So when the location was announced as Gulu, all of the above overcame our reluctance to send our daughter and dear team mate and vulnerable girls there. First, the transport itself was nerve-wracking for me, sending all these girls off on flimsy matatus and accident-prone buses. Then, Gulu is infamously the center of the historically LRA-affected northern Uganda. Julia stayed in a dorm at Gulu High School which was funded by Invisible Children's school-to-school program. The school is a walled fortress, understandable in an area where the LRA conscripted school children ruthlessly in the 90's. The infamous abduction of the "Aboke Girls" occurred nearby. So I have to admire the bold redemptive gamble of staging the premier secondary school girls' event of the year in a place that was once notorious for danger to girls of this age. Instead of being an epicenter of pillage and worse, this year Gulu hosted the cream of Uganda's young women, to PLAY GAMES.
Our girls were put into a group with six other schools. We played six games. We tied one, and lost the others, which at first appears rather disappointing. And similar to the boys' experience: solid play, relatively close games, good effort, but no wins. No embarrassing huge margin defeats, respect from other teams, but we were clearly not going to advance. There are many reasons: a program only in its second year, NO pre-final in-district competition, few games ever played, a district where girls do not grow up playing football, a place with a 45% stunting rate, poor nutrition, lack of value on sports, a place where girls do not expect to succeed. There are many barriers to overcome. We prayed each game for just one little taste of victory, one out of six didn't seem like such an extravagant request. But it was not to be.
In the end, I see that the victories were less important to the girls than one might think. They love the play. They had a great time together. They learned team work, perseverance. They took in the new places and travel with wide eyes. My boys on the boys' team described their time at nationals to me, and in spite of a string of defeats they amazingly came away with a high sense of being able, competent, equal to the others, repeating to me praises they heard from others along the way. And a high sense that they came from a place (CSB) that did not cheat, did not recruit players who were not real students, did not boost their teams with outsiders, but instead had a team of real kids from a real school. They repeated back to me so many wise things from Nathan (as I'm sure the girls will from Ashley) about the real meaning of sportsmanship, that I realized they all won. Both the girls' and boys' teams have come away with a sense of value and accomplishment, an assurance that it is better to play fairly and hard than it is to win, a respect for their coaches and school, and a readiness to try again next year. None of us could ask for more.