In mid-September my friend Scott and I took a two-week trip to East Africa; four days before leaving I rushed together a post requesting donations of old soccer gear – especially Sounders items – and you responded in a generous way. I wanted to write a follow-up describing the experience and the amazing things we saw in Uganda, as well as where all of that gear headed.
As I noted in the original post, our primary reason for this trip was to spend time with Krochet Kids Intl. (KKi) – they are a social venture non-profit with efforts in Gulu, Uganda and Lima, Peru. Gulu is in an area that was ravaged by a war for the last 20 years, primarily due to the Lord’s Resistance Army; you may have heard of their leader, Joseph Kony. Only in the last 7 years has the area begun to see a sense of peace and economic development. Much of Uganda is based around subsistence farming but during the war years many people lived together in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps – where there was little opportunity for farming let alone other forms of commerce.
One of KKi’s primary missions is to help communities rise out of poverty by creating sustainable economic programs; in Uganda this is accomplished by the work of "beneficiaries" and their mentors who develop hand-made goods that are sold in premium "tier-1" retailers in America. Their handmade scarves and hats (among other items) can be found in shops and retail stores such as Nordstrom. The beneficiary group is made up of ~150 women in Gulu who have learned to crochet and then receive the profits back from the sales of their handmade goods to help support their families; in many cases this results in the woman being the primary breadwinners in their households – something that is almost unheard of anywhere in Africa. Many of the beneficiaries have used their income – which can be as much as 3x the average wage in Northern Uganda – to buy motorbikes, property, and farms to generate additional streams of income for their families and pay school tuition.
Finally, there is a small group of American paid staff and interns that rotate through the Uganda program – including a few from the Seattle area that are Sounders fans; there is also a small group of production workers that help with shipping and receiving the raw materials and finished goods. Before we left this was the team we were in touch with regarding the donated soccer gear that was collected.
Thanks to the many fans, to ECS and GFC, and to the club, we were able to collect quite a bit of gear to take to Uganda. The team alone donated 40+ pounds of youth gear from their Summer Camp while we also received a number of items prior to the September 13th match against RSL. Our trip was planned to fall between the RSL and NYRB home matches so that we’d miss only the away match against LA Galaxy (which I caught via the KIRO Radio app in the wee hours from our hotel lobby in far northern Uganda, coincidentally). We left on Saturday the 14th with 5 large bags of donations that would eventually stay in Africa – thankfully airline elite status helped those bags fly with us for free.
Five bags that would stay in Africa
We flew from Seattle to DC, then a long flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. From there it was a short flight to Entebbe International – just outside of Kampala, Uganda where we arrived on Monday the 16th. In Kampala we spent a few days with the founder of International Hospital Kampala (http://www.img.co.ug/index.php) and even got to sit in on a meeting with US-AID regarding a medical training program they were helping to fund. After a few days in Kampala we boarded a bus that took us on the 7-hour journey north to Gulu.
Gulu, Krochet Kids, Freddie Ljungberg, and Clint Dempsey
The bus ride to Gulu was quite interesting – live chickens running around the bus, people buying pineapples (3 for $0.80) or roasted goat on a stick from street vendors at various stops, and the bus weaving around the road dodging potholes and other vehicles – this led to one young passenger sitting next to Scott getting sick – it was quite an adventure. Just south of Gulu I recall passing by a sign warning people not to venture into unknown fields due to unexploded land mines – this this was clearly unlike any other part of the world I’d ever visited.
Scott with our Bags in Gulu
Once we arrived in Gulu with our 9 total bags, we made our way to the Krochet Kids compound. It’s a walled compound just outside the center of town and the day we arrived they were in a hurry to finish production – some of the beneficiaries were still crocheting items while the productions staff was bagging, tagging, and boxing the items for shipment.
One of the first people I met that first day was Denish – he works in the production house bagging, labeling, and boxing the finished products; I gravitated towards Denish easily – he was the only one besides me wearing Rave Green. Denish had on a Freddie Ljungberg Sounders kit - and he and a few of the other production guys wanted to talk football, especially the move of Clint Dempsey to Seattle. Most of the guys there follow English Premiere League, but due to the American staff they’d begun to know a bit about MLS – I was impressed that there was interest so far away from Seattle! I later learned that Denish is also a youth soccer coach and is also helping with the construction of a school in his hometown a few hours north of Gulu.
Denish and I in the courtyard of the KKi compound - this was not one of the donated shirts, Denish was rocking the Rave Green when we arrived
On our second day at the KKi compound Scott and I were introduced to the beneficiaries - and we able to speak with them for a bit of time. Scott’s spent a number of years advising the founders of KKi and it was a great opportunity relay to the beneficiaries the importance of the work that they do. Scott was also able to take some time to speak with a few of the husbands, to discuss with them the challenges that they face and how KKi has changed their lives – mostly for the better. I was also able to spend some time with the beneficiaries and see the amount of detail and heart that goes into the materials they make.
Booties being made by a beneficiary
A beneficiary with her daughter
We had the opportunity to go to a village named Koch Guma about an hour away from Gulu to see the home of one of the beneficiaries and what she and her husband had been able to do by being part of KKi – they had purchased 3 hectares of land and built a 3-unit building in the center of town which allowed them to rent out 2 units of the units as an additional stream of income.
One of the challenges with bringing items for donation is making sure they get into the right hands; Scott and I didn’t want to show up and play "Santa Claus" with the donated items – so we asked the Production Managers to keep the items in their offices and help distribute them as the right opportunities arose. They know the area, the people, and their needs better than we would; the only thing we asked is that they try to snap a few photos – especially with the youth gear – when it’s distributed. I’ll try to post those photos in the offseason as I receive them. One of the bags we brought also contained a great deal of electronics repair gear to help one of the husbands of the beneficiaries open his own electronics repair business – by happenstance, and without him knowing we brought the gear, we actually met a husband that worked in that industry for a local company who was very keen on trying to start his own business.
I spent our few days there working with the two production managers (from California and Seattle) as well as the production staff bagging and boxing the items. Typically the KKi staff gets together every Friday evening to play in the local corporate league, but unfortunately that week they had to skip due to the shipment deadlines. We were able to see a number of pick-up games as we drove by the main pitch near the center of town – basically an open area with a dirt "field". On Friday we finished packing the final box – we ended up with a final shipment of 114 boxes containing over 16,000 handmade items that were trucked to Entebbe and then airfreighted to the KKi headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA.
Packing boxes, barefoot
Before we left, I made sure that one of the production managers from the Seattle area – Ben – received an appropriate gift from Sounder at Heart.
You'll Never Yacht Alone in Uganda
For more information about the social enterprise work of Krochet Kids Intl.: http://www.krochetkids.org/