlin Harvey, Vikes women’s rugby team

July 10, 2013, (ISN) – This past June Sofija Novakovic and I (Caitlin Harvey) were given the unique opportunity to work with Gainline Africa in Uganda. Sofija and I are both members of the UVic Vikes women’s rugby team.

When we arrived in Entebbe on June 5th I could already sense that this experience would be everything I had hoped for but nothing like I had imagined. All too often we only hear about negative events and the violence that occurs in the Eastern regions of Africa, and coming from Canada where this is what I had learned in school I had expected something quite different when I arrived in Gulu. My books and profs had failed to mention all the beauty the country and its people hold and I quickly found myself falling in love with Gulu and hope you will too after reading what two Vikes got up to in Gulu this summer!

Gainline Africa is based in the formerly war torn Gulu region of northern Uganda. There the organization works closely with the local club team called the Gulu Elephants. Most of the Elephants are also partnered with a high school in the area and volunteer their time coaching the boys and girls after school. Us ‘Canadian Coaches’ are paired with one of the Elephants and help out at practice, offering our experience that we have gained through playing rugby at different levels in Canada.

Running around with the youth from these schools reminded me why I fell in love with rugby in the first place. It was very refreshing to revisit the grassroots level of rugby and remind myself that the most import aspects of any sport involve a passion for the game and the teammates you play for. Playing at the elite university level we often get caught up in the desire to win and forget the basic aspects that stole your heart and made you want to play in the first place. In Uganda it is obvious that all students and Elephants are very passionately driven and focus on expanding the program so that more people can be united through the shared love of rugby.

From a developmental perspective, the future of rugby looks very promising considering the popularity of the sport and how fast the programs have grown. It was also nice to see the positive impact Gainline Africa has had in the community, as schools from the northern and southern parts of Uganda are able to compete against each other thus uniting the country. We were able to see this first hand at the Karuma 7s tournament that was organized by the Gulu Rugby Football Club. The tournament was a huge success as teams from Kampala, Lira, Kitgum and Gulu faced off at the University pitch in Gulu with lots of fans and supporters eagerly watching from the sidelines. We were also able to attend the Elgon Cup in Kampala where we got to watch Uganda vs. Kenya. The stands at this game were packed and the crowd rivaled that of games hosted in Canada. Which shows how quickly the sport is catching on in a country where football (soccer) is the primary sport.

Rugby in Uganda is quite different from rugby in Canada and made me realize how fortunate we are to have full kit, beautiful fields and clubhouses. Some of the kids are able to borrow cleats from the Gainline office but most of them play barefoot, making their toes vulnerable to the rocks littering most fields or being stepped on by cleat-wearing opponents. Most of the girls do not have proper athletic wear and can be seen running around in normal shorts, and the jerseys Gainline provided them that had been donated by teams in Canada without the luxury of sports bras that we have at home. Field space was one of the other difficulties we faced while trying to run training sessions. Similar to in Canada, rugby often gets the short end of the stick as it falls second to currently more established and popular sports which happened to be football in Uganda.

During practice one evening in Kitgum where we were holding a session with three local schools, we had to share the field with the track and field team, which we had no problem doing even though our numbers almost tripled theirs. After about an hour of practice the football boys came onto the field demanding they have access to the whole field thereby kicking us and the track and field people off. We politely tried to explain that we would be able to share the field but they were having none of it and quickly took over the whole space. The kids that we were training did not want to call it quits yet and moved down to the end zone until it became to dark to continue. The fact that the students wanted to continue training until they couldn’t anymore spoke volumes to me and shows just how resilient and passionate the kids are.

I feel so lucky to have been able to meet and get to know all the volunteers who make rugby possible in the community. Each and every one of my Ugandan friends are incredible people and I am very thankful to have had to opportunity to get to know them and their beautiful country. I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent in Uganda this summer and hope to further my involvement with Gainline Africa and return to Gulu in the near future. Thank you to everyone who supported me on this adventure, I couldn’t have done it without you.

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