Editor’s Note: The following piece was put together by Tom Schreiber after his trip to Uganda. Tom has been a standout lacrosse player at Princeton, recently went on a trip to Africa through Fields of Growth, and it proved to be a life-changing experience.
I have lived a geographically sheltered life. I have resided in East Meadow, New York, I attended McVey Elementary School, Woodland Middle School and St. Anthony’s High School—all close to home—before embarking to study and play lacrosse at Princeton. Until four months ago I did not have a passport. The extent of my travels never exceeded the tri-state area other than a few lacrosse trips and a family vacation to Florida.
My involvement with Fields of Growth began about a year ago when a teammate and friend, Chad Wiedmaier, returned from Uganda, where he worked with the organization. He raved about his experience and encouraged me to consider following in his footsteps. Throughout the year, I did my best to fundraise and collect equipment for Fields of Growth. I received an overwhelming response.
Countless family members, friends, acquaintances and even strangers contributed to my Fields of Growth fundraising site. Nearly $14,000 was raised and five 50 pound bags filled with lacrosse equipment were collected. To all those who contributed, I express my appreciation. My experience could not have been possible without them.
After a crushing playoff loss to the University of Virginia, followed by a series of final exams, my mind was, at last, entirely focused on my trip to Uganda. On June 21st, my cousin, Dan Rogers (Farmingdale High School ’10) and I flew from JFK through Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya. Our final destination was Entebbe, Uganda.
Following a much-needed night of sleep we geared up for our first Ugandan lacrosse practice. After a few minutes, I saw some great athletes with surprisingly good stick skills. The first scrimmage was a little sloppy, but overall their talent level was impressive. When practice ended I was asked to say a few words to the 18-25 year old Ugandan lacrosse players. I did my best to leave them with a few tips to improve their game. After that, they huddled up and enthusiastically screamed, “1…2…3 CRANES.”
As our trip continued, practice after practice, I saw improvement. The players were eager to learn and worked hard to improve their skills. It was clear that they were committed both to learning lacrosse and excelling at it. Their passion and love for the game was inspiring.
The Ugandan lacrosse team does not care about flow. They don’t know what a “lax bro” is. They certainly don’t fit the profile of the stereotypical lacrosse player. They possess a refreshing love for the game and truly want to improve in order to reach their ultimate goal, Denver, 2014, where they hope to compete in the world games and represent their country with pride and honor.
Fields of Growth uses our beloved game as an avenue for overall improvement in the quality life in Uganda. It also works to sustain education, particularly in a town called Kkindu, through the HOPEFUL school. John Kakande, Fields of Growth coordinator at HOPEFUL, welcomed us and wholeheartedly thanked us for coming to Uganda. Kakande then informed me that the funds we raised over the course of last year would be used to build two new classrooms and an administrative office.
After spending the day with the kids at HOPEFUL, I took a step back and realized what had played out that day. I learned that Chad’s funds had gone to a field of 20,000 pineapples that would financially sustain the school, while the funds I raised are being used to build classrooms. I am sure Chad will agree with me that our trips would not have been possible without the members of the Princeton Lacrosse community. Various alumni, parents, and teammates generously contributed to our cause in Uganda.
Princeton lacrosse has a substantial footprint in the middle of a small village in Uganda. The inhabitants of Kkindu may not know Princeton’s lacrosse record, or its rich history, but they are very aware that the program has had a positive impact on their community. It is a testament to the generosity of Princeton lacrosse family and I am proud to be a part of it.
My remaining time in Kkindu changed my life. It gave me a new outlook and altered my perspective in a very positive way. Our daily schedule included 7:00AM water fetching from a well down a hill that made the Princeton Football stadium stairs seem like a walk in the park, a small breakfast, and a long and fulfilling day at HOPEFUL. We dug trenches, made bricks, laid bricks, planted, weeded, and interacted with the kids. The children were bursting with energy and enthusiasm.
Seeing their joy shielded me from realizing the difficulties and hardships they faced each day. Every home we visited was comprised of whatever people could make themselves. One of the homes had four rooms for fourteen people. Families relied on their crops to survive. In some cases, currency did not exist, and residents operated within a barter system. We brought each family about $10 worth of groceries, including sugar and flour. We learned that these groceries would last each family about a month. I began seeing just how far just a small amount of money could go in Uganda.
What I could spend on a sandwich and a drink at a deli back home could feed a family for a month in Uganda. The families responded to our gifts with tears and prayers. One family presented us with a live chicken as token of their gratitude. After leaving Kkindu, we returned to Kampala for another week of lacrosse.
We got to know the local Ugandans that hosted us. During my time spent in Kampala, I formed strong bonds with many people that I hope will be lifelong friends. Oscar, Andy, Maurice, Francis, Sam, Brian, and Lubs are just a few of my new friends in Uganda. They are all incredibly knowledgeable, hard working, and full of life. I am fortunate enough to communicate with them on a daily basis via email. I can not express how thankful I am that I was able to spend my time in Uganda with them.
Anyone interested in going on a trip like this should not think twice. Just go. Do something different. Your summer lacrosse club team will be there when you get back. The beach will be there when you get back. All of these summer rites of passage will be put out of your head and replaced with the attainment of a fresh, valuable perspective on life and the world and, most importantly, the significant difference that we can have on the lives of people that do not have access to the simple necessities that the average college student takes for granted.
In Uganda, I whitewater rafted the Nile River, bungee jumped, and went on a safari. Those activities were trivial in comparison to the people I interacted with – on the lacrosse field, in an impoverished village, and in our house in Kampala.
My trip gave me a valuable perspective on life that I will never forget.