Right before I left for Uganda I received a message from a dear friend of mine. She said, “I’ve been meaning to tell you this Ugandan phrase I know, ‘kamu-kamu’. It means one step at a time.” She went on, “I think you are going to need it. Just remember, ‘kamu-kamu.’”
She was right, that phrase has served me well during this project. And now that we are in our final steps together I want to reflect with you a little bit before it is time to say good-bye.
Today I met with the kids for our second to last practice together. It was a day full of confidence and peace: Confidence in the children and peace within my own soul. We did a group run, looping a few times through a village near Coorom School.
There we were, all the boys, all girls, and one Muzonga, moving joyfully through another humid African day, sloping down red dirt roads. And, if only the roads could tell tales of the bloodshed they’ve seen- things most of us can not imagine. Running here you would never guess the region’s history. And looking forward, words like renewal, restoration, and regrowth come to mind.
Uganda’s ugly past and present beauty relate so vividly to the following passage.
“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”—Isaiah 61:3.
The children I have worked with: Their lives, ashes. Their orphanhood, a mourning. The memories they carry, heaviness on their backs. And yet, grace and loveliness are not just in their striking faces, but also in their actions. Within their undernourished, neglected bodies they possess abundant joy and hope.
In only a few shorts weeks these developing distance runners have grown to be a team; self-directed, self-organized and united. Today they confirmed that I can leave with peace in my mind and heart, and full confidence that they will do wonderfully without me. I have successfully passed along my passion, and in doing so, I’ve enabled and empowered them- which was exactly the point. Their own champion spirits will continue to sway them towards greatness.
Today’s practice served as an illustration. Though their *first coach is leaving, they are going to find success all on their own. Here’s what I mean:
Like I mentioned before, today we ran a familiar loop. The “big loop,” as we call it, is 1.4 miles (or 2k) and traces down one road and then back through a village, finishing at the field near the school. After a half-mile warm-up we gathered and I explained that everyone had the choice to do 2 or 3 big loops. It was totally up to them, no pressure, no competition. Just an “easy-peasy” day, as I’ve come to say. (And yes, they respond with “lemon squeezy.” It’s awesome.)
Much to my surprise the whole group did all three loops! That’s a proud moment for me. They wanted to run longer- a distance coach’s dream!
During our last loop I heard women to my right whooping and hollering, cheering and clapping. As they came into sight I saw them leap off their work stools, drop the clothes they’d been washing and jump up and down with smiles on their faces as we ran by. They yelled, “Well done, well done!” The kids laughed and I asserted that the cheers were for them.
We reached the field, our finish, and without me saying a word the team got in a big circle and began stretching. I did not lead the stretches, instead I stepped back and watched as one of their peers entered the center of the circle. His name is Isaac. Isaac, lost both parents in the war, spent time in the LRA’s captivity and currently leads his household, living with his younger siblings in a mud hut, just trying to get by. With a story like his we might expect him to be bitter, angry and recluse. But instead, Isaac is kind, he is smart, he works hard, he has a great smile- that he lends from time to time- and he is a natural born leader. Needless to say, I was proud to see him leading the group.
Then, in the midst of admiring Isaac’s leadership and the team’s self-sufficiency, I caught a glimpse of this little guy (maybe 4 years old?) who must have joined us from one of the houses in the village during our last time through. He was taking Isaac’s stretches quite seriously, mimicking everything he saw.
It is moments like this that I know for sure that running has and will continue to bring these kids joy. Not only do they want to run as far as they can, but the local community encourages their activity, the kids are taking the lead at practice and the little ones want to join in. This project seems to be the start of something wonderful, positive- and even beautiful.
To a group of children who deserve the very best, I will miss you.
To my friends and supporters near and far, kamu-kamu.
* I developed and implemented this running program with high hopes to pass it on to Children of Peace Uganda. I am please to tell you that they have decided to continue this running program with the children they serve. One of their staff has agreed to take over the “coach” position and I couldn’t be happier!