Africa – Day 4

Submitted by: Ron Smith - August 10th, 2006


“It has been quite an emotional day,” said Warrior head coach Rebecca Mouw of the Westmont women’s soccer team’s first full day in Gulu, Uganda. “We got up a 5:45 a.m. so that we could run with the invisible children.”

Due to fear of abduction, the children of the area around Gulu do not spend nights in their homes. Instead, they sleep in shelters overnight and then return to their homes during the day. Called ‘invisible children’ or ‘night travelers’, the practice is a result of 20 years of civil war in northern Uganda.

“It was an unbelievable experience to run with 200 children from the shelter to their homes which are about two miles away,” said Mouw. “The kids were excited for us to be running with them. This is something they do everyday. Hopefully today we made it a little more fun for them.”

After the morning jog, the team returned to the hotel for breakfast before heading off to the Kirombe School. Run by Sports Outreach Institute, which organized Westmont’s trip, the Kirombe School is both a pre-school and vocational school.

“The kids at the school put on a performance for us,” said Mouw. “They were just adorable as they sang Christian songs and performed traditional dance.

“Later, we divided up into smaller groups,” continued Mouw. “Each group visited the home of one of the older girls from Kirombe School. The homes were one-room mud huts. It was emotionally hard and humbling for our players but the kind of experience which changes our perspectives. The players had a chance to share the gospel with their hosts. One group visited a home where the mother had AIDS. In almost every home there were children who lived there, but who belonged to different families.”

After returning from the home visits, the team ate lunch together and then headed to Pece Stadium for the afternoon game. When they arrived, they found the placed packed with three to four thousand fans, more than half of whom were children.

“In addition to sitting in the stands, they were lined up around the field,” said Mouw. “Starting just a foot away from the field, the fans were standing about six people deep. There was also one man pushing a small lawnmower over the field. He did so right up to game time. There had never been a women’s soccer game here before and they went all out – even managing to find some chalk to mark the lines.”

The Warriors were received with great enthusiasm. “We were treated like superstars,” said Mouw. Every time we scored or did anything good, the crowd went crazy. When we scored, they rushed the field and celebrated with us. At half-time the players had to stand in a circle and lock their arms together. I stood in the middle and tried to talk with them while there were people all around us.”

During the game, which was played against Hearts United, the East African Women’s Champions, kids from the Kirombe School stood behind the Warriors’ bench. “Each time we scored, the kids sang a song to the team,” reported Mouw. “They loved the fact that they knew us and wanted to be a part of what was going on.”

The Warriors gave the Kirombe kids plenty to sing about, winning by a score of 4-3.

Westmont scored the only goal of the first half when Kayla Crandall went wide to Brianna Russo. “Russo beat her defender and the crowd went wild,” said Mouw. “She crossed the ball to the far post and Katie Rhodes volleyed it in.”

Hearts United scored twice very early in the second half to take a 2-1 advantage, but the Warriors tied it up just 10 minutes later. “Russo did a 1-2 combination with Rhodes,” said Mouw, “and then crossed it to Anna [Gropp] who beat the keeper one-on-one.”

Ten seconds later, Hearts United tied the game at three and it looked like the Warriors might post another tie. But just before the end of the game, Rhodes passed the ball down the line to freshman Amanda Barrett. “Amanda sent a beautiful cross to the far post which Kayla headed into the net,” said Mouw.

When the horn sounded, the fans rushed the field. “Our players stayed in groups of two and shared their faith with the people,” said Mouw. “Hundreds of people signed cards indicating their acceptance of the Lord. Sports Outreach Institute will follow up with each of those who turned in cards.”

Tomorrow, the Warriors will return to the Kirombe School to participate in a feeding program and then begin their ministry in a refugee camp.

“We’ve only been in Africa for about four days,” said Mouw, “and already our players are talking about how the experience is changing their perspectives and their lives.”