Skip to Content

On Assignment Uganda: X-SUBA’s Core Sports Programs

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I earn a small commission of product sales to keep this website going.

This is my second in a multi-part series written during my trip to Jinja, Uganda.  Read: Part One | Part Three

I’ve been documenting the work of X-SUBA Sport4Development for almost two weeks now, on an assignment for Photographers Without Borders.  Last week I posted an introduction to this amazing organization and their various programs.

I wanted to now go a little more in-depth about X-SUBA’s sports program, which is where it all began.

X-SUBA staff
One Team – this theme presented itself throughout my time in Uganda. Even with all the different tribes and languages present in this area, they all come together to help one another survive and better themselves.

X-SUBA actually stands for “cross-street Uganda basketball academy.”  This is what the two founders originally started doing; they held basketball sessions for disadvantaged children in the Walukuba slums outside of Jinja, Uganda.

Despite expanding into various other programs, this newly-certified non-governmental organization is still centered around their sports programs.  It’s at the heart of what they do.

As co-founder Kenneth Agaba explained to me, “sport is the entry point. It’s universal. It is a basic need for every community, to have a place where children can play, belong, and learn.”

So here let’s look at all the ways that they’re using sports to benefit their community.

School sports programs

netball
Students playing a game of netball with a soccer ball at one of the local schools during an X-SUBA visit. The schools don’t have proper coaches or equipment for the students’ playtime. X-SUBA rotates through different schools throughout the week to provide this.
feet
The wide variety of footwear – or lack thereof – within the students at local schools in Walukuba.
meeting
Coach Jay Jay meets with a school administrator to discuss how X-SUBA can help with their physical education program. Most educators all agree that they’re in trouble – the school curriculum is going in the wrong direction and sports funding is insufficient. X-SUBA is able to help with both of these problems.
coaching
Jay Jay, X-SUBA’s head soccer coach, hands out bibs during a school sports tournament day. The local schools can’t afford uniforms or balls for the children, so X-SUBA rotates through the different schools each day of the week to provide these items for sports programs.

I’ve had the pleasure of accompanying X-SUBA coaches to different primary schools in the Walukuba-Masese division outside of Jinja.  The coaches visit a different school each day of the week during their normal playtime.

These schools surprisingly can’t afford proper sports equipment for the children.  Play sessions are unorganized. Soccer balls, if there are any, are scraped clean of their normal exterior by the rough play surfaces and can’t hold air.

But X-SUBA coaches arrive equipped with jerseys, balls, and cones for drills. It has been rewarding to talk to school administrators who praise what X-SUBA is offering to their children.  They’ve all recognized that these visits are providing the children with opportunities to learn about teamwork, sharing, and other skills that they wouldn’t get if the program didn’t exist.

The coaches are bringing a new initiative to their partner schools called Let’s Play Green.  Before each play session starts, the children are challenged to run around the field and pick up all of the trash that they can find (and there is a lot of it).  The coaches gather it in a pile for disposal and tell the children about the dangers of throwing garbage on the ground.

“We throw the plastic on the ground.  It ends up in the water. The fish eat the plastic.  We eat the fish. Then what happens?”

“We eat the plastic!”  The children all announce in unison.  They get it. I don’t know why the rest of us can’t.

Will that mean that none of the children from this point forward will ever throw trash on the ground?  Of course not, that’s not realistic. But it’s a move in the right direction. Incorporating lessons like this during exciting soccer and netball games increases the odds of them remembering these lessons, teaching their parents, and correcting their friends when they throw an empty plastic bottle on the ground.

trash
Children pick up trash from their playing field before being able to play sports. Coach Jay Jay uses this opportunity to teach the children about the environmental & health problems associated with improper trash disposal. Because this is linked with sport – something fun – there will be a positive association with picking up trash. The children will also bring this back to their other friends and family, educating the rest of the community.
trash lesson
Children dump trash into a pile collected from the field before they can participate in sports. This is part of Coach Jay Jay’s new “Let’s Play Green” initiative to address the huge trash problem in Walukuba. Jay Jay uses the opportunity to teach the children about the environmental & health problems associated with improper trash disposal. Because this is linked with sport – something fun – there will be a positive association with picking up trash. The children will also bring this back to their other friends and family, educating the rest of the community.
discussion
X-SUBA coaches teach children about the environmental and health dangers of improper trash disposal before playing soccer and netball. This is part of their “Let’s Play Green” program, an initiative to get the children in the community to spark a change in the way everyone else sees trash disposal.
trash burning
Coach Jay Jay burns a pile of trash that the children collected from the field before playing soccer and netball. Burning trash isn’t the ideal way to dispose of trash, but it’s the best option in these impoverished communities.
garbage boy
A student preparing to dispose of a bag of garbage collected from the playing field before a netball game. Garbage is usually tossed on the ground as soon as it’s no longer needed. X-SUBA is trying to change this attitude starting with the youth, hoping it spreads to the adults.

The coaches then split up the children into groups and conduct some basic drills for soccer and netball.  After 30-45 minutes of drills, the children are split up into teams for a proper game.

When the games are over, the coaches talk to the children about hygiene, sharing, and teamwork.  Again, using sports as a platform to share this information is more effective than doing it in a hot, dark classroom.

X-SUBA coaches are continually working with these partner schools to help them improve their sports programs for the days when coaches aren’t there.

I’d also be remiss not to mention coach Jay Jay’s work at a small school for special needs children.  This school had hired an outside PE teacher to work with the children but it wasn’t going anywhere. X-SUBA got involved and now the school administrators are very happy with the program.  Jay Jay works with three classes of children for 15 minutes each, running, jumping, doing pushups, and drills with a ball. Jay Jay does this work during the mornings three days a week; teachers notice a positive difference in their attitude and concentration on these days compared to the days when Jay Jay isn’t there.  A wonderful example of the importance of these sports programs.

exercise
Coach Jay Jay leading an exercise session at a school for children with special needs in Walukuba. It’s so important for these children to get exercise before classes each day – it helps them get the energy out and concentrate for class. Jay Jay only leads this program a few days a week, and there’s a marked difference in student performance on the days he’s there. Jay Jay teaches them about teamwork and sharing while providing upper & lower body exercise.
exercise
Coach Jay Jay leading an exercise session at a school for children with special needs in Walukuba. It’s so important for these children to get exercise before classes each day – it helps them get the energy out and concentrate for class. Jay Jay only leads this program a few days a week, and there’s a marked difference in student performance on the days he’s there. Jay Jay teaches them about teamwork and sharing while providing upper & lower body exercise.

Connection Days

Saturday is a big day for X-SUBA (Sunday is the only day off for these volunteers).  Staff meet in the morning to discuss progress in various programs and upcoming projects.  Then it’s playtime in the afternoon.

These Connection Day play sessions are growing rapidly, almost to the point where they have to turn away new children.  There were 71 in attendance the first week I was here.

X-SUBA is using the grounds of a local church. They’ll soon lose it due to an upcoming construction project.

basketball
Coach Steve introducing basketball to some boys during X-SUBA’s Connection Day. Every Saturday, youth in the community meet at a local church to play sports and engage in life skills lessons led by X-SUBA coaches.
netball
Local girls playing a netball game during X-SUBA’s Connection Day. These activities take place every Saturday at a local church. X-SUBA starts and ends the session with a frank discussion on sexual health and life skills. The majority of the time is spent playing a number of games including netball, soccer, and basketball.

There is usually a big netball game, as well as soccer and sometimes rugby.  Steve was introducing basketball to a group of younger children who have never played the game before.

All of these games include a good amount of coaching as there is plenty of opportunity for it split up between the eight coaches.

The real learning happens after the games are over.  Boys meet in one area and girls in another. Coaches lead discussions revolving around gender equality, sexuality, and personal responsibility.

In Ugandan culture (like many others), the parents do not discuss these topics with their children.  They are also not effectively taught in the classroom due to cultural and curricular restrictions. Thus the birds & bees talks fall upon aunts and uncles.

You can imagine that, in an area with extreme poverty and high teen pregnancy rates, these talks don’t exist or fall far short of being adequate.

Coaches are able to gain the fragile trust of these children through the coaching and play sessions, becoming defacto aunts & uncles in regards to these talks.

discussion
Coach Kenneth, co-founder of X-SUBA, leads a discussion after a netball game with girls who participate in the Saturday Connection Days. In Ugandan culture, many of the important conversations about sexuality and entering adulthood aren’t brought up by parents. They’re left to aunts and uncles who provide misguiding, if any, advice. These important discussions with Kenneth and his coaches are often the only times that these children will hear anything about sexual health and abstinence.

X-SUBA is preparing to launch the Wakanda Project to coincide with the 2019 International Day of Sports for the Development of Peace in early April.  X-SUBA has received 70 reusable feminine hygiene kits and will distribute them to certain girls throughout the community. This is another taboo topic within the culture; a lack of proper education and feminine supplies leads to truancy, low self-esteem, and disease among pubescent girls.

Coach development

The other big way that X-SUBA is using sports to benefit their community is through the coach development program.

This program gives young people the opportunity to learn leadership and coaching; the other motive is to farm new volunteers for X-SUBA programs.

There is often a period of a year or so between high school and college, and between college and employment, when young people sit idle, waiting for the next step.  It’s not the voluntary “gap year” you hear about in western cultures; this is often involuntary while they wait for the next opportunity to open up.

X-SUBA provides a chance for these young people to stay sharp, learn about program management, get involved in their community, and lead young people.

Steven, who now runs the X-SUBA school sponsorship program, benefitted from this.

And this weekend I met another young man, Edward, who was recently a participant in X-SUBA’s soccer program.  He’s now starting an apprenticeship for coaching and has been given the responsibility of helping X-SUBA put on Jinja’s International Day of Sports and Development for Peace events by coming up with some fun soccer-related activities.

Will Edward stay with X-SUBA? I don’t know, especially considering that it’s not a paid job. Whatever his path, he’ll be better equipped for success thanks to the experiences in X-SUBA’s staff.

This program isn’t just for Ugandans, international partners participate as well.  There’s currently a young German man, Jacob, spending a year working with X-SUBA.

X-SUBA has hosted a number of international coaches, and hopes to send their own coaches abroad soon.

The importance of sport

I could spend countless paragraphs listing study after study explaining why sport is so important in the development of children.  Physical health benefits aside, there are also numerous psychological benefits.

Participation in sports helps boosts self-esteem, improves concentration, develops critical thinking skills, leadership, and builds character.

coach
Coach Kenneth with students at a local school at the conclusion of a netball game.

Walukuba struggles enough as it is.  Poverty has taken a toll on education and health.  It’s a cycle that communities are bound to be stuck in without programs like X-SUBA to give future leaders a chance of breaking this cycle.

The model isn’t perfect but it’s getting closer and closer.  When I asked Ken where he saw X-SUBA in five years, he had a lofty but completely reasonable answer.

“I want X-SUBA to be the model for other communities to follow.  We are developing a pathway to duplicate this in another community.  Once we are able to prove success, it would be wonderful if the government could adopt this as a necessary youth program in every community, for the future of Uganda.”

I will be in Uganda for three more days but my fundraiser for this project will be open through April 2019.  Funds raised will help Kenneth with operating costs, uniforms, equipment, and primary school tuition scholarships.  Click here to donate.