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Thursday, 31 October 2013 00:00

Luke Sellers reflects on the recent CWB project in Uganda

Featuring crowds of enthusiastic children, heart-breaking HIV/AIDS stories and more than a little thinking on our feet, the Autumn 2013 Uganda project was, quite simply incredible.

And nowhere was this heady mix of action and emotion better typified than on our third day of coaching in Mbarara – the first of our three locations.

Turning up at Army School we had expected to coach around 150 children but ended up with 500.

Over a brilliant and bonkers two hours, conga lines, hokey-cokeys and HIV/AIDS chanting circles broke out all over the field, snaking their way between the cricket stations.

The session typified the very best of CWB and Team Uganda, with passion, energy and adaptability from the volunteers being turned into 500 smiling faces, some impressive cricket skills and a vastly improved understanding of the ABCs.

As we left the school in tired but triumphant mood, we were then detained for more than an hour by the Ugandan army for inadvertently causing a security breach at the base where the school is located.

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And if I you thought the emotional rollercoaster of the day had no further twists and turns then you would be wrong.

As the teachers from the school rushed around trying to get us freed, I managed to find five minutes with one of them – Michael – to talk about his experience of HIV/AIDS.

He told me of a former pupil who had been HIV positive from birth. Having found out his status at an early age the family had been able to access the necessary medication and he had gone through school as a popular - and for the most part – healthy child. As a bright young man he managed to get a place at university in Kampala and hopes were high that he would go on to live a happy and successful life.

But within months of going to university he became severely depressed by both the stigma he received from fellow students and the restrictions imposed by living with the disease. With a tear in his eye, Michael told me how his former pupil had eventually been driven to take their own life by jumping from one of the campus buildings.

After a morning of such amazing highs, Michael's story served as a stark reminder as to why CWB exists and why using cricket to educate and de-stigmatise HIV/AIDS is so vital.

The events of day three did much to galvanise the team of six CWB volunteers and our two Ugandan coaches and from then on we never looked back.

Our time in Mbarara was characterised by the constant need to adapt and tweak our plans but we left there in positive mood following a festival that featured eight teams from four different schools. Cricket here may not be as established as in other areas but the potential is huge.

In stark contrast Kilembe, tucked away in the Rwenzori Mountains near Kasese is a little pocket of cricketing passion. Two weeks after leaving there I find an involuntary grin break out as soon as I think about it.

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During our four days there we trained more than 40 teachers – all desperate to improve their cricket knowledge – and coached hundreds of children whose raw talent and love of the game was amazing to behold.

One young man – Monday - who had left school without any qualifications, attended the teacher training and was promptly offered a job coaching at one of the local schools, Rwenzori Demo.

It was also in Kilembe that we also encountered two extraordinary teachers, Grace and Allen Mary. Grace is HIV positive and alongside working at Bulembia Primary School is dedicated to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and reducing the stigma around the disease. Here is an interview with Grace.

Allen Mary has helped her community recover from devastating floods to by using cricket as a form of escapism. For her full story click here.

With its passion for cricket and breath-taking scenery I think we all left Kilembe heavy hearted.

AlexBlog

However this was tempered by a day's safari where we saw lions, elephants, hippos and crocodiles to name just a few. Although they are not the reason for going on a CWB project, days like this are an amazing perk and one that was thoroughly deserved by the team after the hard work of the previous week and a half.

Our trip finished in Fort Portal, a bustling town a few hours north of Kasese. The destination proved a fitting place for our Ugandan finale with a fantastic three days of activity. Despite the cricket there being less developed than in Kilembe, the children (and their teachers) more than made up for it with their enthusiasm and competitive spirit.

Our time there culminated in a fiercely contested festival that saw the final decided on wickets lost after both teams finished level on runs.

My lasting impression of Uganda was of a staggeringly beautiful country full of people with genuine warmth and humour. There is an incredible appetite for cricket and natural talent in abundance. In the areas we visited there was also much cause for optimism on the HIV/AIDS front with testing seemingly on the increase and some of the stigma being stripped away.

However stories like Michael's and Grace's show that there is still much work to be done and the role of CWB and the Ugandan Cricket Association remains as vital as ever.

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