Inspired by children half a world away

The next time you shop for groceries, take a look at the plastic bags used to hold your items. Once you're home and the groceries have been put away, wad the bags into a tight ball. Now, imagine wrapping that ball with wide green leaves – the kind you'd see on a palm tree, only bigger. Then visualize tightly wrapping that leaf ball with long stringy strips pulled from dried brown leaves found at the base of the tree. Knot each strip and what do you have? If you live in the Republic of Uganda in Africa, you have a soccer ball.

Clair Williams
A makeshift soccer ball used by Ugandan children.

The banana leaf soccer ball is the official logo for Fields of Dreams Uganda (FODU), a nonprofit organization that Clair Williams (B.A. '10, communication studies), interned with during summer 2013. FODU provides hope for nearly 1,600 orphaned and vulnerable children in Uganda.

As a mass communications graduate student, Williams' work focused on intercultural communication and listening. She also took photos, shot video and collected stories as children talked about their lives and shared their dreams for the future.

"This one-on-one interpersonal interaction was new and welcomed by many of the children at the orphanages who typically had just one or no parents," said Williams, who traveled to Uganda with 14 other students from across the U.S. "We asked the children 'What do you love? What do you want to do in the future?' Our goal was to talk about potential career paths and help make their dreams a reality."

FODU focuses on two main areas: education and soccer. Williams and her fellow travelers responded to the educational needs by bringing pens, pencils, calculators and textbooks to Uganda. Williams learned firsthand how vital these resources really are.

"Each teacher was often working off of one textbook, wherein they become skilled artists who replicated on big pieces of paper the diagrams found in the book so they could be shared with the classroom," said Williams. "These artistic re-creations were put up on the walls of each classroom as supplementary educational materials for the students. It made me realize that these teachers are true beacons of education. Even with so little, they strive to engage every child in the room, from calling on them to answer a question to having them write the answer on the board."

Soccer is FODU's second area of focus. Ugandan children love playing soccer, but most cannot afford or do not have access to real soccer balls. Instead, they improvise by making balls from bags and banana leaves. Williams and her peers brought a large number of soccer balls and cleats to Uganda, as well as shirts and other athletic clothing. "I've never seen such lit-up faces," she said.

Williams was the first UNI student to participate in this internship. In fact, she created the internship so UNI students from all majors can travel overseas and make a difference in the lives of children.

"It would be great to have interns from a variety of fields because different majors means different perspectives brought to the position," she said. "I encourage all students to pursue this internship because it is both humbling and eye opening, and it is a reminder of our collective humanity."

To learn more about interning with Field of Dreams Uganda, contact Mike Warneke at Mike@fieldsofdreamsuganda.org. More information on this life-changing nonprofit organization can be found at www.fieldsofdreamsuganda.org.

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