First off I just wanted to thank you for all the support you have given to the partners of RUFC and I during this 2014-2015 fundraising campaign. It really means a lot to me and to the kids in Mpigi that will be impacted by these efforts, that you would come to my events, donate your hard earned money, and tell all your friends about RUFC. It’s been a long and hard journey this year but I think my story says a lot about the power of a single person. You don’t have to be rich, or famous, or have friends in high places. All it takes is a big heart and the will to help, and this can come from anyone. I’ve said this before but I’d like to restate it, I understand that I am unlikely to make a big impact in rural communities alone but through RUFC I hope to change the mindset of the people who have the power and influence to make real and lasting change. I’ve already had some success in this regard. For example, extensive news coverage of my ground breaking at Namabo Primary School brought needed attention to the plight of the children there and the Ugandan Minister of Education shortly thereafter announced a new mandatory feeding program for poor, rural schools.
Just as a reminder, my journey began in January 2014 when my mom announced we would be traveling to Uganda in February. I had heard that the kids in Uganda loved soccer and that were in great need of school supplies, so I asked my 5th grade teacher Mr. Hajek about running a little campaign within our class asking that each child write a letter to a kid in Mpigi, donate some of there used soccer gear, and $10. Mr. Hajek was very supportive and encouraged me to ask the same of the other classes in 5th grade. Before I left for Uganda I had collected over $300, 100 letters and 250 lbs. of soccer gear, which I gave away at a school in need.
Following my first trip to Uganda I felt numb, and it was difficult to process everything I saw. The need is overwhelming, but so is the country’s sense of community and natural beauty. When I returned the meaning of my trip hadn’t really sunk in. I thought it had been cool, but I struggled to see how I fit into the bigger picture. Then in my GATE class Mrs. Gregg announced that we would be doing TED Talks and after some contemplation I decided to do it on my trip to Uganda. It was the turning point in this journey, because it forced me to think about what I had seen, what it meant, and how I could help. I gave my talk “The Power of Global Sports” and established my first GoFundMe account. It was then that I set my original goal of $20,000 – a goal I have now crushed. The talk was really the birth of Ray United FC.
Following the talk I went see Barry Ritson, Director of LA Premier FC and owner of Launch Soccer Inc. His enthusiasm, his belief in me, and his ‘go big or go home’ attitude really pushed me to make something real out of my organization. He agreed to donate 3% of all LAUNCH soccer camp registration money to the cause. This meeting was also the first time we discussed the idea of bringing a couple of kids from Mpigi here to LA for soccer camp. After many trials and tribulations, and the financial support of LAUNCH and La Premier FC, we finally were able to get Morris and Miriam here to experience our lives. They were wonderful and I believe I learned more about Ugandan culture when they came here and stayed in my home then my trips there. They loved Disneyland and Morris loved Double-Doubles from In-N-Out. Ana and Miriam became best friends for life, and both the kids brought home plenty of gifts for their family and friends and stuff of their own. Perhaps most importantly, during their stay they met families that offered to pay for their education. For under $500 a year we can move them from their poor, rural schools to top notch boarding schools. They are excited and I can’t wait to share updates on their lives with everyone.
Morris and Miriam’s trip capped off an incredible year. It started with Mr. Hajek, then Mrs. Gregg and Barry but so many people have joined in the effort and to whom I am very indebted. Mrs. Gregg took her inspiration to another level when she bought a brick for every GATE student in La Canada. The Pruett Family donated a Game Truck party that raised over $1,000 and Skylar Luna Pajamas matched every one of those dollars raised. Don Sheppard stepped up and donated 50 soccer balls for this summer’s camp and friend Angela Tesselar hosted an evening with Ray United FC last month. The Uganda Community Church in LA hosted an evening with Ray United a few months ago and I look forward to working with the North American Ugandan community more this next year. Numerous families have donated $500 (!) or more and eight USC students have decided to join me for camp in August at their own expense, providing the public health education to the kids coming to play soccer. The Ugandan-based Youth-At-Work Initiative has reached out and will be partnering with the USC students to ensure that our public health education is accurate and culturally appropriate. Just this week, friend Samia Razak launched a Facebook campaign in honor of Ramadan to collect hygiene kits for all the kids participating in my camp this summer. All these people continue to inspire me to keep going.
Next month I leave for Mpigi to host the soccer camp. In preparation for my trip at the end of July I am having one last campaign to collect donated gently used soccer gear. Just this morning I was on Skype with our local partners at the Twezimbe Development. A year ago they asked me if I could help refurbish Namabo Primary School….. today I have raised over $30,000 by talking to classrooms and schools, hosting events, and running an online campaign. I am so excited that everything is all coming to fruition. The new school block at Namabo Primary School is almost done, the field at Bujjo school is being planted this week, the kids are being registered for camp, and all the final details are being worked out. Isn’t it just amazing what can be accomplished with some hard work and the will to make a difference?