#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

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We’re heading to the airport of Barcelona, arrive well in time, we check in, wait in the departure lounge. Suddenly I realize that I forgot one of the two backpacks we’re allowed to take with us on the plane. I run through security controls and get it back.

We leave towards London. A 3-hour stop at Heathrow and then a 7-hour flight to Uganda.

After getting off the plane and passing health checks, we go through visa control where we have to play €40 each.

In all the many tips I have made in my life, a customs officer had never talked to me with such kindness and humor:

Customs officer: Spain? What’s good in Spain?
Abel: Barcelona!
Customs officer: but Barcelona is really in Spain or not in Spain? (with an ironic look)

We collect our luggage and go without showing our certificate of donation we had dealt with the Ugandan Consulate in Badalona to avoid being charged a fee for introducing material into the country.

Our friends receive us with effusive hugs and warm welcome. We get into two cars and start the journey: about 45 minutes from Entebbe to Kampala.

First impression: the atmosphere is relaxed, many people in the streets (it’s Saturday night), traffic is informal, there is no light on the road.

During the trip, our host Vincent will not stop thanking us for the effort to get there and the help we will provide.
We begin to understand the magnitude of the trip and its impact on these people. We arrive in Bukoto, where we will stay in the house of one of the coaches (Julius Kyobe). My apartment is not especially big, but my bedroom is bigger than his house. There is no sink in the bathroom. No matter, it’s just a detail.
Abel and I have to share a bed while Julius sleeps on a tiny mattress on the floor. We put mosquito nets and after a brief chat, we go to bed. Our task starts on Sunday morning.

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

Follow Martin on Twitter and Instagram.

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.