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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com