When I arrive at The Family Values soccer tournament in Vancouver Canada on August 12 it is a warm day, but a warm West Coast day so it is not overbearing, and the soccer is well underway. The tournament itself is set up to raise funds for the Bavubuka Foundation which has been running a soccer academy in Uganda since 1996, serving thousands of children. The tournament is being held at Charleson Park where two pitches are in play at a time for simultaneous soccer action. The area being used also functions as a baseball diamond and playground for the nearby school. It is a Sunday in August so there are no students, but there are still plenty of children around alternating between watching the matches, and only being mindful of the monkey bars.
I start asking around for Ben Newman, my contact, and am quickly directed to speak with a man standing with two women. I later figure they must be his Aunts, or some other close relations. We exchange a quick ‘Hello, nice to meet you face-to-face’ handshake which is cut short. Out on the pitch far from us a skirmish has gathered. A group of 5 or 6 players are approaching one another with menacing body language. This may be the first time this 5-a-side tournament is being run, but to the players out on the pitch it could very well be their World Cup. Ben leaves to intervene, “Oh that Ben, he’ll get in there and do his diplomatic thing, talk it all out with them” says one of the women next to me. Sure enough he gently steps in and ends it with words, soon after it is game on.
While I wait for this little disagreement to be sorted out the two women take the time to familiarize me with some of the people around. “The linesman on the far side there, the lady, that is Ben’s Mom. And this linesman here close to us with the hat, that is Ben’s Dad.” They weren’t kidding with the ‘Family’ in ‘Family Values.’ I look around and see musicians playing drums as hula hoops are swung around hips to the delight of many clapping children.
I wait in the shade of a tree, my pale skin not meant for this mid day sun, as Ben finally has time to continue our conversation. I ask him about the funding so far, “We’ve raised about $1800 today, and at the end of the day we’d like to raise $10 000. The reason is we’d like to put some in reserve to buy some land there and build facilities for soccer, basketball and whatever amenities the community needs.” I ask him why the foundation wants to go in and do this themselves, and he struggles with a way to put it in a sensitive manner: “There is so much corruption that a lot of the time when you put money into things it goes to the wrong place, or someone pulls the rug out from under you. So we’re trying to get in there, put our own feet on the ground, so we know where everything is going and…” He is interrupted mid thought as it is discovered that the score for one game may be missing. The game stops, but drums still beat on as people sway to the lazy Sunday rhythm. Mothers dance with their daughters and sons in a dance that is all arms moving in a back and forth motion. The smaller ones are picked up, held over shoulder height, and turned steadily back and forth to a slow beat as mom shakes her hips in time. It is a warm scene for this warm day.
When he returns, Ben gives me a bit of a break down on what is going on around me. “Over there in front of that tent is Silas Balabyekkubo, he actually stated the foundation. He and the foundation go into Uganda and find out what the locals want, what they need, and then they try to fund these platforms and source out people to go. For instance, Silas asked me if I wanted to be involved in the sports side of things. And I have 20 years of soccer playing experience, I worked for Nottingham Forest FC, and I owned a fitness business for 10 years. So he was looking to help fill the gap because there is so much sport that happens in Uganda. I said of course I’m totally interested in helping.
Ben then begins to break down the press plans they have: “We’re planning on doing photography, a video, we’re planning” and at this point I lose him as one of the players is coming right at me, fast, and the fence between us. He is easily on the plus side of 6 feet tall, powerfully built, and sweating heavily during the intense game. I watch him as he breathes heavily and glances at the ball, judges its speed, glances at the fence and its approach, and adjusts his considerable momentum with careful foot placement to become closer to being parallel to the fence. His safety assured, he turns 90 degrees back towards midfield and flicks the ball towards goal to the awaiting forehead of his teammate who perfectly directs it into goal. It is a poem told to me in two glances and one kick. The end goal of this tournament is to allow the children and people of Uganda the chance write scenes such as this on their own pitches. Ben and I conclude our talk with a handshake as he goes to arrange the Championship match. I leave knowing that the winners will not only be those on the pitch today.
If you didn’t make the tournament you can still donate to them on their IndieGogo page. Funding is ongoing right now.
If you want to read more stories that profile groups like this, please go to my IndieGogo.