New Vision (Kampala)

4 February 2013

Uganda/Rwanda: Her Passion for Soccer Has Changed Lives

At a garbage dumpsite-turned football pitch, excited girls are being taken through soccer drills by an 18-year-old girl. This is a scene many people are not used to, in a country where football is largely played by boys.

That spectacle, however, comes to life in Gadhafi Integrated Football Academy in Kawempe Division, a Kampala suburb. Zaituni Uzamukunda is their captain and coach. She is in S5 at Gadhafi Integrated Secondary School in Kawempe.

A terrific defender, Uzamukunda has used her love for soccer to transform the lives of several needy and illiterate girls and boys in a community notorious for heinous crimes and high school drop-out rate.

The big break

In 2009, Ghadhafi Integrated Football Academy coach and founder Saadi Mukasa, invited Uzamukunda to attend training for referees organised by the British Council, under the Premier Skills project. The training was launched in Uganda in 2008.

Premier Skills is a partnership between the English Premier League and the British Council, combining the former's global appeal and experience in football based community projects with the latter's global experience and expertise in culture and education.

The programme operates in 17 countries across the globe, making use of the power of football as a tool to engage with and develop the skills of young people, empowering them to deliver their own community-focused projects.

In Uganda, the British Council implements the project in conjunction with the Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA), the Kampala Kids League and other football academies like Gadhafi Integrated.

It is here that Uzamukunda not only got skills of becoming a coach and a superior footballer, but also learnt that she could use football to enroll the needy children in school by training them for the football teams of their respective sponsoring schools.

Creating the girls team

With skills of project planning and management acquired at the training, Uzamukunda, with Mukasa's guidance, created an independent wing of the academy for girls only.

She was subsequently made the coach and captain. In June 2011, her project got a financial boost from the British Council, under the mass participation category of premier skills. The team was given £500 (about sh2.1m) to kick-start operations.

At the helm of the team, with the money at hand, Uzamukunda was optimistic that her dream to get hundreds of children off the streets to the classroom was on course. She launched an aggressive recruitment programme that saw her enlist hundreds of children into the academy for both the boys and girls teams.

Nonetheless, she concentrated on training the girls and left the boys' team to Mukasa and another young coach, Grace Bukenya, 19.

Community Resistance

However, before the girls could start training, the project was dogged by controversy. The girls, most of whom are Muslim, were afraid that they would be discriminated against by their peers if they played soccer in shorts.

"The girls were scared that their parents would not allow them to play in shorts and others were also shy about exposing their thighs," Uzamukunda says.

So, Uzamukunda and Mukasa launched a home-to-home sensitisation campaign to persuade parents to permittheir daughters to play football.

The campaign climaxed into community meetings that saw the duo convincing parents and the girls that the academy would sponsor their education. Some girls and parents reluctantly gave in.

Uzamukunda then used the money from the British Council to purchase some basic sporting equipment like balls and jerseys. She also acquired leggings for those girls who did not want to wear shorts.

Acquiring scholarships

Overwhelmed by an insatiable desire to transform the needy, Uzamukunda, with the academy's management, decided to not only assist these children in developing their sporting skills but got them back to school by acquiring scholarships.

The academy entered a partnership with the schools in the community. The academy was to develop soccer teams for the partner schools in exchange for free education for the players.

Jolly Primary School Kawempe, Gadhafi Secondary School Kawempe and Goodwins Primary school, Kalerwe have honoured 31, 40 and 24 scholarships respectively.

The academy's prime challenge, Uzamukunda says, is affording school fees, medicare and scholastic materials for the big numbers. "With the scholarships we got for the first few players, all parents in Kawempe now wanted their children to join the academy and get free education.

However, the increasing numbers are becoming a burden," says Uzamukunda. Amazingly, even with the paltry resources, the academy now boasts of more than 65 girls and 143 boys from the suburbs of Kalerwe, Kyebando, Kisenyi, Mulago, Kazo, Kisaasi, Mpererwe, Gayaza, Ttula, Kanyanya and Bwaise.

Achievements

In 2011, three girls travelled to play in the Norway under-17s cup in Oslo. They were Teddy Nakato (a goal poacher), Jamillah Nikuze (goal stopper) and Zamin Masunge, a midfield maestro. Nikuze won the goal keeper of the tournament award.

That same year, Uzamukunda and six others played for Kampala Capital City Authority in the Nairobi and Moshi Cups in Kenya and Tanzania respectively.

The team has won the Sulait Kawempe community cup for three years running. The academy has also lifted the Independence and Women's Day cups for three consecutive years now.

Last year, the academy played in the annual Airtel rising stars tournament at Makerere University grounds, emerging the regional champions for central.

Subsequently, Nikuze Jamilah, and Teddy Nakato were picked to represent Uganda in the continental tournaments played in Nairobi and thereafter South Africa.

Need for support

"I now want my project to grow and help more Ugandans achieve their dreams," Uzamukunda says. But, she says, she can only achieve that with the help of sponsors.

All Uzamukunda is asking for are the basics: scholastic materials, medicare and maybe school fees for some girls.

Who is Uzamukunda?

Born in Rwanda at the height of the 1994 genocide, Uzamukunda moved to Uganda in the early 2000s to study. She lives with her uncle who is the headteacher of Gadhafi Integrated Secondary School.

As she grew older, she increasingly became disheartened by the plight of the needy children in Kawempe and developed a strong urge to help them live a decent life, like her uncle gave her.

She wanted them to have big dreams, go to school and attain their dreams. "Every time I saw children sleeping on the pavements of city streets, tears filled my eyes.

Many school-going girls and boys donning tattered clothes could be seen running errands instead of being in class," Uzamukunda says.

"It is on such basis that I decided to give these impoverished children another shot at life. Every day, I prayed to God to give me an opportunity to send all these children to school," she adds.

At 14, Uzamukunda fell in love with football and decided to enrol at Ghadhafi Integrated Football Academy, where she trained with other girls, a decision that would leave a bold mark on her life and that of several underprivileged children in Kampala.

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