A Short Walk to Drammen Leads to a Long Walk to Kasese

 

A strong desire for a change in my career was burning deep inside me. It had been 12 years of working as a sports journalist and sub-editor at the Ostlendingen newspaper in Elverum, Norway; a job I had started as a young man at the tender age of 24. I had just graduated with a degree in international journalism from the Liverpool John Moore’s University in the United Kingdom and felt lucky to be offered such a rewarding and interesting job as soon as I returned to my home country. However, 12 years later, I started to feel that the motivation, excitement and great enthusiasm I once had for the job was slowly washing away. I needed to quench the thirst for change that was raging within me and as luck would have had it, in March 2013 I successfully resigned from Ostlendingen and joined the Elverum Football Club as the Head of Development. A position and football club that has played a great role in shaping my career and developing my personal life in ways that I could never have imagined.

Back in October 2007, while I was still working as a journalist and sub-editor for the Ostlendingen newspaper, I made a sarcastic remark over a handball game that would later lead into the transformation of the lives of hundreds of children in the Kasese district of Western Uganda. I now realize that I strongly agree with the scripture in the bible that states “there is power in the tongue”. As much as I am not a religious person, the naïve remarks that I made that day made me realize that a lot is at stake with what we say and it’s unfortunate that most of us don’t realize it, until it’s too late.

“I will walk to the town of Drammen if our boys win!” I said aloud in the presence of my colleagues in the office as we debated on what story should feature on the front page of the Newspaper. The news editor had suggested the handball game but I didn’t approve of it as I was certain the Elverum handball team was going to lose. I doubted their capabilities in winning the match as they were playing against Drammen;a team that had not lost a league game for one and a half years. To my shock and mixture of delight and dismay, the Elverum team emerged as winners of the game after beating Drammen. The Elverum team scored a good 28 points while Drammen scored 23 points.

“That was a silly thing to say, Anders. Now you have to keep your word and walk a distance of 230km for the return leg of the league in February 2008’’. My colleagues thought it was insensitive of me to have made such a statement and I have to admit I felt the same, but decided to look at the bigger picture and derive some positivity from the long walk ahead of me.

Just before my walk commenced, a friend mentioned a man named Mr.Proven whom I had heard of before but had never met in person. He had an education project running in a small town called Kasese in Western Uganda, East Africa, which I found rather interesting. Mr Proven had decided to visit Uganda in 2002, along with his wife and 3 children aged 7, 10 and 12.At the time, they were both teachers in Norway who were in dire need of a break and a bit of change to enable them to experience teaching in a different environment and setting. An acquaintance had been to Kasese in Western Uganda and suggested the family went there, which they eventually did.

In Kasese they soon got in touch with Mr Aganatiya Katya, a social worker, who had started to teach some young students in the shades of some trees. Together with the Proven family,Mr .Katya managed to rent a building which they turned into a small school to ease the study conditions. Unfortunately, the insecurity caused as a result of the aftermath of the Congo war in 2002 forced the Proven family to re-locate to Kenya after two months.Nevertheless, the seeds of their mission had already been planted.

In 2005, MrProven was back in Norway from Kenya and had now attained a new job and a new role as the teacher of African studies course at the Elverum Folkehogskule. Although he left Kasese for Kenya and was then back in Norway, he still continued to provide funding with the help of a few friends to aid in the growth and development of the school that MrKatya had started in Kasese. Despite the fact that the school had a humble beginning,it was very popular and the talk of Kasese town. This sparked envy in the landlord from whom the school building was rented, leading him to ask MrKatya to vacate his premises.

This was a challenging situation that needed a permanent solution and the best alternative was to purchase a sizeable piece of land in which they could erect the school building. Despite the fact that Mr Proven aided in raising funds for the school developmental project, he was faced with difficulties of raising sufficient funds consistently and this led to some concerns about the future of the project.

Proven’s mission in Uganda sparked a lot of motivation inside me to aid in the raising of funds to ensure the school project continued to grow and prosper. I had always watched the struggles of many young children in Africa as documented through BBC, CNN and other news channels and this played a great role in making me sympathize with these vulnerable and helpless children. I felt the urge to work in a kindergarten anywhere in Africa or even construct a school that would enable the children to acquire some form of education. Many of these children lacked the opportunities and privileges children in Norway possessed and, because of this, I felt obliged to help in one way or the other.

I decided to meet MrProven and our meeting turned out to be quite fruitful. I informed him of the remarks I had made over the handball game andthe consequences thereafter. We came up with a plan of transforming my 240km walk into a charity walk; fundraising towards the school in Kasese. We publicized our mission and were successful in getting the community and various companies to contributefinancially towards this project. To add to this, MrProven went ahead to mobilize thetwenty students he taught,who carried out various fundraising activities.

We were able to raise approximately UGX 140 million after a month of my long walk and the various fundraising projects we implemented. All the funds collected were put into the construction of the school in Kasese. In February 2009, exactly a year after my walk to Drammen, I flew to Uganda to officiate the opening of the Rwenzori Elverum Image Primary School.Our mission had been accomplished and there was a great feeling of satisfaction within us. However, over the years, we needed to expand to the point we are at currently;the Rwenzori Elverum Education Centre has over 800 students attending both the primary and secondary section.

My first trip to Kasese in 2009 was followed by two more in 2010 and 2011, at which point I realized that organized sports for children hardly existed in Uganda. Kasese had 29,000 primary school students at the time and yet there were no organized clubs in place to offer sports activities for them. There was dire need to address the situation, which successfully yielded the idea of setting up grassroots football.

I decided to take a year off from my job in the newspaper and moved to Kasese in 2011-2012. I wanted to use my experience and interest from football coaching to set up football activities that would benefit the children. Sixty primary school teachers attended the grassroots coaching courses during my stay in Kasese and Sports Club Bronken, a club the team suggested to be named after me, was founded. However it was only meant to accommodate the senior players.

The need for a gravel dust football pitch came up as there were none in the area at the time. We managed to raise funds from the Elverum community and Elverum Folkehogskule in Norway and successfully completed the football pitch in 2014.

In July 2015, SC Bronken decided to take a leap of faith in the next step of the club’s development by organizing grassroots football programmes for the children. After a weekend of training sessions and registering groups of 20-25 players aged between 6 and 14, the programme was successfully established. The children were divided into the age groups; under 8, under 10, under 12 and under 14 for both boys and girls. We also established a team for deaf children as our core values strongly emphasize on equality for all. The club quickly reached 200 registered players with two coaches for every age group (a total ofabout 10-12 coaches) conducting the sessions.

The SC Bronken work strategy is hoped to be a role model to other football clubs and societies not only in the Kasese region but in Uganda at large. We strive to achieve this strategy through the implementation of our values which are Honesty, Integrity, Respect and Voluntary work.  These values have been put in place to help curb vices like corruption, age cheating, tribal and ethnic differences that hinder the growth and development of the programmes set in place. Our coaches, players and club members are also expected to be exemplary by working according to the values of the club with an aim of transmitting the same to the local community.

Education is more important than football and our players are required to fully concentrate and excel in their schoolwork. Absence in school, dodging of classes, lack of interest in attaining an education and bad behaviour are not tolerated and this may lead to player’s expulsion from the club.Players that can´t afford to cater for their school fees can be offered bursaries at the Rwenzori Elverum Educational Centre to enable them attain an education.

In September 2017 SC Bronken registered more success in the grassroots outreach programme. Coaches from the club visited 4-5 different playgrounds in Kasese every afternoon to offer training sessions to the young players.  This has resulted into a total of 10,000 children playing football every week. The number of registered players at SC Bronken has risen to 750 and five full time employed staff are managing the club and gravel dust pitch activities. This has played a great role in transforming the SC Bronken club into one of the largest, if not the largest community football club in Uganda.

Now at the age of 42,I am content that the thirst for change in my career and the dream to help dis-advantaged children in Africa has been a complete success. I am humbled and thrilled to be part and parcel of the team in Kasese that is working tirelessly to ensure a bright and promising future for the hundreds of children both in their education and sports.

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