Residents in Rwenkomba parish, Ibanda district in Western Uganda will bear bold witness they have seen a baby in Ibanda Young stars soccer academy being born and grow at a lightening pace.
Following a humble beginning with just five children enrolled for a training session, the academy aspirations and width have sprout drastically to now close to 250 young players aged 5 to 17 years.
The brain behind this whole arrangement is a young ambitious gentleman – Douglas Smith, the founder –cum- executive director.
Ironically, Smith is an up-coming medical practitioner, attached to Fort Portal based Chemequip medical school, but with unrivalled adoration for developing young talented footballers.
In an exclusive interview with Kawowo Sports, Smith narrates the rich background thus far;
Ibanda Young Stars Soccer Academy is one of the biggest projects in Ibanda district supporting children and empowering youth through the beautiful game of soccer. Just after my high school before joining Medical School, I made a decision to make a positive impact in my community. And because I was so passionate about playing soccer, I decided to use it as a vehicle for Social Change.
In the words of legendary African leader Nelson Mandela; “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination”, Smith, too, decided to trend that path.
Growth and growth:
From five (5) children in February 2017, Ibanda Young stars soccer academy’s current rota now stands at 212 players.
They conduct their training sessions at Rwenkobwa primary and Rwenkobwa muslim primary school play grounds.
The children training at the academy come from the different local educational institutions as Bright Junior primary school, Rwenkobwa muslim and primary schools, Rwenkobwa S.S, Kagongo S.S, Mbarara High S.S and Ibanda S.S among others.
Smith attributes the drastic rise in the numbers to a series of factors from the undying love of football by the youngsters in Ibanda, timely support from two U.S based friends (James Mooney and Eric Parada).
In early January 2018, Mooney and Parada donated 60 pairs of playing boots and 120 sets of jerseys.
The academy also employs eight volunteer coaches and trainers led by Ibrahim Ali.
The other coaches include; Gerald Arinaitwe, Ivan Kiiza, Dennis Bataringaya and Hillary Turyatunga among others.
Among the justifications for Smith to start up the Ibanda Young Stars Soccer Academy project was basically to help promote sports development in the rural environs.
This academy was started to help disadvantaged children in Uganda regain hope and eradicate poverty through sports. In a way, we would also cater for the educational and vulnerable children whose families have no capacity of providing the basic needs. The vulnerable children in this district are educated through sports like football and other sports so that they become resourceful in their communities. The organization endeavors to cater for children, empower them to have self-help projects to avoid dependency, fights for the rights of orphans to ensure equality, liberty and fraternity in their communities, nurture in them Christian values, instill in them the spirit of patriotism and the rest of social-economic affairs meant for transformed communities. From the time we began operating, many of the school dropouts in Ibanda were able to go back to school and we have achieved this by partnering with nearby schools. We have had some of our very talented boys getting bursaries in different schools. We have carried out successful Soccer clinics and it’s during this period that we sensitize youth about HIV/AIDS.
Talented players have been identified and recommended to clubs for further development.
Smith’s incredible work recently attracted the keen attention from the organizers of the young achievers’ awards as he was nominated alongside Joshua Cheptegei, David Emong and Rugby She Cranes (7’s).
The award was eventually won by the Rugby She Cranes, but with the nomination alongside the country’s greats, Smith acknowledges he scored already;
Being nominated for the best young achievers’ award in the sports catergory alone was good enough and this motivates me. Although I did not win the accolade, the nomination itself was victory of its own. I am now more motivated and ready to work harder.
In Smith’s future prospects, he plans to expand the academy into a football club. There is a bold plan to build a school to provide education for the rural poor. He has a vision of expanding the already existing public library in Ibanda as he also targets to spread the wings with many other international organizations to realize his dreams.
The academy plans a grand launch on Friday, 28th December 2018 with a two day tournament that will attract at least 200 children in the different age groups between 5 to 17 years.
There is an on-going online fundraising campaign as well ahead of the launch.