Christmas Camp, a week in Mityana with 2,100 kids!

A week can be such a long time, but it can be such a short seven days for a soccer camp!

For the 6th year running, we organised the Christmas Camp between 28th December 2017 and 3rd January 2018.

For the 2017/18 edition, we organised it in Mityana and were hosted at Royal Giant High School, Mityana.

On the 27th December 2017, all the organising team of volunteers and officials arrived at the school to set up everything from the food to the pitches.

The next day, 28th December 2017, more than 2,100 kids arrived for the camp from all over Uganda.

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Somehow all the kids managed to fit inside the school including an extra 100 girls who were accommodated in the school girls’ dormitories. The boys were accommodated in the boys’ dormitories and classrooms.

They were screened for eligibility in different age groups – U-11s, U13s and U15s. It took the whole day and half the next to finish with all the boys.

The evening of 28th December saw the first camp meeting for all coaches and team leaders. This included among other things, camp rules and drawing of fixtures.

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The next morning, porridge was ready as early as 7am, and at around 9am, the teams were readying to pay. An hour later, games had started at the three different pitches which were within 10 minutes walk from each other – one inside Royal Giant High School, one at the road side, and another at Trinity College School Mityana.

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Only an hour’s lunch break from 1 – 2pm could come in between the enthusiasm of the kids on the pitch. The games resumed at 2 O’clock and the kids resumed with as much energy as before in their respective teams.

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This was going to be the program for the next three days. Wake up at 7am, clean up and then breakfast at 8am, and games starting at 9am. Lunch break at 1-2pm, games again until 5pm, followed by personal time and Football 4 WASH on a couple of days.

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All the kids were fed with three meals a day including porridge for breakfast, then posho and beans for lunch and dinner. To begin the New Year, on the 1st January 2018, dinner was as special as it could get. Rice was served, much to the delight of the camp participants.

With 85 teams registering in the week-long tournament, the organisation of the games had to be up to speed to enable as much playing time as possible for all the kids. This meant using all the three pitches maximally, and having enough volunteers to monitor each and every game. This was exactly what happened during the camp week!

Someone needed to be at hand to help with the arrivals and registration of the teams, and with allocating the teams’ accommodation space. Someone had to screen all the kids and to make sure all the kids were eligible for the different age groups. Someone needed to make sure all the camp participants had at least three meals a day. Someone needed to make sure all the teams registered were drawn in the fixtures and played football for the first three days, at least! Someone needed to make sure that the camp venues was cleaned and that the sanitation and hygiene levels were up to acceptable minimum levels. Someone needed to make sure that the Football 4 WASH program was done in a fun yet learning environ. At the end of the day, someone needed to collect data from the kids and coaches about the camp week, and learning points from the week.

Someone had to capture the memories behind a camera lens and share them later.

That someone was always found in a group of 20 volunteers, most of whom had been to previous editions of the camp as players themselves.

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For the third year running, there was a girls’ edition of the camp for the last two days of the camp. Six girls’ teams, all consisting of non-league players, came through to the camp – to play and just have fun, as well as compete for the glory.

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As much as it mattered that there were trophies to compete for in each of the four categories (U11s, U13s, U15s and Girls’), it mattered much more in other salient events in the camp. It mattered that more than 2,000 people spent a week in one school and they got along just fine. In the course, strangers met and became friends. Two or more teams managed to tolerate each other during a week of sharing a sleeping space.

The most important lessons from the camp were not how to win or lose, but the humility required in either of the result and the fairplay in the process.

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The biggest lessons from the camp were beyond the football pitches. They were rooted in the way each one of the participants related to the 2,000 others. In the compassion and care the bigger boys had for the smaller ones, in the respect each one accorded the other, and the eagerness to get to know the other.

It mattered less that more than half of the camp teams didn’t make it past the group stages or round of 16s, but it mattered even more that such teams organised themselves to play against one or more teams they hadn’t played against yet. This built networks and in the end more kids won more than just the silverware.

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All of us were winners in our own way – in our various accomplishments, in the hundreds of goals we scored, in the dozens of friends we made, in the thousands of minutes we spent on the pitch, and in so many more moments that triggered our smiles.

As we look back to the week in Mityana, we are already looking forward to the next one come 28th December 2018 to do it all over again!