At the end of last year, Oakley FC’s Grayson Greening and his family helped send football boots and kits to equip over 150 8-14-year olds in villages surrounding the towns of Semuto and Kyankwazi in Northern Uganda.
CommunityAd caught up with Grayson to find out more about this brilliant initiative…
How did the link with Semuto and Kyankwanzi come about?
“Through my sister-in-law, a doctor working with the UN mission to Uganda. Last summer when one of my sons grew out of yet another pair of barely used boots I half-jokingly suggested we send them to her to find them a good second home; it suddenly occurred to me that there must be hundreds of kids across Oakley’s various teams growing out of kit at regular intervals, and other parents who wished they could do something useful with this equipment but didn’t know where to start. From there things progressed rapidly: my sister-in-law made contact with a doctor at the Ugandan football association, who identified two teams in Semuto and Kyandkwanzi that make good attendance at school, a prerequisite for playing for them, as we agreed we wanted to ensure that these donations were seen as a reward for the Ugandan kids persevering despite the challenges they face rather than a simple handout. At the same time, Lee agreed that the club would formally back our initiative, helping us to get the word out to all of the OFC squads that we were seeking donations, making additional donations on behalf of the club and writing letters to help with passing through customs. The response from the players and their families was phenomenal – in a matter of days we received over 100 pairs of boots and close to 200 football kits, including more than 50 full sets of Oakley FC kit as well as kits from a number of other local clubs. We worked with coaches in Semuto and Kyankwanzi to agree which kits were to go to each location. All we had to do then was figure out how to get it all out there…”
Did you go out to Africa? If so, how was it?
“Yes, we did. We didn’t initially plan to, but an arrangement with a medical supplies company that had offered to ship the kits and boots to Uganda for us at no cost unfortunately came to nothing, so we took the decision to buy 5 return flights to Kampala for October half-term – then my wife, my 3 children and I packed whatever clothes we could into our hand luggage and filled five suitcases with as many kits and boots as possible.
“After a 13-hour flight, we arrived in Kampala just before midnight, and by 7:00am we were on the road to Semuto to drop off the first half of the kit. After meeting the kids, explaining where the kit had come from and why and sharing it out the club conducted a training session and a series of matches to celebrate our visit, with my sons as honorary captains for each game – with Uganda being right on the equator and the temperature never dropping below 30C even whilst it is raining in biblical proportions they found this quite hard going! We also brought with us enough cake and cans of coke for all the players and their families, so we could have a small celebratory meal together to conclude the visit. The next day we travelled on to Kyankwanzi, and repeated the process. This time it didn’t rain but we did have to stop one match because a 6-foot snake slithered onto the pitch! Altogether we donated kits, boots or both to around 150 children, including two complete sets of Oakley FC kit in each location which the teams adopted as their new uniform.
“The experience of visiting these villages was phenomenal and humbling, and for my children it was a really eye-opening experience that gave them an appreciation of how fortunate they are to be raised in Oakley. Both villages were quite off the main road and could only be accessed by four-wheel drive, and in Kyankwanzi in particular we were the first foreigners that many of the children had ever met – our three blond children found themselves constantly being shyly approached by someone who wanted to gently touch their arm or their hair and then run away giggling. However, it was amazing that as soon as a football was produced all the kids found they spoke the same ‘language’ and got down to the business of playing together.
“We stayed in Uganda for a further 5 days, seeing the sights – Uganda has national parks to rival those of Kenya or South Africa – and in my wife’s case, giving a lecture at a Kampala hospital to medical and education staff on how they can assist the behavioural and educational development of children with learning disabilities.”
Have you kept in touch with Semuto and Kyankwanzi?
“Yes! Whilst at each location we exchanged phone numbers and social media details with the team coaches, and we remain in contact now: I was recently discussing with Ronald, a coach from Kyankwanzi, the reasons why our respective teams were on a winter break – in our case it was because the pitches were frozen, in his case it was because December is the equatorial dry season and it’s too hot even for the locals to play!”
Are you looking to donate/distribute any more kits/boots to other regions in Africa this year?
“Yes we are – as we could only take what we could fit into 5 suitcases we had to leave around 50 pairs of boots in the UK, but even if we had managed to take it all we would not have had enough to donate to every player in each village – but as we know that Oakley kids are going to keep growing out of their kit it seems like there is a great opportunity for us to keep on supporting these clubs in the future. We are also aware of two other clubs in Uganda that similarly link education to playing for the team but that we weren’t able to visit this time, so we’d like to help them out too.“
“The only issue is how to get the donations to them – it’s not realistic for my family to self-fund a visit to Uganda every year armed with suitcases full of kit, it would be preferable to find a shipping firm willing to assist in shipping the kits at a discounted (or better!) price and then having my relatives in Uganda handle distribution at that end. We’re in the early stages of exploring that.”
Closer to home, CommunityAd also touched base with Oakley FC Chairman Lee Hayward about the ethos of the club and how important it is to install respect and kindness at the club….
“Respect is massively important not only for our teams but for our supporters as well, we ask all parents / carers to read through the FA respect guidelines / code of conduct on the FA web site and when they sign on for Oakley FC membership each year they have to sign to say they have read through the FA respect guidelines and will adhere to the FA code of respect.
“We also have a link to the FA respect code of conduct on our web site.
“With regards to our players it is extremely important to respect each other, the coaches, the opposition players and coaches and without question the referee.
“Kindness throughout football is what makes the game more enjoyable for all involved both in training and matches, if we are all kind to each other then we will all enjoy football even more.
“The Oakley FC committee reiterate our respect guidelines at our managers meetings and this will be passed down to the players.”