When Trevor Dudley saw that the architectural plans for a new school in Kampala, Uganda, had no athletic field or recreational facilities, he decided to intervene.
Bucking the prevailing opinion that sports were a distraction that had no place in the world of learning; Dudley set out to show the positive impact athletics could have on children and communities. A native of England, Dudley has lived in Africa for 25 years, 18 of them in Uganda, working as a construction consultant.
He recruited volunteer students and parents who created “a little league type organization where kids could be involved in sports activities” and also offered youngsters health promotion opportunities and information. By 1998 the group evolved into Kampala Kids League (KKL). Now the expanded Kids League (TKL) reaches beyond Kampala to the villages of Uganda and is working with EDC (via the USAID sponsored EQUIP3 / Youth Trust’s Education For All (EFA) / Youth Challenge Grant Program) on ways of creatively engaging youth in education. EDC offers technical assistance to TKL on all aspects of its expansion, including incorporating education into their activities.
“We have come full circle from when the program first began and sports were thought of as distractions, people now see that athletics enhance academics,” says Dudley. The programs also promote unity and social connection among groups that might not otherwise interact, he said. The program has reached 13,000 boys and girls in seven districts from ages 4 to 14. In districts where the league is active, school attendance is up and truancy rates are down.
EDC is supporting the expansion of TKL to the districts of Kumi and Lira. Kumi is an under-developed district in Eastern Uganda with high rates of school drop-out, especially among girls; Lira is a district in Northern Uganda that currently has over 225,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), 80 percent of whom are women and children. Expansion efforts focus on enrolling youth in school, encouraging in-school youth to complete their education, and building community support for education. Interaction between out-of-school and in-school youth is seen as a key step in building enrollment, says Alejandra Bonifaz, EDC’s international program coordinator.
The use of role models is an important part of TKL/KKL’s strategy. KKL has succeeded in producing world class athletes, particularly in soccer, where the team has won world championships by winning the Danish Tivoli Cup four times, the Gothia World Youth Cup three times, and in 2003 the Haarlem Cup.
“The KKL team members serve as role models. In Africa people tend to look up to local heroes as opposed to international stars like Michael Jordan and David Beckham,” says Dudley.
The health component includes promoting life skills, HIV/AIDS education, and vaccination information. Working with the World Health Organization, the team organized a measles immunization campaign in 6 districts that drew over 60,000 people. One game was watched by 12,000 spectators. WHO proclaimed this a great success, said Dudley; vaccination programs are often looked upon with suspicion and it was a prime opportunity to reach a large sector of the population.
The program has also made inroads in reaching out to girls, who are often denied access to education and the opportunity to play sports. Many parents discourage or forbid girls to take part in athletics, because they need their help at home, they feel that the uniforms are skimpy, and are uncomfortable with their daughters being coached by men, says Dudley. To address these issues, TKL/KKL offers games that are popular with girls like netball (a game similar to basketball but that doesn’t need a concrete surface), offer a variety of uniforms, and have made an effort to get more women involved in coaching and other volunteer opportunities. The program is also in discussion with Nike Europe to work on a research project about women’s participation in sports in Africa and getting female track star, Dorcus Inzikuru, who won Uganda’s first ever gold medal in the World Championships, as a spokesperson and role model for KKL/TKL.
Striving for Sustainability
KKL has three main constituents—children, parents, and corporate sponsors—who rely on each other for the program’s continued success. Children and their families must pay a small fee to participate in KKL, though this fee is waived for orphans and others who cannot afford it. To promote community involvement, parents serve in the program in a voluntary fashion in such roles as coaches and referees. To date KKL has trained 3,000 volunteers to fill these and other positions. Sponsors are drawn to participate because of the large crowds the games draw. KKL has received support from such major donors as Stanbic Bank; African cellular provider, MTN; and local businesses.
“Once we get the corporate sponsorship up and running, local companies come along and say ‘we’ll sponsor a team,” says Dudley. “That’s the sustainability part.” Sponsors pay for equipment such as uniforms (which feature their name, logo, and colors), balls, nets, etc, as well as providing funding to keep the costs low for children and their families.
KKL is not only sustained by its structure, but by its philosophy as well. “We are a ‘listening organization.’ So many groups come here and set up programs that disappear once the funding ends. We talk to the people in the districts we work in to get them involved and to ensure the sustainability of the program,” says Dudley.
The success of KKL has led organizations such as UNICEF and USAID to request that the program be established in districts outside of Kampala to promote unity and peace building. The program is active in the war torn northern part of Uganda and with children in IDP camps. These programs are run by TKL and do not charge participants a fee nor require parent involvement. Children relish the opportunity to take part in fun activities, says Dudley, recounting how a soccer ball can bring a smile to thousands of faces and how much pride and joy children in the camps take in wearing uniforms.
“Sports have the power to breakdown barriers—ethnic, tribal, religious, gender, economic—12,000 people from all over Uganda and from all walks of life come out to see the KKL team play,” says Dudley.
As one coach said, “Before, there was enmity between schools, tribes and religious sectors in Gulu. But due to the fact that TKL is mixing children from various schools and different backgrounds to play in one team, the enmity is dying out—thus friendship.”
Dudley hopes to establish the TKL program in every district in Uganda and to take the program to other African nations. In 2003, he was elected as an Ashoka Fellow for achieving significant social change in his community and has now retired from construction consultancy to devote full time to this exciting youth program.
The EQUIP3 / Youth Trust’s EFA / Youth Challenge Grant Program, created by USAID and run by EDC, is designed to build the capacity of organizations and agencies to provide relevant skills training for out-of-school youth. EDC also has EFA Grant projects in South Africa and Jamaica.
Originally published on June 30, 2006