One month from today, Ray United’s 3rd annual soccer camp will begin. This has gotten me thinking about what our camps bring to the table that make them so impactful and meaningful for all those involved. I have come to the conclusion that it is the sense of joy and unity the permeates through the whole experience that make our camps worth replicating year after year. The joy experienced by all involved in camp, whether volunteer or participant, serves as a reminder that happiness can always be achieved, no matter the circumstances. And our joy can be shared around the world. I recently discovered a quote by Mahatma Gandhi that reads, “Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.” I believe this is exactly what makes our camps so special and effective and why I look forward all year to getting to experience the pleasure of camp once again. Public health education can be delivered through classrooms and over mass media through posters and the radio. Warm food and water can be disturbed directly to those who need it without fanfare. But there is no joy in those actions. If I have learned anything working with poor, rural communities, it is that the youth living there are filled with joy and hope. They see beauty all around them and want to share their pride with others. RUFC camps allow them to do this, to be proud of their skills on the soccer field, to exhibit and share their knowledge about themselves and their community, and to express their future ambitions. In return we appreciate their potential, assist them in outlining their their goals, and teach them a few additional skills to help them along. All together we dance, play, and learn. RUFC camps are filled with music, laughter, and screams of joy as goals are made and games are won. It is pure joy and I can’t hardly wait for this month to pass.
So, I’m graduating from middle school next week (high school promotion or whatever you would like to refer to it as). For me it is a good opportunity to put my life and education in perspective. As I continue my journey into high school I give thanks for the free public schools provided to me. La Canada High School is an incredible place. The highest ranked open enrollment high school in California by US News and World Report, the school not only offers a wide range of challenging AP courses, but also offers excellent programs in music and the arts. For example, I’m a singer and the school has a vibrant choral program that tours all over the world, singing in famously renowned venues. Nearly every student at LCHS goes on to a 4-year college.
I know I am exceptionally lucky to live and go to school in La Canada. I know that if I was living in rural Uganda, for example, this graduation might mean that my formal education was over and instead of looking forward to all the incredible opportunities that await me in high school I would be facing a lifetime of work. If my parents couldn’t afford secondary school, I would now be forced to join the workforce like millions of other children around the world. As is the case for so many poor youth, my potential would be robbed by fate and my opportunities confiscated due to generations of poverty.
In the end education is all about opportunity. The opportunity to grow, to learn, and to achieve. The opportunity to one day to have control and choices over your future and to thrive. It is through education that we can break the chain of poverty. To be able to help provide educational opportunities to youth in need is one of the greatest blessings that I have gained through RUFC over the past 3 years. This week, thanks to nearly a dozen families who have agreed to support students, RUFC again paid tuition for nine children to continue their education in secondary school. These are terrific, bright kids from hard working families who without our support would no longer be attending school. Through this support, we are setting these youths on a path to success and paying jobs. People often think that they need to give so much to make a difference. In reality, all anyone needs to give is these kids a chance.
I think it is time to address something that was said to me the other day while fundraising for RUFC that has been eating away at me.
“You know there are veterans in OUR country who are living on the streets, and you’re helping kids in Africa?”
To you, I say this: It is obvious that the issue of veteran neglect plaguing this country frustrates you, as it does many. But you can’t always expect other people to prioritize your concerns (I have learned this firsthand). As a wealthy person living in La Canada you are as fit as anyone to take on a fundraising role, help raise awareness, or any other positive action for an issue that is important to you. The abject poverty and inequity impacting children and families in Mpigi is what concerns me and I spend my time and effort to help improve their lives. If you want something else done, do it. And as for your strong sense of patriotism, it is not wrong to possess a love or loyalty for your country, after all it is where you live. However, this love is susceptible to corruption in a form of supremacy. Then it becomes an extreme form of nationalism - or patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries. To me, unity among the world’s countries and all its different people is the ultimate goal for mankind. Something people have been trying to do for as long as we have lived. How, as a world, can we progress without developing and nurturing friendship and positive relationships with people who live beyond our conceived borders? We are a human society that has extended across real, tangible, geographical isolations, so why should we cower beneath the imaginary ones? Imaginary political lines have been partially shaped by our fear and our greed and the truth is that nothing stands between us and unity except our fear of change. It is our job to extend our arms of love and generosity to all the world. Nothing makes a person on one side of the border different than someone on the other, and the same goes for across the world. We are all humans, of common blood. Wherever we come from, whatever religion we follow, whoever we choose to love. We are all the same, more so than any of us can understand.
I believe that at this time in history it is as important as ever to show the world that Americans care about equity and access to opportunity - at home and abroad. Next week is “Giving Tuesday” and I hope that everyone will think about what is important to them and make a commitment to help. This can be in the form of a donation, but it doesn't have to be about money. It can mean writing a letter to a policymaker, raising awareness, or learning more about why the problem exists in the first place.
Hi Guys!!! This month was all about strengthening the RUFC team. To start, we held our first Ray United Leadership Council meeting. I am really excited about all the great ideas and feedback we got from our friends and supporters. The main topic of our meeting was the mission and vision for RUFC. We all agreed that the core activity for RUFC should remain our awesome health and soccer camp. We also discussed whether or not wanted to remain focused on Mpigi, Uganda. While there is sometimes pressure to move to other communities and countries, we decided not to leave Uganda or Mpigi. We need to continue supporting the people we know and love and deepen our impact in the community over the long-term. As far as how to make the camps better, we decided we needed to start funding sustainable health and nutrition based structures. For example, we agreed that it would be a good idea to teach the students and teachers how to keep a sustainable garden at the school. This would help bring nutritional value to the program, as many children simply gnaw at sugar cane to keep their hunger at bay. Another idea is to fund a nutrition/health teacher to maintain a steady flow of lessons and structure instead of just teaching them during the camp and leaving. Overall, the meeting was great team building experience. Some of the best advice I got during the meeting was to follow the advice of David Sivers – to refrain from thinking or speaking of ‘I’ and learn the importance of the first follower to start a movement .
Another area of teambuilding has been the establishment of the LCHS 7/8 RUFC club! We’ve held our first two meetings already and our club has gotten to work - our clothing drive was a great example of that. We had so many helpful students move the bags (multiple times). Club members also helped weigh the bags and sell t-shirts and jewelry during the textile drive. Between the clothes and the additional donations, we raised $1,700 dollars this weekend. The club is now planning more events – including a Walk-To-School on May 5. One of our main goals as a club is the expose LCHS 7/8 students to the reality kids face outside of the La Canada bubble (#beyondthebubble). The walk aims to help raise awareness about the many kids all around the world, including in Mpigi, who must walk hours to attend school.
Finally, the RUFC textile drive would have been only half as successful if it wasn't for the team of families at Competitive Edge Charter Academy (CECA) in Yucaipa, California. The first grade classrooms organized their 'Friday Families' to support RUFC. In the end the school raised 1,700 lbs of textiles and donated over $500! Amazing job CECA!
In the end, RUFC is just like soccer, to win you need an entire team fighting for victory. RUFC is a team committed to winning the game of life!!
We were also able to provide the funds to finish Namabo Primary School. Ugandan elections are running during this time so all progress has been stopped but we will be sending the pictures of the final school, including a plaque, with the names of all the brick donators once the elections are complete. Children in Uganda have to pay to take their education beyond Primary school and many can’t afford to do so. So last time I came I brought along with me Morris and Miriam who are now sponsored to attend high school next year along with 5 other children whom we have supported. None of these children would have been able to go to school this year without the help of some wonderful people who sponsored them. We are hoping that they will continue studying and pursue a future worthy of them.
I am excited to continue working with CECA and receive the same support from you this year as well. I hope to host another soccer camp this June but it takes a lot of resources to do so. So any help you can give would be much appreciated. Your teachers are handing out flyers now illustrating how you can help our efforts. You can “buy a bag” for 10 dollars which will provide one child who attends our camp with a gift bag which includes a toothbrush, a shirt, and a health manual. In addition we are doing our annual clothing drive so if you are doing your spring cleaning or have old clothes, stuffed animals, or other fabrics that you no longer need we will be collecting until March 11. You can also meet me in the Quad after school to pre-order t-shirts and sweatshirts at 15 and 20 dollars a piece. You can also come meet me in the quad with your parents after school to say hi. Now your teachers will be handing out papers, which I am hoping you will write a heart felt letter to a colleague in Uganda. Please write your gender and grade ex. first grade girl/boy and address the letter as Dear Friend. Talk about your life and what you like and be sure to ask them about theirs. You will receive a letter back in a few weeks. To 7th and 8th graders, we are offering CJSF hours to those interested. Some ideas for CJSF hours are standing out in front of a local grocery store, organizing an event at school, or selling RUFC gear. It’s a fun and easy was to get hours while supporting a good cause. Don’t forget to meet me out in the Quad after school to take a picture to post to social media!
During the #RUFC15 Summer Camp, USC students Kristin Dessie and Asia Dean undertook an evaluation of the public health curriculum developed and delivered by USC MPH students and partners from Makerere University.
Questionnaires were administered to a group of students before and after participating in health education lessons. The two questionnaires served a dual purpose: 1) Since there is a lack of health data among youth in Mpigi, the questionnaires served as a needs assessment to determine baseline health knowledge and health beliefs. 2) The post education questionnaire served as an evaluation of the effectiveness and appropriateness of the curriculum as we can use results to assess changes in health knowledge.
Data was collected via electronic questionnaires administered by collaborating students from Makerere University. Makerere students translated questions when necessary. Responses from 27 students before and 25 students after health education classes were successfully collected. Ethics approval was obtained for the administration of these questionnaires.
Key recommendations resulting from the study included:
Key findings are described below.
The majority of respondents correctly identified the modes of HIV/AIDs transmission, sexual contact, mother-to-fetus, and blood transmission, both pre and post health education lessons. Improvements were made in identifying incorrect modes of transmission such as hugging, kissing, and sharing toilets or food after health education lessons. This is helpful in reducing the stigma of HIV within a community, and shows a better understanding from the students in how to successfully protect themselves from the disease.
When asked if students believed HIV was a prevalent health issue in Mpigi a majority of students responded “I don’t know.” This indicates a need for more information being communicated to students to better understand potential risk.
The students indicated a need for more dialogue about this issue. 84% of respondents believed that more open discussion would reduce stigma around HIV/AIDS and 96% of respondents believed discussion around avoiding peer pressure and risky behavior in school was very important.
Informal discussions with students were helpful in assessing gaps in health knowledge as well. Students wanted to know more about sexual health, including the prevention of HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy. Students had expressed several misconceptions surrounding condoms, including a belief that the use of condoms actually causes disease, rather than helping to prevent the spread of disease.
Tobacco & Alcohol
The majority of respondents believed that both tobacco and alcohol use was common in Mpigi. Specifically, students believed males 18 and older were the most common users of tobacco and alcohol. When asked if Mpigi residents understood the health risks associated with tobacco and excessive alcohol use respondents indicated almost equal parts yes and no. When asked what commonly occurs after excessive alcohol consumption in Mpigi students identified interpersonal violence as the most common outcome, followed by accident or injury and drunk driving.
The majority of students understood tobacco smoke negatively impacts both the smoker and those exposed to second hand smoke. Additionally, the majority of students indicated secondhand smoke exposure is common in Mpigi.
The majority of students correctly defined mental illness as a “disturbance in brain function” both pre and post health education classes. Misconceptions were almost eliminated entirely after classes with only one student describing mental illness as “a curse.”
92% of students understood wood burning cookstoves pose a risk to health, and the majority were able to identify common health outcomes from exposure. 84% indicated Mpigi residents would be open to using cleaner stoves if they were available.
Read Kristin Dessie's complete report here.
Hey guys, its been a quite a while since I wrote a blog so I’ve decided to get a move on. The reason I haven’t blogged for a while is hard to explain. It’s a bit of laziness, busyness, and the fact that it’s hard to put the things I’m thinking into words, but I believe that it has been way too long since I blogged. Today I wanted to talk about coming and working together towards a common goal. I feel I’ve had trouble this year engaging my teachers and fellow students in my efforts. I finished my first camp in Uganda only days before I started at my new middle school. I was so excited about sharing all the amazing things that had happened during the camp and was excited to build on our accomplishments. Unfortunately, when I actually got there I found that I'm a bit afraid to speak to my new peers and teachers and when I do mention Ray United they seem skeptical. Even when they seem supportive, they don’t seem to have time to listen to me explain what it is I actually do or how they may be able to help. Sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated.
The point of my blog is not to complain. I knew that staying committed to the kids in Mpigi and continuing to raise funds for them would be hard work – I just didn’t realize just how resilient I would have to be personally. I am doing this because I love my Ugandan friends and I want to make the world a better place. I am doing it because I know that together we can make a difference and because last year’s camp was the most fun and most rewarding experience in my life and I want to do it again and share it with my new friends and teachers. I'm doing it because we were able to build a whole new school last year and I know we can do it again this year!
I struggle to understand why many of those around me can’t seem to see that if we all worked together we could achieve greater things than ever before. It makes me realize that even on a larger scale, if all the countries learned to be cooperative and work together the world would be a much better place – but that it is very hard to actually achieve. My goal in the next few months is to keep trying to be creative and figure out what will make my classmates and teachers more interested and supportive of RUFC. I know that together we can continue to accomplish the amazing!
PS - Stay tuned for final pictures of the completed new building at Namabo Primary School and first day of school pictures of our 3 sponsored students this year! Thanks to all of you who listened and helped out. I hope you know what a difference it makes!