It has been a tough few months in the U.S. of A. In order to manage my thoughts and emotions from the events of the last few weeks, I force myself to think about what saves the day, life and the planet. For me that thing is doing good, and we each as individuals choose to give, do, be or not to wherever in the planet we might be located. With the backdrop of so much ugliness, I choose to focus on a cause my two friends and expats in Uganda, Michelle and Troy Conrey, whom I visited over the holidays, have started out of their own goodwill and I aim to do my part in supporting them in doing good.
Michelle and Troy, for the lack of a boxing gym in Entebbe, found Gilbert, a local boxing coach, leased a space and started their own. Originally only Troy and a couple of other young boys known to the coach used the gym to train, however in only a few months it has evolved into the training space, home and source of inspiration for over 30 young boys and girls from the ages of 4 to 25. For most of these kids, coming to the gym gives them energy and a place where they learn about famous boxers, symbols of success and realization, who they aspire to and dream to become themselves one day. Training however is not just for fun, the gym formed its own team in various age and weight categories which competes on a regional and ultimately national level. It scored 16th out of 43 teams in the last national championship.
I never knew this about Uganda, but boxing is identified with national pride. It is as important if not more than soccer. A good boxer needs to have long arms and a thin body, which apparently are features of the Ugandan DNA and the country has produced a number of talented fighters over the years.
Thanks to coach Gilbert, the “Busoga Boxing Club” quickly spread into satellite "clubs" in 10 other villages within the Busoga county, now training at least another 60 kids. Since there are no facilities, and most of these villages are 4 - 5 hours drive from Entebbe, each location has a designated captain, responsible not only for the daily training sessions but in the overall care and encouragement for the kids of his club.
Michelle and I visited one of these locations outside of Jinja, an improvised training space using tree trunks for a frame and burlap sacks filled with sand instead of boxing bags. Since the kids don't have boxing gloves, they wrap their hands and wrists with T-shirts or cloth, while they box in clouds of red dust. One of the boys from this area, fought in the regional championship with a broken arm because he wanted to prove to the coach and Troy, his sponsor, that the investment in his village was worthwhile. He actually won the fight.
Regardless of the conditions, each little girl and boy who I had the privilege to photograph and interview over the course of the day, told me the same story - boxing makes them feel "free", "powerful", "proud", "it is in their heart", it is something to "dream" about. What they didn't tell me, but I learned from Gilbert, is that it keeps them off the streets, off of drugs, or joining a military group and inspires them to have a goal in life.
My mission is to help find second-hand gear and boxing gloves for these kids, even if it is only a couple of pairs. What is considered "used up" in our gyms and thrown out is luxury for them. It doesn't take much to bring meaning to a young life, make a difference and who knows, maybe supporting a future olympic boxer for Uganda. If you have anything you would like to donate, please contact me for an address in the US where the gear can be shipped and then forwarded to Uganda. Thank you for reading and supporting #gotgloves?