After a whole year of fundraising (over $40,000 raised just for camp!) and hard work to organize, Ray United’s Third Annual Soccer/Public Health Camp (#RUFCCamp17) lies behind us. Hundreds of youth have been given a week of dancing, soccer, education, food, and fun. Talent was acknowledged and champions were crowned. There are simply too many people to thank. Check out our Facebook page for a record of some of the many who we recognized during our Days of Gratitude.
We made a few key changes to our program this year. One change we made was to work with Youth Rising in advance of camp. Their staff trained our volunteers from the University of Southern California (USC) and Makerere University on how to better engage the youth. Being involved and integrated with the children we are trying to serve can often times be a challenge. Language and cultural differences can result in awkward silences and blank stares. To overcome this, everyone has to be ready to put themselves out there and make that personal connection. We spent an entire day before camp working on ice breakers, facilitation exercises, and practicing how to deliver our learning objectives. The day provided a powerful start to what would be an incredibly powerful week. We also added a community home stay for our volunteers to get to know our target population better. Chatting over the fire, dancing, telling stories, and learning basic local vocabulary provided a great bonding opportunity.
We also moved camp from central to northern Uganda. The move to Oyam this year was driven by the discovery of a terrific community-based organization doing amazing work – Global Health Network Uganda (GHNU). USC alum, Evan Pye, spent the entire last year working with GHNU and was key in facilitating the new partnership. They did an amazing job of pulling all the logistics for the camp together. This includes recruiting 21 schools to participate in camp, locating host schools, organizing transportation and food for the students, ensuring that there was security present, PA systems and DJs were on site on time, and more. Everything ran so smoothly thanks to their attention to detail and commitment to the community. Their amazing Executive Director, Bob Marley Achura, even hosted a team dinner complete with traditional dancing!
Football for Good, a soccer development academy in Gulu, stepped in this year to provide the soccer training. They didn’t miss a beat! They were flexible – dealing with difficult field conditions, torrential rain, and more. The coaches were so impressed by the level of talent among the campers and the campers were thrilled to receive formal training.
One thing that was the same this year was the incredible partnership between the USC Institute for Global Health and Makerere students that has defined every camp. Some of the Makerere students have now volunteered all three years. For many it was their second year in a row. The Ugandan students clearly look forward to the week of service and the new friendships that they develop with their American colleagues. All the students worked hard to improve our public health sessions and they left every ounce of their energy on the field – leading chants, songs, dances, exercises, lessons, focus groups and more. One of the greatest things I heard after camp ended was that the youth told their teachers that they wanted to go to university so that they could be like RUFC’s camp volunteers.
Over the week we all became a real team. Most of us had very little previous interaction, but we were all able to unite through the camp’s spirit defined by joy and service. Over 5 days we learned to trust and depend upon one another. Emotions ran high on the last day of camp, reaching a peak during our final staff soccer game, our last event as a whole team. Leaving the team behind after that was rough, but I’m already excited for our reunion next year.
This year was the best RUFC camp so far but in the end it really wasn't because of any extra funds or improvements in our program content. It was the best because of the incredible group of volunteers from all of our partner organizations that came together as one, empowered team. In the end, a great group of people working together can make all the difference in the world.
Ray Wipfli, RUFC founder, shares his thoughts.