Retired all-star and gold glover Derrek Lee is helping support youth baseball in Uganda by donating five batting cages that will be built across the East African nation. In addition to Lee's contributions, the international baseball nonprofit Play Global! and Little League Canada sent expert coaches from the U.S. to conduct training clinics for players and local coaches this July.
Derrek Lee first saw the impact of baseball in Uganda when he traveled there in 2012 for the Pearl of Africa Series, a tournament formed when the Ugandan League Champions were prevented from competing in the Little League World Series due to visa issues. Along with MLB player Jimmy Rollins, Lee taught the game to local kids during his visit. He noticed that young players there had a lot of potential but lacked the right equipment. Lee was moved by his trip to Uganda and made a commitment to continue supporting baseball there.
"I could see during my travels that baseball brought hope and self-confidence to kids in Uganda who don't have much," Lee explains, "I wanted to help in a way that would last."
Lee connected with nonprofit organization Play Global!, and the project grew. Play Global! teamed up with Commonwealth Games Canada, the Roberto Clemente Foundation and Little League Canada. Together, these organizations – called the Pearl of Africa Series 2 – shipped the batting cages and other needed baseball equipment to Uganda, and arranged for expert coaches to conduct training clinics there. Play Global! is running a long-term distance education program for Ugandan baseball coaches, and its partner agencies have created a transportation fund to make sure that young players can make it to their games.
Over 20,000 Ugandan kids participate in the Uganda Baseball and Softball Association. Uganda's young players live in communities dealing with poverty and high rates of HIV. They also include refugee children from Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, who struggle with cultural and social barriers. Baseball provides common ground for these children to work and learn together as a team.
Derrek Lee's batting cages are in the process of being built. One is already up at the national stadium in Gayaza. The other four are in the process of construction, using local materials like wooden poles and concrete.
About Play Global!
Play Global! is a nonprofit organization based in the U.S. and working internationally. Its mission is to develop respect and teamwork through baseball. Play Global! conducts programs in developing countries and conflict areas, with the goal of helping kids learn skills for success while having fun. More information is available at www.play-global.org.