Campus News News

Building Hope in Uganda

Joe Brown

News Editor

One very special brick will be making a journey more than 6,900 miles from its current home to a new residence at Lira Integrated School and Univer­sity in Lira, Uganda.

The brick, donated by for­mer Springfield College As­sistant Director of Athletics Frank Wolcott, was originally from the building where James Naismith invented basketball.

The brick will accompany the SC trip to the Ugandan schools Jan. 3-16, 2012, when 20 students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of Spring­field College depart for their destination.

If it were not for the col­laboration of three entities and the inspiration of one woman, however, neither the brick nor the group would be making this journey.

The first of the three, an assistant professor of Exer­cise and Sport Psychology at Texas Tech named Jens Omli, was a former graduate student of Springfield College.

In May 2010, he was travel­ing in Uganda to implement the International Sport Connec­tion coach training program in Kampala when he came across a friend, sports science profes­sor Omara Orech.

Orech recommended that Omli visit Lira to see an upstart school with a sports center, called Lira Integrated School, and Lira Integrated University, which was in the process of be­ing built.

Omli decided to follow through on his friend’s recom­mendation and was immedi­ately impressed upon arriving at the school.

“The fact that they had completed a swimming pool is what really stood out to me, because building anything in northern Uganda is difficult to pull off,” Omli said.

According to Omli, the swimming pool at Lira Inter­national was only the second swimming pool in northern Uganda, which has been rav­aged by conflict and war be­tween the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan gov­ernment since 1986.

Omli was later introduced to the founder and director of Lira International School and the woman responsible for the inspiration for the upcoming SC trip, Beatrice Ayuru Bya­ruhanga, and learned her story through talking to her.

“She really stands out among other leaders in Ugan­da, especially in the north,” Omli said. “There’s often a lack of integrity in the leadership and a lack of vision…Beatrice is a very clear exception to any of the leadership problems that exist in northern Uganda. She has invested her time, money [and] life into fulfilling her vi­sion of providing education for children and youth in northern Uganda.”

Omli felt that others need­ed to hear her story, and after learning that she had been awarded one week of paid travel for being presented the United Nations 2010 Empretec Women in Business Award, he strongly urged Beatrice to visit the United States.

Beatrice complied and in­stead of staying for only one week as originally planned, she extended her visit to five weeks, traveling to Texas, Massachu­setts, Minnesota, Arkansas and Washington to share her story, according to Omli.

During her trip to Massa­chusetts in October 2010, Bea­trice visited Springfield Col­lege.

“I had sent some emails around to people I knew who I thought might be interested in having Beatrice come and share her story, and Judy [Van Raalte] was the first to re­spond.”

Judy Van Raalte, a professor of psychology at Springfield College, is the second part of the equation.

Van Raalte set up Beatrice’s presentation, in which Beatrice spoke of her life growing up and current profession.

According to Van Raalte, Beatrice grew up in a polyga­mous family as a daughter of the first wife.

As she was growing up, she made a deal with her father that if she graduated from college, he would give her land, which is not typically inherited by women.

Then again, women do not typically attend or graduate college in Ugandan society ei­ther.

“She was the first woman from her region to graduate from university,” Van Raalte said.

After balancing multiple jobs to earn money, such as planting cassavas, building and renting out wheelbarrows, teaching and selling snacks, Be­atrice set her sights on building her own school.

She made bricks with the money she had earned and went to work defying the odds once again, since many people in her region did not support a wom­an starting her own school.

“Her first school was walls and a roof and a dirt floor,” Van Raalte said.

She gave many of her crit­ics’ children scholarships to at­tend her school, while also ac­cepting girls and war orphans, both of whom were looked down upon.

Now, with over 1,500 stu­dents, Beatrice is opening Lira Integrated University to go along with Lira Integrated School. Her schools provide opportunities that go beyond the classroom.

“In addition to the tra­ditional education, she’s re­ally looking at what they [stu­dents] need to succeed,” Van Raalte said.

According to Van Raalte, Beatrice is using sports as a way to “capture everyone’s at­tention” and increase their learning.

Beatrice left an impres­sion with Van Raalte, who was moved by her compelling story.

“After she spoke here, we were pretty fired up,” Van Raalte recalls. “Beatrice is the real deal. What she’s doing is really making a difference.”

Van Raalte began planning a way to support Beatrice and her school. After discussing some ideas with Omli, they de­cided to partner with Courts for Kids, a nonprofit organi­zation and the third and final piece to the puzzle.

It seemed like a fitting part­nership: the school located at the “Birthplace of Basketball” teaming up with an organiza­tion that gives birth to basket­ball courts around the world.

Courts for Kids, which was founded in 2007 by President Derek Nesland, is located in Vancouver, Wash.

The organization builds basketball courts in economi­cally disadvantaged areas to “foster love, compassion, ser­vice and an expanding world­view,” according to their web­site.

“What might seem like such a simple thing for us is actu­ally pretty profound for them to have a concrete place to play and have it not be a dirt field with craters and potholes,” Nesland said.

Omli previously knew Nesland, which prompted him to invite Nesland and his or­ganization to partner with Springfield College for the potential project in Uganda to take care of the majority of the details and logistics.

Omli will be accompanying the Springfield College team on behalf of Courts for Kids as their representative since he has extensive experience trav­eling in Uganda, according to Nesland.

The SC team’s goal is to complete the construction of one court.

“The great thing about a court-building project is it re­ally mobilizes the community on the other end,” Nesland said. “Our team going over has a great immersion experience because they’re involved with a project that the whole commu­nity is behind.

“We’re not coming over and just telling them what to do. We’re working alongside them.”

Nesland, who had the op­portunity to play basketball in approximately 12-14 countries on a traveling team, is equally as excited about the special brick that will be making the trip to Uganda.

“The idea that a brick from that building [where basketball was invented] will come and be established in Uganda in part­nership with our organization is really exciting to me on a personal level,” Nesland said.

There are still 13 spots open for the trip. Anyone who is interested should contact Judy Van Raalte at to secure a spot or find out more information. Prices will vary depending on the amount of people who plan on attending.

Joe Brown may be reached at

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