SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - On Tuesday, May 7, Westmont Women's Soccer will board a bus and head down to the Los Angeles International Airport. Over the following 16-days, student-athletes and coaches will team up with the efforts of Sports Outreach Institute to serve, love, care for, minister to and play soccer with people in Kenya and Uganda.
After 30 hours of travel, the team will land in their first destination - Nairobi, Kenya.
"We didn't stop in Nairobi on the last trip (2010), but the group did work there in 2006," explained Westmont head coach Kristi Kiely. "We will likely be offering soccer clinics and doing slum work which means doing trash pick-up and burning, feeding people and playing soccer with the children. We expect to be working with a lot of HIV positive folks. (Assistant coach) Dan Ribbens, who was with the team in 2006, says that it is the hardest place to go."
The team will spend three days in Nairobi.
"On the day we leave Nairobi, we will put on a soccer clinic in the morning, play a game right after that and after quick showers jump onto a plane headed to Entebbe, Uganda," explained Kiely. "Robert Katende of Sports Outreach said that the team we are playing in Nairobi is a Muslim team. It will be great to engage with them, to share, to ask questions, to enjoy being together and to compete."
A portion of Katende's work with Sports Outreach has been told in Tim Crother's book (The Queen of Katwe) about Phiona Mutesi, a teenage chess prodigy from the Katwe slum of Kampala, Uganda. The story was also told in the pages of Sports Illustrated.
After landing in Entebbe, the team will head to Kampala for four or five days of ministry.
"I am excited to see some of the same people in Kampala that we met on our last trip," said Kiely. "We are playing the team from Makerere University again and we will train again with Hearts United, which is the women's team from Sports Outreach. The last time we came, Hearts United was wearing some of our uniforms. We hope they will be doing the same again and we are bringing them new ones. It was such a treat to get to train with these women. It is women empowering women.
"While in Kampala, we will work again with remand houses, which are juvenile detention centers. In the remand houses, we will be putting on clinics, worshiping together, sharing in small groups and possibly working with traumatized women."
After serving in Kampala, the team will transition from southern to northern Uganda.
"We will make the trip to Gulu with all the baboons," said Kiely. "It is fascinating to drive over the Nile and see it rushing. It is a very lush and beautiful place.
"Gulu is a hard place," noted Kiely. "Northern Uganda is a very different people group than southern Uganda. Gulu is where you have the invisible children and more of the child soldiers. It is really a recovering people who are skeptical, who are wounded, who are hesitant, who are angry and who don't know how to fend for themselves.
"At the start of the war, people were placed in internment camps. They spent 20 years there and were then kicked out and told to return home. Half of them were born in the camps and didn't have a home to return to. They don't know how to farm or care for themselves in the most basic ways."
Sports Outreach Institute has been working in Gulu for several years, running a farm as a place to teach critical life skills. Aloysius Kyazze is at the heart of that ministry.
"What Aloysius is trying to do is to rebuild a community," said Kiely. "For us to be a part of that in whatever way we can is extremely rewarding and quite an honor. The farm is bigger than it was four years ago. Several buildings have been completed and the sanctuary is done. They have been working very hard and we get to come along side and support them while we are there.
"We will play one or two games in Gulu, barring rain," continued Kiely. "We will farm and we will build. We will work with a lot of children and we will work with the people of the bush who live in huts and live off the land in the purist sense. We are going to be coming alongside them and trying to help them. Last time we built a piggery so that they could raise pigs for food and sale. It is part of the teaching that Sports Outreach has done of how to create a sustainable society."
After four or five days in Gulu, the team will retreat to a safari lodge for some debriefing and relaxation before heading home.
Readers can follow along during the team's trip on a blog that will be updated whenever internet access is available. The blog can be accessed from the Westmont Women's Soccer home page at: