Empowering Ugandan youth through tennis
Empowering Ugandan youth through tennis
17-year-old Amani went on a life changing trip to Uganda, where her organization is supporting local youth to overcome their life’s challenges through tennis.
As I embarked on my journey to spread my passion for tennis to children in the slums of Uganda, I knew it would be an experience of a lifetime.
While driving to catch our flight to Uganda, my father and I were notified that the entire country was going into a strict lockdown, due to a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases. After considering the risks and rewards, I decided to continue with the trip and persevere on my mission to serve.
Upon reaching Uganda, we got a text that our scheduled driver couldn’t pick us up, because of the 7 pm curfew in the country. Stranded at the airport in the dead of night, I found a way to adapt and searched for a new driver.
The following morning, I was faced with the reality that there is a likelihood that the tennis program I am visiting, and which my charity supplies equipment to, may be canceled. Rather than let devastation swallow me, I remained confident that I would find children whom I could positively impact.
And so it did. The tennis program I had arranged to help out with was miraculously set to continue throughout the week, with COVID-19 precautions observed. This meant the chance was mine to encourage others to pursue the sport I love, and inspire them to use it as a vehicle for change in their lives.
Arrival in Acholi
So finally, after many trials and tribulations, I arrived at the Acholi Quarters slum to meet, teach, and empower the children of the community, using tennis as a catalyst for change.
I walked through the tight corridors of the shacks, toward the open field on which we would play tennis. My eyes took everything in, in awe.
Once the mini nets were set up and balls were brought out, the children began playing, and the field began to glow, radiating unparalleled joy and energy. The children of the entire community watched the special occurrence.
They gathered around the field with greater excitement than fans on center court at Wimbledon; some were piggybacking around with their friends, others were doing handstands in the dirt or sliding down the hill on a scrap of plastic. For these children, tennis is an escape in the midst of the scourge and monotony of poverty. They have nothing, and yet they are able to find so much hope and joy in this sport, and for me, seeing that was life changing.
Meeting other youth leaders
Later in the trip, I was fortunate enough to meet, play tennis with, and learn the stories of a few of the best tennis players of Uganda. David, Sware, and Frank came from Naguru slum. These three musketeers started with nothing but a dream, and eventually their racket was their rope out of the slums. At a young age, after playing in dirt fields, the three became ball-boys at the Lagogo National Tennis Center, across the street from their slum. The opportunity to be on a real court and observe some of the very best served as inspiration for them to pursue the sport and gave them an in-road to do so.
Training out of Lagogo, they eventually developed as national level players. They are evidence of the power of sport, of resilience, and of belief. Now, they hope to inspire and empower the next generation in their own community to follow the same path. With a mission to love and serve all, I told them that my charity Second Serve would provide the necessary equipment to make this vision a reality.
They invited me to visit their Naguru slum. The children looked upon me with huge smiles and admiration; I felt like a hero. However, in this story, I am not the hero. The children are the heroes. With the right support, they are the ones who will face the challenges of their situation with grace. I am simply the guide who can help facilitate this germination and growth, and I am eternally grateful for that opportunity to make an impact.
The power of sport
Sport has the power to unite like none other. When I set foot in the unfamiliar land, every face was unfamiliar. However, as I went back home, I leave with more friends than I can count. Whether I was coaching young children in the slums or playing against the best players in the country, sports served as a universal language, and forged connections that are so valuable. Because of the bonds built with people there, I was able to have meaningful conversations with the locals, learning about their culture, their struggles, their beliefs, and their lives.
I will forever be grateful for this opportunity to not only see and experience a new country, but also to impact the youth and empower them to dream big. In pursuit of helping others, I discovered a lot about myself. I learned not to turn away from suffering and adversity, but to bravely face it. I learned that happiness is not determined by what you have, but is a product of graciousness and the belief that you have enough.
I learned that anyone against any odds can become a hero with resilience, belief, and thoughtful support. I learned the power of connections in the pursuit of knowledge and in enacting change. But most of all, I learned that while doing good is not easy, it is worth it.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]
Amani Shah (17) is the co-founder of a fully youth-run nonprofit, Second Serve, dedicated to creating greater access and inclusion in tennis. Second Serve enhances the lives of under-resourced children around the world by enabling them to use tennis as a vehicle to rise.