News and Events
Pepperdine Athlete Reflects on Coaching Soccer Camps in Uganda
L-R: McKenzie Hill, Emily Wynne,
and Jenna Shay
Waves women's soccer players had never traveled so far for an away match. We stood in the middle of a dusty soccer field in Uganda as throngs of school children rushed the field, barefoot and ecstatic. My teammates Mckenzie Hill, Emily Wynne, and I were about to spend several days coaching soccer camps for African children. Faraway from the plush, green carpet of our home field at Pepperdine, we were ready to share our skills, camaraderie, and faith on Ugandan terrain.
McKenzie, Emily, and I had spent years envisioning the possibility of serving in Africa. Casey Gillam of the Pepperdine Campus Recreation Office proposed setting up summer soccer camps in Uganda and working at a local medical clinic. We were excited by his vision, and before long we decided to follow Casey’s lead and join the group organized by the Sierra Madre Church of Christ. Along with our personal fundraising efforts, a Sierra Madre church family generously supported the trip.
My teammates and I left Los Angeles on June 5 to spend nearly three weeks in Africa. Seaver College senior Hunter Poarch stepped forward to serve in many different capacities, including construction. Doug Free from the student services OneStop office and Pepperdine alumnus Blair Gillam both signed on to teach Bible classes at the Kampala Church of Christ when we arrived.
Children came to the soccer camps from schools throughout the region. Each day of soccer camps began with a visit to the school whose students we would coach that day. As our truck approached the schools, families lined the muddy roads to greet us. The welcoming children reached out their little hands to touch ours, thrilled by our simple but precious gifts of soccer balls and cones.
During the camps, Mckenzie, Emily, and I taught the fundamentals of soccer: dribbling, passing, shooting. For many children, this was the first introduction to organized training and one of only a few times they had played with a real soccer ball. Throughout our travels, we learned that most children play with anything resembling a sphere, including bundled-up trash or banana leaves. They loved this new experience. We quickly adapted to understanding their accent and learned how to communicate effectively. Trying to funnel their excitement was like trying to organize scores of third-graders at Disneyland—except we were on a parched field in the middle of Africa.
Each day ended with a massive full-field game. Every student participated, cluttering the field with between fifty and three hundred children, depending on the school. These games were a time for celebration. Groups of girls would stop to teach us how to dance. Formerly skeptical, boys would start passing us the ball once they realized we could actually play. The fields resounded with rivaling chants of “Ar-sen-al” or “Man-ches-ter” as kids streamed down the field to give us hugs and high-fives after scoring goals. We shared in the cheers, the smiles, and the energy of the Ugandan schoolchildren, simply by kicking the ball around with them.
One of the greatest highlights was being able to give soccer gear to the children. Laurie Baker, mother of Pepperdine soccer player Kelsey Baker, collected about 150 soccer jerseys, 60 pairs of cleats, socks, and other gear from the Hawaiian soccer community to give away to the children. Soccer balls and other Pepperdine apparel were also given away, some to the schools and others to children in the villages. The kids hugged their new cleats and joyfully ran barefoot to their mothers while donning the shiny uniforms.
During our time in Africa, our group was also able to help at a medical clinic in the rural village Kyenjojo. Hundreds of people stand in line there for the opportunity to see a doctor and get treatment or medication. For the two days of the clinic, Mckenzie and I spoke to every patient to learn his or her reasons for seeing the doctor. The ailments ranged from backaches to AIDS. Emily worked alongside the doctors and took vitals. Seeing the reality of disease and malnutrition in Africa reminded us of the importance of giving, especially to those who can give nothing back.
This trip was one of exploration and discovery. We traveled through the lush Ugandan countryside as well as the animal-inhabited safari lands. We tackled the whitewater rapids of the Nile as well as the pandemonium of city traffic—on the left side of the road. We tasted the humble, genuine African lifestyle as well as fried grasshoppers. More than anything, we were inspired by the people who, despite their circumstances, have chosen to live each day with love. We are blessed to have been able to combine our passion for our sport and for our faith to bring the Ugandan children a source of hope and joy.
by Jenna Shay