As part of the State Department and Academy of Educational Development's Sports Visitor Program, a group of Ugandan girls came to Washington, D.C. for 12 days to experience the culture of U.S. sports, get training, and gain exposure to valuable contacts in this country.
The group of girls, plus their coaches and a few State Department officials, had attended a D.C. United game, witnessed a wheelchair basketball game, and planned on attending a soccer clinic put on by George Washington University.
But on Monday, they came to the Columbia Heights Education Campus to participate in DC SCORES' programming and interact with Lincoln's poet-athletes.
Everyone was a bit uncomfortable at first, which was to be expected considering the cultural differences, but when DC SCORES staff passed out magazines -- everything from Sports Illustrated, to Time, to Vogue -- kids from both countries started cutting out pictures to illustrate which foods, movies, and other things interest them.
And the collages of the Lincoln students and Ugandan girls weren't that different. They had pasted pictures of athletes, advertisements for pizza, and pictures of fashionable models among other things.
Then all the girls headed to the small field adjacent to the campus where the Lincoln girls practice. Our coach Beth Thompson huddled up everyone and then broke them into relay-race teams comprised of at least one Ugandan girl.
Everyone loosened up as they started racing, clapping hands and kicking soccer balls. It quickly became clear that when you give students an activity they enjoy, any language, cultural or other boundaries can be overcome.
The Sports Visitor Program is very popular and brings athletes, coaches and managers from all over the world to the U.S. The groups are chosen by the U.S. embassy in their country with the hope that when they return, they can use all that they learned while abroad to teach valuable skills during clinics for their country's youth.
Just like many DC SCORES poet-athletes join the program with no soccer or poetry experience, several of the teenagers who come here for such programs lack the proper instruction in their respective sport. Such a program is instrumental in teaching them how to play the game.
We hope we can be involved with similar programs in the future, which allow for those from different countries to learn about each other while also gaining valuable skills that can then be taught to those who don't have access to such opportunities.
For more information on the program, check out its website.