Kisubi Pacers RFC Credit: Kisubi Pacers TW

When Kisubi Pacers RFC registered for the 2019/20 Central Regional Championship, it could have been thought to be a group of university friends who wanted to have a run on the grass every weekend with the oval ball. But it wasn’t.

Kisubi Pacers RFC was founded in 2013 by a group of university students led by Charles Senteza. This was after they had been granted access to the neighbouring St. Mary’s College Kisubi rugby pitch where they would go to play rugby for fun. This would, in turn, open doors for rugby to Kisubi hill that has many institutions. Senteza is a Systems Administrator at Kisubi University and currently serves as the chairperson at Kisubi Pacers.

This time, however, the boys from Kisubi University had come with a mission to transform Ugandan rugby. Going into the season, they thought about numerous ways in which they could make a positive impact. And that is how the Kisubi Pacers RFC Mental Health Awareness campaign started.

Senteza says that they felt the need to have more relevance to Ugandan rugby other than just playing games and having a good time.

We thought, “Since we are now fully registered and have been drafted into the URU calendar, let’s have more relevance other than playing the game.” That’s how we decided to start a mental health awareness campaign.

Charles Senteza, recalls from the start of the season.

The theme of their campaign was and still is, “Using Sports to improve Mental Health and Wellbeing”. The main purpose of the campaign is suicide prevention for all. This attracted some Ugandan mental health practitioners in the diaspora – United Kingdom. Their organisation Mind, Body & Soul operates a Center for Psychological Health in Uganda that supports Kisubi Pacers logistically to run the club and also promote the message of mental health.

Edgar Kazibwe, editor at Kawowo Sports and aspiring sport psychologist with the Uganda Cricket Cranes says, mental health is a vital aspect of sport and needs to be taken care of to ensure sportsmen and women have stability in nearly all aspects that affect their performance.

Kazibwe recommends that for players to maintain good mental health, they need to pay attention to their personal welfare and self-awareness. Watching how their actions correlate with their goals and values to help them reach the optimum level of performance. Some of the things include getting enough rest regularly, having a good support system and self-care.

The Mighty Mug

Championship games in the central region are played at around noon under the searing heat of the Kampala sun. If you’ve been at the rugby grounds early enough and observant, you have seen a member of the Kisubi Pacers RFC team gift a branded mug to the opposing team’s captain after full time.

This mug is a symbol of Kisubi Pacers’ mental health awareness campaign. With the message printed on its side, the mug plays a role of reminding one of the importance of mental health hygiene.

Senteza says they have exchanged mugs with the opponents’ team at every game they have played since the campaign kicked off. From the first mug handed to Black Pirates during the Uganda Cup, up to 15 mugs have been exchanged between Kisubi Pacers and their opponents.

“We debated on so many things but someone suggested a mug because it looks out of place at a rugby game. It attracts attention. We thought it would be a good symbol to harmonise an individual’s morning and evening moods when being used,” he adds. A mug is one of the most easily accessible things in a household, because it is used at almost all meals.

The campaign thus far

Internally, Kisubi Pacers RFC are working with medical professionals from the Center for Psychological Health to practice good mental hygiene as a priority. Like how one wakes up in the morning and they brush their teeth, efforts are continuously being made to ensure that mental hygiene is taken care of at all times.

Different clubs have joined the campaign for their players, like Kobs and Jinja Hippos. Kyambogo University have even added lines about mental health awareness in their team chants.

This year has been tough in different aspects due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the club has held door-to-door community outreach programs during the lockdown targeting women and girls. This has helped them to recruit new members for the Kisubi Lady Pacers.

What lies ahead?

Senteza believes that there is steady progress in the campaign. Players are becoming increasingly aware of their mental health, and clubs are supporting them in their journey. More clubs and institutions are expected to join in. He reveals that they would like to engage the Uganda Rugby Union to add mental health training for officials who work with the clubs and national teams.

In their five-year plan, Kisubi Pacers intend to have a fully-fledged facility for mental health accessible for all. They are also working towards growing the campaign beyond the club into the community and institutions.

For the rugby, the goal is to become a core sevens side for the men and have a competitive sevens team for the women in the next two years.

Ernest Akorebirungi is an amateur rugby player and a keen follower of local Ugandan rugby.

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