Scoring big: Fighting extreme poverty through soccer

Martin Tumusiime, member of ONE Africa, together with Street United FC. 

By Sam Sanden, ONE member, Washington state

During a recent trip to Uganda, I saw that soccer was everywhere.

Whether it was kids playing with balls made of garbage bags, the youth sporting their favorite national or international club team jersey, the stickers on every other vehicle, or the local bar and restaurant showing the latest game echoing across the countryside, there was no doubt – soccer is a big deal.

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Some of the young men in the Touch Africa Now program. 

Martin Tumusiime of Touch Africa Now and ONE Africa has found a somewhat different way to fight extreme poverty – through the game of soccer. Martin has been working in the West Nile district since 2008 trying to impact the area and to see people brought out of poverty, mainly through nursery and primary schools.

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However, Martin soon discovered that the older youth were in need of help, too. There are a lot of challenges for the teens and the 20-somethings in this area; unemployment is rampant, education is often lacking, teen pregnancy is high, and drug use is becoming more and more prevalent.

Take action. Let’s give ALL children a chance to become World Cup footballers.

Seeing all that, Martin decided to do something about it. In the local market place he one day ran into some youth with a passion for soccer but who lacked direction and vision for life in general. Out of that meeting the idea of using soccer as a tool to see their lives changed was born.

Recently the team scored 4th in the regional Easter Tournament and in May the team was promoted from the 5th to the 4th Soccer Division! In fact, the team is creating quite the stir and was even talked about on the radio recently.

These market kids are now finding themselves becoming role models and realizing that they have a platform, and responsibility, to impact their peers, too. Since the founding of Street United in Arua, Martin has come alongside a second team in Yumbe, called Boda-boda FC.

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“Drugs are for losers.”

In May when I was visiting, the two teams played a friendly match and thousands showed up to see the game. Both teams sported new uniforms, printed with the slogan “Drugs are for losers, be a winner.”

With soccer as the medium, these youth are now hoping to impact their whole community by fighting poverty and the hopelessness in the area, promoting peace and unity (especially in Yumbe where there has been a lot of aggression and fighting in the past), as well as educating and raising awareness regarding HIV/AIDS, malaria and the dangers of using drugs to mention some issues.

For the players themselves, the sport can open doors to scholarships in higher education and, of course, to the prospect of playing professionally one day.

Maybe in a few years some of them will be representing Uganda in the 2018 World Cup!

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