#TennisAid Uganda

Julius, the owner of the house we stay has a class at 6 am, that’s why he wakes up at 5. I’m listening to his movements and I can’t sleep. Abel is still asleep and I’m lying in bed thinking about all we are experiencing.

At 8.30 we prepare to leave, eat a couple of slices of bread with Nutella, and we go. We stop at one of the many gas station and drink a Sprite for breakfast. Players on the football field greet us on arrival. We are not strangers, they consider visitors a good thing, something very typical of the people in Uganda.

Kids are coming slowly, they’re taking their time but they mark the lines and prepare the court.
We play with them, we don’t understand the rules but manage to have fun. Once again we divide the group, some go with Abel and the others stay with me. The 2 hour tennis less we have today pass really quickly.

Suddenly we realize that the time has come to say goodbye. We start to bid our farewells and things get complicated for us. We take pictures and videos with the kids, both of us look for his favorite students. I give one of the boys, Edward a Boca Juniors shirt that belongs to my son.
I am looking for Siyama, one of the smallest. On Monday during class, he tripped over one of the cables that support the net and hit his knee. For nearly an hour he sit on a rock outside the group with signs of pains. Every now and then I would approach him and ask if he was OK. After a long time, I tried to convince him to join the group, and he did, despite his knee pain. But the more the minutes passed, the more I noticed he was less distant with me and he began to smile at me. I took that as a small personal triumph.
Back to the farewells. Siyami hugs me, and I’m with tears in my eyes and I can hardly talk. I whisper:

“You’re special, never forget it, because I’ll never forget.”

Just a minute later, while the other kids ask us if we’ll return here someday and as we write our phone numbers on a piece of paper found on the ground, Siyami comes and says,

“This is my pencil, for you!”

I swear I’ll keep that little pen as a personal treasure for the rest of my life.

I begin to take note of a couple of names to remember and suddenly I’m surrendered by thirty kids that spell their names. Of course I write down each one of them. The minutes pass and finally we have to leave.[…]

At 3 pm we are at the School for Deaf Children. Ivan, the teacher who helped us during the lesson, is not there, so we have to make our own sign language. To our surprise, the net is already in place. We just have to start. The class goes well, even without Ivan. […] We finish class, and the kids bring a football and invite us to play. It’s amazing how they can run at full speed in flip flops and control the ball so well. Then, we leave for home.

Every time we seek to isolate ourselves, the memories come back to hit us in the face. It is impossible not to be emotional. To make matters worse, thanks to our bad habit to look at our mobile all the time, we see pictures of “our” kids, and it’s another slap in the face.

We are tired and want to go out for dinner. Julius joins us and Abel begins to download videos from the Iphone and GoPro, and explains to Julius how to organize Tennis League between schools. We speak of formats, regulations… It’s getting late and we go home. Tomorrow is our last day in this beautiful city.

Also read:
#TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
#TennisAid Uganda: the project
#TennisAid Uganda: the funding
#TennisAid: the arrival in Uganda
#TennisAid Uganda: the Ntinda School for the Deaf
#TennisAid: the second day in Uganda – the Shimoni Primary School
#TennisAid third day in Uganda

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.

#TennisAid Uganda

Enjoy the recap of Martin and Abel third day in Uganda for their charity project, #TennisAid:

Up at 9. We must leave quickly to East Kololo, they share the football field with the kids of Shimoni.

Once again the football field is taken when we arrive and that let’s time to visit the school facilities and meet the Director.

We are about to start the class, and we are told that there will be many absences because the school sent home the kids who did not pay the quarterly fee of 20 dollars. Hard decision, nut it is not unusual.
We are starting the class and suddenly we realize 40 kids are there, in fact almost all are there.
They don’t understand English as well as the kids from the previous days, so our friends, the coaches of the Jouvin Child Sports Association give them our instructions. Anyway, we managed to understand each other, and 2 hours passed quickly.

While doing the class, we see the kids of the Shimoni school (both schools are only 100 meters away), they start shouting our names and greet us. Strong emotions to see these kids showing us their love.
Little by little, they’re coming, until they’re almost all there, with Ivan one of the school teacher who collaborates with Jouvin to communicate with the children through sign language. All are dressed in the clothes we gave them. The boys who received girls polos too, I give them boys shirts and the smiles they give me is priceless.

We teach them how to volley (something they had never done before), they enjoy it very much and learn lightning fast. The 90 minutes fly so fast, but they know we’ll be back and say goodbye tenderly.
Suddenly a very young child about 3 years old appears. He is the brother of Leticia, one of the girls from the school for whom I have a particular weakness. Her brother is not deaf, but he’s here with his father because Leticia has finished the school year and can go home but she stayed this week to attend our tennis lessons. I find a size 4 shirt in my backpack and give it to her little bro. I will never forget these moments in my life.

We leave on a motorcycle and the adventure is unforgettable. 3 on the bike, the traffic seems to have no order (there are no traffic lights), total chaos, but we have fun at every intersection.
We go to the Mandela Stadium, built about 10 years ago. A stunning place that is only used when the National Football Team (who happened to be training in an adjacent field) play. There’s a multi-sports complex and two tennis courts Danniel our friend is trying to manage. But like everywhere, the bureaucracy, ignorance of the leaders and disregard for having excellent facilities left to oblivion, this process takes time and money. It would be a real pity that the project would not be approved.
On the way back we passed the campus, where the cricket team trains, and then we go to the High Performance Sports Center which has huge facilities and where many high level athletes train in various disciplines. We also pass by the Lugogo Tennis Complex, one of the most prestigious clubs in Uganda, where they have played Davis Cup and ITF tournaments, with a very nice center court with covered stands, but that is really nothing more than a neighborhood club.

Read more about #TennisAid.

#TennisAid Uganda day 2

We left at 8am to be on time at the Shimoni Primary School. Classes started at 10 but we had about 45 minutes by foot and then had to prepare the nets, the marks, since the court was a football field.

The first lesson was on Sunday afternoon, but this time it was on Monday morning, so there was a lot of traffic and cars, thousand of bus and boda-boda, motorbikes carrying people for 1 dollar. All this made this walking down the street (no sidewalks) an indescribable experience.

We arrived at the school and discovered that the field was occupied, a football team was training there. Our friends took us to tour the facility, we were introduced to the sports manager and to the school director who – like the day before at the Ntinda school – asked us to sign the visitors book, and put our names, address and a comment on our visit.

We started the class and divided the group into 2 groups: 18 kids worked with Abel and 24 with me. Both groups warmed up and then worked in small groups. The ease, speed and discipline they showed in each activity kept surprising me.

I keep thinking about the huge amount of times we tell our students again and again how to do certain things that should be automations, but these kids just needed ONE indication and obedience was absolute and instantaneous.

#TennisAid Uganda day 2

I keep thinking about the huge amount of times we tell our students again and again how to do certain things that should be automations, but these kids just needed ONE indication and obedience was absolute and instantaneous.

The class was scheduled for a 3 hour session, but we said that was too long for the kids. Coaches told us that these kids so enjoy playing that it would be actually too short. After an hour of play, some asked for permission to eat something, while the others who had no food kept playing on their own.
Less than 3 minutes after, almost all the kids were back with racquet in hand as they considered that stopping to eat was just a waste of time. For 3 hours we shared exercises, games, jokes, photos and we would have wanted to give more of our time and effort.

We proceeded to deliver the clothes we brought as gifts. It was without a doubt the strongest moment of the day. The joy, gratitude and hugs of children were so exciting that it was really difficult to hold back tears. And then, to top it off, one of the girls asked to speak in front of everyone, we ordered silence and she said:

“Thanks coaches for these gifts. We are very grateful. I would also say: when a teacher teaches something you have to pay attention. Because if you don’t, you don’t learn. That’s what I mean.”

Simple and exciting. Even now, I remember it and my eyes are filled with tears.

After the farewell, we undertake our 45 minutes walk, which we do in silence. Not because we were tired but to assimilate all we had lived and felt that day, and we were really touched.
We returned home really late, almost midnight. I went to bed at 1, while Abel edited videos until 4am.

Also read:
#TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
#TennisAid Uganda: the project
#TennisAid Uganda: the funding
#TennisAid: the arrival in Uganda
#TennisAid Uganda: the Ntinda School for the Deaf

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.

#TennisAid Uganda

Having been in daily contact with our friends, we knew we came to Kampala during the raining season. It is Sunday morning and it rains heavily. At 11 it stops raining and the sun rises, the sky is almost cloudless. We open the bags and give them all the clothing and equipment we could collect. We take a Minitennis net and start playing in the courtyard with a neighbor’s child.

Our hosts, coaches of the Jouvin Child Sports Association have scheduled a lesson with the Ntinda School for the Deaf. 16 deaf children expect us to give them an extraordinary tennis lesson.

The first contact was really strange. You could tell they had expectations to see two coaches visit them, but to make a good first impression on foreign children who are deaf and almost mute (the few who can speak do it with much difficulty) would not be an easy task.

We started doing a simple warm-up routine, and to our surprise, they did it perfectly. Then we went to do an exercise in pairs so everyone could work at the same time. Again they gave us a lesson in discipline, seriousness and obedience. They worked non-stop, no gesture of annoyance or discomfort. And always smiling.

#TennisAid Uganda

Then we started a competitive exercise and they were all smiling because the enjoyed everything we offered. We divided the group of kids in two. Some worked with Abel and others with me. The iam was to commit the fewest errors possible, and my team ended up losing. Those who were with Abel jumped for joy, but the strange thing was the celebration was silent. My group laughed because I pretended to be sad about the defeat.

We played again and this time we won. Explosion of joy! And suddenly a girl came behind me and hugged me.
At that moment, I felt millions of feelings. And for a minute I needed to move away from the group and have a moment for myself.
Being deaf-mute in Africa is not an easy obstacle to overcome. Yet, they seem happy with what they have, and they develop normally.
That hug made me think that these children have a huge lack of affection, but in fact it showed the great heart they have. It was really moving.

Next article: our second day in Uganda, at the Shimoni school.

Once Abel Rincon and I decided to embark on a solidarity trip to Uganda, we had to think how to raise money to buy the stuff we wanted to donate, pay tickets for Kampala and stay for a week.

First we thought about selling products that were attractive and easy to sell.
So, we ordered 1,000 tennis ball keychains we would sell €2 each and 1,000 “WE LOVE Mini #TennisAid” silicone bracelets we’d sell €1 each. We did not expect that people would be so involved and suddenly we started receiving rackets, clothing, money.

One of the most pleasant surprises we had during this process was the shipment we received from WTA player Tita Torro: a box with 8 racquets, grips, cords…
We also got a racquet from another Silvia Soler, that we put up for auction on eBay. The fact that some players sympathize with our project, allowed us to gain more attention and give more dimension to our adventure.

At the same time, one of our hosts, Julius Kyobe confirmed us he would give us accommodation in his house, so lodging expenses and purchase of equipment were covered and we just had to focus on paying our flights.

The most surprising thing is we planned the trip in just 4 weeks: visas, vaccinations, certificates of donations (to prove the equipment was a donation and had no commercial purpose), collection of equipment… without forgetting we were still working as coaches!

The contributions did not stop there and our joy grew daily: the ESI Foundation (Esports Solidari Internacional) gave us a major boost: several boxes of clothes that could equip more than 130 children.

Bracelets came just 3 days before our trip, and the girls at the reception of the Tarragona Tennis Club (our base at the time) sold 850 of them in only 36 hours.

We had money, luggage were ready. Barcelona-London-Entebbe. En route!

Also read:
– #TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
– #TennisAid Uganda: the project

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.

#TennisAid Uganda

Enjoy part 2 of this series of posts about charity project #TennisAid:

The origin of the project was totally casual and spontaneous. Out of habit, I record my tennis lessons, especially with younger players, I edit the videos, add some music and try to give them an original format. This constant search for innovation pushed me to make a video of mini-tennis, but this time not only with pictures of my students, I thought I could show how to work with kids around the world.

I started contacting by mail or Facebook coaches I knew or coaches who work with young children. My request was clear and simple: to record about 15 minutes of their tennis lesson, and send it to me, either by mail, Whatsapp or any other mean. That’s how a work of about 5 months started.
Several people people answered me immediately. Others asked me time because their schools were on holidays. After 3 months, less than 20% had answered me.

Finally, in September 2014, and with over 30 countries represented, I managed to finish the “We love Mini” video. Clubs with good infrastructures and a clear organization, or overcrowded classes and coaches who work more with their will and vocation than with equipments: contrasts are obvious. Take the case of Victoria Tennis in Kenya: one coach on a court with about 40 students, throwing balls by hand. A beautiful chaos. In the video, you can see images of countries such as Zimbabwe, Germany, Nigeria, USA, Yemen, Argentina, Mexico, Estonia, Brazil and Egypt.

One of the fastest coaches to answer to my request was Vince Mowereza, from the city of Kampala, capital of Uganda. He is dedicated to promote tennis in schools with the help of his friend Julius Kyobe. They work for free, just to spread the sport.
He told me he was looking with envy at the amount of equipment I have to work kids’ psycho-motor skills, and he had absolutely no way to get that equipment in his town.
My first thought was that I could buy a few mini-tennis balls of all sizes and pressures and send them by mail. Then I thought I could also send a few racquets.

I talked about it with my friend and club-mate Abel Rincon, who spontaneously said: “What if we go there and bring him the equipment instead of sending it?” We looked at each other an started laughing. Because right there we realized that the trip would become reality and that we would end up going to Africa to donate sports equipment.

We knew that we were embarking on a great adventure. What we did not know is the magnitude it would reach.

Also read:
#TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
#TennisAid Uganda: the funding
#TennisAid: the arrival in Uganda
#TennisAid Uganda: the Ntinda School for the Deaf
#TennisAid: the second day in Uganda – the Shimoni Primary School
#TennisAid third day in Uganda
#TennisAid fourth day in Uganda

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.