The biggest youth tournament in East Africa is currently taking place in Arusha, Tanzania where boys and girls under the age of 20 years from Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are competing for places in the finals that take place on Sunday 19th December 2021. The tournament is sponsored by the Arusha based ‘Future Stars Academy’ whose mission is to ‘Celebrate Talent’ and they have had their talent spotters in amongst the qualifying matches during this exciting week of football and competition. The Academy realises that as well as promoting the development of world class football in the youth of East Africa it also facilitates social cohesion. An important ambition in a region that has suffered some of the worst conflict from the 1970s up until 2005. Of course fighting continues on Kenya’s border with Somalia and the recent terrorist attacks in Kampala remind us that peace remains fragile. Which is the reason why the Mary Seacole Trust is supporting 46 young players from PAORINHER in Northern Uganda who are playing in the U11, U13 and U15 categories.
Northern Uganda suffered particularly badly during the Civil War or the ‘Bush War’ in the 1980s and was hit hard again by the barbarous activities of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) formed during the Civil War and wreaking havoc from 1987 until it was ejected from Uganda in 2005 following negotiations brokered between regional governments and communities. Listed as a terrorist group by the US and others it was accused of widespread human rights violations including: extrajudicial killing, abduction, mutilation, modern slavery and recruitment of child soldiers. 95% of the population fled to Displaced Persons camps for safety or night commuted out of their homes to avoid attack by the LRA. The groups horrific practises left Northern Uganda with a legacy of orphans which included child soldiers who had been demobilised, disarmed and were struggling to reintegrate into their communities that they had previously terrorised. Another group of orphans were victims of HIV/AIDS, many suffering with the disease or carrying the virus but many had also lost parents to the disease that had been spread by Kony’s henchmen and their criminal acts. These orphans were eventually provided with a home in Patongo a town that had been at the centre of LRA activity.
Humanitarian Aid and Relief Trust (HART), founded by Baroness Caroline Cox, along with the inspirational leadership of Chrisitine Okot created the facility that is now known as PAORINHER which stands for the Patongo Orphans and Infants Health and rehabilitation Centre. The local people identified that the greatest priority in the region was the provision of care for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs). 60 children were benefitting from the holistic care provided in the centre by mid – 2009 and this has grown exponentially since. Not only has the population of the centre grown but so has its mission. Due to its success in treating HIV/AIDS positive children with good nutrition and medical care it has created the conditions for not only survival but quality of life. Alongside the health and care provided in partnership with the Joint Clinical Research Council the centre offers quality primary school education and is realising graduates who are achieving top grades in their examinations!
Despite the constraints of CoViD-19 one of the more recent initiatives to emerge from PAORHINER has been its highly successful soccer and sports academy. Mirroring the Tanzanian ‘All Stars Academy’ intent PAORINHER is using sport to foster social cohesion externally as well as internally as it has always done by teaching HIV/AIDS and non-HIV children together to reduce and eliminate the stigma associated with the disease. It provides children of all ages with motivation and moral direction that will hopefully lead to them realising their true potential in a society that is still divided and fragile. The academy has already brought communities together from across neighbouring districts professionally organising, preparing and selecting the squad for its great ‘safari’ to Arusha. So this weekend the U11s have qualified for the final and the U13s are in the semi-finals of their group! We wish them good luck in their endeavours today and hope that they realise their true potential not only in this competition but also their futures.