Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Welcome We Weren't Expecting

by Alex Mulyowa, Trevor Bishai and Margaret Nabukenya, Interns, Kinu Village

The football game outside the Kinu house.
Most evenings around 6 p.m., the area outside the front of our house becomes the venue of a spirited game of pickup soccer. As the sun sets over the dry patches of scattered grass, a group of energetic children and teenagers from the neighborhood fill the air with excited shouts, kicks, and cheers. Four small bricks are the goalposts, and because there isn’t quite enough space between our house and the house across the path, the pitch bends a little bit to the right side of our house. The older boys usually have the ball, while younger children spend their time either chasing after it or doing cartwheels. The games begin when we return from working around the village and continue until the sun sets; a crowd of spectators both young and old add a distinct jubilant atmosphere.

Team Kinu during a planning meeting.
But these evening soccer games are not any sort of longstanding tradition here in Kinu. They began just a few weeks ago, on one of our first days here, when we started kicking a ball around outside our house. When our international team leader, Shannon, decided to pack a ball in her luggage, little did she know that it would become the source of such a fun tradition in the village, and one that signifies our brand-new presence here.

One evening, we chatted with some of the regulars on the teams to get to know them better. When speaking with Yosamu, a 17-year-old young man from the village, I was surprised at one of the reasons he gave for why he likes to come play at our house. He told us that he and his friends like playing soccer here because they “want to show love to the visitors.” Even though soccer is his favorite sport, and he likes to keep practicing regularly, coming to our house to play is his way to show us that our presence is genuinely appreciated. He is playing a part in incorporating us into the broader community of Kinu by just showing up to play. A building of mutual understanding and appreciation is taking place: while we are always happy to see the large group of kids outside, the kids themselves are evidently just as happy to have six new friends, ready to play.

Interns practicing their football skills during orientation.
We have dedicated much of our first few weeks here to building relationships within the community, and we have done this in a variety of ways. Formally, we have met with VHTs and held introductory meetings in local places of worship. Less formally, but just as importantly, we have been playing soccer. Building relationships has been an important goal for our team, because at the end of the day, strong relationships form the foundation of successful public health projects. Public health depends on mutual understanding, learning, and growing together. While we work every day to build relationships around community health, nightly soccer games are one of the ways that the community extends its welcoming hand back to us.

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