“give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.. Give him a hook and he will eat forever”
And so the story begins!! And quite the story it has been already… I arrived into Entebbe airport late Monday night, having traveled from London via Brussells and Rwanda some 16 hours prior. Somewhat apprehensive as to what lay ahead I was glad to see the sign “Collins, Fame Athletics Club” being held outside the terminal by my main point of contact James Mugeni. James is the clubs head coach, and along with the clubs administrator Talya, had drive over 250km to meet me at the airport. We were due an overnight stop off in a town called Jinja approximately 100km from Entebbe where Fame have a base, before travelling onwards to the town of Tororo the following day, where my permanent base would be for the next month.
Having made a few detours on route we finally arrived at our destination around 2:30am, which turned out to be an old run down health centre donated to the Fame club by a local doctor a few years back. A quick “meeting” was held in the main room to discuss the following days itinerary and then that was that for the night.
The following morning I was up around 8:30am, choosing not to take up the offer of a 6am jog with some of the local athletes. I instead chose to attend the main “mid morning” session on the local track at 09:30 (Africa time). After breakfast James and I ventured onto the running track to meet the local athletes who had gathered to train that morning. This was my first opportunity to properly look at the set up and structure of the session, facilities, club etc. Half the athletes didn’t have running shoes. The track they train on is a grass track that floods with the first sight of rain and has more pot holes than the Grand Canyon.. But then I was introduced to some of the athletes and I quickly discovered the talent that was in front of me. There was Moses- a 17 year old who ran 800 metres with a PB of 1:52 (on a gravel track).. And there was Agnes- A 23 year old woman who ran 400 metres with a PB of 54.4.. Agnes is also a mother and former world youth representative for Uganda. A personal best of 54.4 seconds on a gravel track at altitude in Iten Kenya a few years back quickly told me that this girl had talent, but also many many problems.
After concluding the session James insisted that we visit Agnes home. Agnes sleeps on a concrete floor with her 10 month old child, selling sugarcane and maze at the local market in order to survive. Agnes escaped a war camp at 10 years old; having lost both parents, and has basically fended for herself her entire life. From speaking to her I could tell immediately the scars she bared. Some external.. But most internal.. A wide awaking for me as to the difficult scenarios I would come across in the first week here in Uganda.
That evening we boarded “Air Force One” (Talyas’ name for the car we were travelling in) and traveled onwards East to the town off “Tororo”, where Fame Athletics Club was formed and where I would be staying with coach James and his family for the next month. I would be experiencing the real Ugandan lifestyle; eating their food, learning their language and understanding their culture first hand. James has 4 young children who immediately greeted us in traditional Ugandan fashion with open arms as we arrived at the house, offering to carry the “Mazungos” bags and assist in any way possible. James’ wife Harriet had also prepared a fantastic supper including traditional Ugandan deliciously such as sweet potatoes, goats meat, chapatas, rice, spaghetti, fresh orange juice, bread and endless cups of tea and coffee.
The training group in Tororo is similar to that of Jinja in that it is a small group of 7-10 athletes but with lots of ability and talent. A younger group, with the oldest being 19 and youngest 17, all hoping and dreaming of competing internationally next season. Again similar to Jinja the local running track is a 400 metre grass track which is very run down and only maintained by the local council a few times a year. It’s worth noting that this track has produced world class athletes- a 2006 Commonwealth Games participant, 2 world youth finalists and an African Games champion, all in the last ten years. James calls it the “Theatre of Dreams” .
For me the last few days has consisted of training at 6am with the local group- mostly a 35/40 min jog, and then coaching the mid morning session at 9:30. I have introduced James and the athletes to some of our technical drills and core stability work, as well as some speed development drills on hills that we would do back home. I will continue to work with this group over the coming weeks as well as meet with local authorities and businesses to discuss how they can help support Fame Athletics Club within the local community. Currently the club is not funded by any local authority nor the governing body of athletics within Uganda. Everything is solely funded through James and his family. We plan to canvas local businesses over the next few weeks to build up some support for the club.
We are on the local radio station tomorrow discussing my trip where I will be empathising the fact that the local community must get engaged with Fame Athletics Club and support what it is doing within the local community, as well as support these talented athletes to fulfill their potential. In my view it is the only way this club will be sustainable in the future and as James rightly stated to me- “give a man a fish and he will eat for a day.. Give him a hook and he will eat forever”, empathising the fact that the only people who can make it work are the local people themselves.
I have uploaded some videos onto YouTube which you can view at the link below. I think a video tells a better story and will try upload as many as possible over the next few weeks. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCk5R6XuC6Tccz3XGrUiYFXA
Weebale (Thank You)
Okacha Collins (My local Tororo name)