For the majority of his life, senior Kyle Woodward has been passionate about lacrosse. For 13 years, he has played and loved the game. But it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 when Kyle’s passion for the sport turned global.
Kyle exemplifies “It’s all about who you know.” During a barbecue last year in his hometown of Manasquan, N.J., Kyle’s parents met the sister of Kevin Dugan, who founded the non-profit organization Fields of Growth International in 2009. Dugan himself is a former lacrosse player and college coach who founded this organization with the “aims to harness the passion of the lacrosse community into positive social impact through global leadership development, service and growing the game.”
Fields of Growth was first based in Uganda, where it has flourished and succeeded in helping spread the love of the game and improving the community. The non-profit has also taken residence in Jamaica, which is one of their newest projects.
As Kyle learned more about the organization, it became clear that it was a perfect fit for him. He dove head first into a volunteer program in Jamaica last summer. As part of the first volunteer group for the organization, it was their responsibility to set up the programs and lacrosse camps for the children.
In Uganda, Fields of Growth helped create the Uganda Lacrosse Union (ULU). This league has spread lacrosse throughout the country and now has various active teams that play against each other. One of their biggest projects in partnership with the ULU was to create the first National Uganda lacrosse team. Their goal in doing so was to make Uganda the first country to represent Africa in the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championships. This year, the World Championships will be held in Denver, Colo. in July.
After hearing about this, Kyle made his interest in helping the Uganda team known. Kyle said, “I’ve always had the urge to travel. Being able to help those guys and give them the opportunity to come over really appealed to me.” He began meeting with Dugan, who helped him plan for the team as well as help collect donated equipment to bring to the team in Africa. And before he knew it, Kyle had decided to take a semester off from school and travel to Uganda, where he would help coach the first national Uganda lacrosse team, the Cranes.
The Journey Begins
During his time in Uganda, Kyle resided in the district of Kampala, just a short drive away from the capital. He lived with another American volunteer coach, Casey Lavallee, and two Ugandan lacrosse players. “We lived in a pretty nice area,” Kyle explains. Still, he experienced his fair share of problems with water and electricity, which would both go out without any notice. “It’s so corrupt,” Kyle said. “We had to bribe the water company to even turn our water back on.” Kyle and his roommates went up to four days without running water at a time. The city would also have electricity blackouts on purpose in certain areas because they can’t afford to keep it on everywhere. At one point, Kyle’s electricity was off for 11 days. Kyle concludes, “It was really eye-opening seeing what I took for granted here and what they have there.”
Luckily, Kyle didn’t stay in his house much. During the day, he taught basic English reading and writing skills to children at a nearby school. “They knew English pretty well,” Kyle said.
The national team practiced four times a week on Monday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Practice was held on the soccer fields at the Makerere University Business School in Kampala. “Since they were a newer team,” Kyle explains, “we were running through basic skills and movements. We would have them do endurance training at the end.” On some days, when the players did well, they were allowed to play scrimmage games.
Throughout the few months that Kyle coached the team, he got to know and befriend the players. Kyle said, “I feel like with lacrosse there is always a unique sense of team unity and it was great way to get to know them.” Many of the players invited Kyle to their homes for dinner and to meet their families.
Kkindu is a small village in the district of Masaka that is home to a school called “HOPEFUL,” which stands for the “Holistic Organization for People’s Empowerment for Uganda Locals.” Fields of Growth has partnered with this village as well as HOPEFUL with the hopes of bettering their community through service.
While Kyle was in Uganda, he traveled to this village about once a month for four or five days at a time. When he was there, he helped make over 17,000 bricks and constructed a building for the school. The HOPEFUL school also doubles as an orphanage so the need for adequate building and sleeping quarters is very important. Kyle emphasized that they need other volunteer trips because there is just so much to do for the school.
After seeing some of the conditions these children live in, Kyle and Casey decided to plan a fundraiser for the orphanage. “These kids have to walk so far, about six or seven miles a day,” Kyle said. Many of the children walk far to get to school so Kyle came up with the idea for him and Casey to walk 100 miles from their home in the Kampala district all the way to HOPEFUL school in the Masaka district to honor and raise money for these children, many whom are orphans.
Kyle set up a fundraising website so that his friends, family and others could donate money for the school. Overall, they raised $1,500 for HOPEFUL. Kyle and Casey set off on their 100-mile journey in Kampala. They stayed in various places each night and it took them a total of six days to reach Kkindu, where a crowd of little students waited to celebrate with them.
Despite its short existence thus far, the ULU has grown to love the game of lacrosse. They have been so inspired that, with the help of Fields of Growth, they have pledged a dream to make Uganda the first African team at the World Championships this summer. They are calling this campaign “Dream2014.”
To turn this dream into a reality, the ULU needed not only great coaching from volunteers like Kyle, but also lots of money. In total, they needed to raise about $150,000 to bring the Cranes, about seventeen players, to Colorado. Much of their fundraising, in collaboration with Fields of Growth, took place in American cities by means of silent auctions and other fundraisers.
On Feb. 1, the Cranes’ dream became a reality when they reached their fundraising goal. They will be competing in the World Championships for the first time as the first African country. “I couldn’t be more excited to see the team in Denver,” Kyle said, who plans to meet the team in Colorado this summer. Since they are a young and less-experienced team, the Cranes will definitely have a lot of competition this summer. Still, Kyle believes that they will have a fighting chance against some of the other new teams, like Mexico and China.
For Kyle, Fields of Growth has opened up a door to service he never knew existed. “It’s definitely changed the way I see things,” Kyle said. “I take opportunities more seriously.” Kyle hopes to stay with Fields of Growth after he graduates in December. He may participate in forming and coaching a national team for Jamaica that would potentially compete in the next World Championships in four years. Kyle said, “Doing what I love and being able to help people, why not? It’s too easy.”