In 2013 I embarked to Uganda to lead a child empowerment project in the rural north for war orphans and former child-soldiers. The project, known as Children’s Running Project Uganda (CRP Uganda), utilised athletics as a vehicle for building relationships between children who are often stigmatised for their past war experiences. This project also demonstrated to the local villages that although these children were once feared and shut-out (especially the former child-soldiers), today they are participating in constructive programs and are eager to learn, work hard and contributing positively to their communities.
Over the course of five weeks I taught the participants the basics of distance running, stretching, nutrition, and other fundamentals of being an athlete. With ten years of competitive running experience to call upon, three years of youth athletics and project management, and University and high school coaching experience, this was as much fun for me as it was for them. Distance running has been a catalyst for my own character development and given me purpose, joy and hope since childhood; and my journey to Uganda was inspired by the belief that distance running could do the same for the children there.
Thankfully, the project was a huge success. The children learned quickly and flourished with the opportunity to engage in an activities that was new to them, enriching and fun– this all means a lot when you consider that a large majority of them are not attending school, many live in child-led households and nearly all are illiterate.
Looking back I recall that though these amazing kids were extremely poor they glowed with pride for their daily accomplishments; and though some were orphans, or had been neglected and suffered greatly, they made friends with children they’d never met, strengthened relationships where friendship already existed and worked incredibly hard with joy and fortitude. Through our work together they were empowered, challenged and encouraged, and in ever way rose to the occasion.
From what I heard upon my departure, and the feedback I have received since the project’s completion, the children and communities involved want to see another project in their area, which is something I certainly hope for.
With a war in the not so distant past, distance running, of course, cannot serve as the only means toward improving the lives of these children and their families. Truly, it will take many years of hard work by local and international agencies, acts of social justice and restitution, the renewal of trust, and institutional reform to repair the Pearl of Africa and the hearts and minds of it’s beautiful people. As I learned first hand, distance running has its place with the children of Northern Uganda, and though it cannot absolve them of their poverty and pain, it is certainly a tool that that empowers, encourages and helps them conceptualise themselves and relate positively to one another. The running project created a positive child-focused community within a region torn apart by decades of war. In the very same villages where children ran from their homes and into the bush to escape the grasp of rebel army kidnappings, this project encouraged children to replace fear with joy, and run with a renewed identity and purpose.
To see with your own eyes what running was like with the children watch this awesome VIDEO.
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In 2014 Kelsey met her husband, Jake, who shares her passion for distance running and the desire to help the children of northern Uganda. Please join them in the united front to keep this project going. The next step is to journey back to Uganda with a team of volunteers for Phase II of the CRP.Uganda which will include assessing the project and making improvements from last year, encouraging local adult and community involvement and leadership, and hosting a youth running camp. Your support, prayers, ideas, and donation make a considerable difference. Questions? Please email email@example.com or comment within this blog.
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Awpoyo & ameri matek!
Kelsey, Jake and the CRP.Uganda Family