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Lacrosse brings hope to Ugandan children

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Playing lacrosse gives children in Uganda whose parents have been afflicted by AIDS one thing they can’t find anywhere else — something to call their own.

“They love playing lacrosse specifically because they all have their own stick when they get to play, and they don’t really own anything,” said Kevin Dugan, Notre Dame’s director of men’s lacrosse operations at Notre Dame. “That is just an incredible experience for them because they‘re just not used to having something [that is their own.]”

Children in Uganda have been able to play lacrosse and other sports since Dugan created Fields of Growth International, a non-profit organization that strives to facilitate development in Uganda.

Notre Dame athletes, and particularly members of the men’s lacrosse team, work with the organization to empower both children and their parents in Uganda.

“Lacrosse is certainly not the main priority in what we’re doing. The main priority is social entrepreneurism, AIDS education and real, grassroots village economic development,” said Dugan, a 2001 graduate of Notre Dame. “What we really want to do is be able to intersect the things that bring us passion and joy with the need in the world.”

Sophomore lacrosse player Jake Brems will travel to Uganda this summer to intern with the organization.

“I’m excited to get over there and be able to help other people. I’ve never done an international service like this,” Brems said.

Brems will study the effectiveness of the organization’s poultry-rearing project, which is meant to benefit women whose husbands have died from AIDS.

“It’s a $500 project where we build a chicken coop. We buy about 100 young chicks and we buy the family the vaccinations they need to keep the chickens healthy,” Dugan said. “We buy them all the things they need to get the project up and running.”

The family can then sell the eggs for profit or use them for familial nourishment, he said.
Dugan said the organization will pilot the poultry-rearing project in May.

“The woman is 31. She is HIV positive. Her husband just died of AIDS and she’s got 7 kids,” Dugan said. “Creating this poultry-rearing project makes it easier for her … If they take care of it and run it effectively, it changes their life forever.”

Fields of Growth International also works with the children of AIDS widows and teaches them to play sports, such as lacrosse, netball and soccer.

“Here are these kids. They wake up every day and life never changes. For us to just give them our time, no matter what that may be, they’re excited, whether it’s lacrosse or flag football or kickball,” Dugan said.

Dugan said he wanted to infuse the spirit of Notre Dame athletics into the program for children in Uganda, and has done so through the “Play Like a Champion Today” sign.
“These kids at this orphan school, they walk out on this field and they touch the ‘Play Like a Champion Today’ sign,” Dugan said. “‘Play Like a Champion Today’ translates to these kids, ‘live like a champion today.'”

Brems said he wanted to combine his love for lacrosse and service, but never had the opportunity before learning about Fields of Growth International.

“There is really nothing else like that in the lacrosse world. I’ve heard people talk about having interest, but there has never really been an opportunity to,” he said. “Most of the [volunteering] events that we do around here are one-day events.”

Dugan said the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team has helped generate equipment to send to Uganda and said he hopes to get the team more involved over time.

“We think it’s going to be the start of an incredible team international development project,” Dugan said. “It puts our athletes, many of whom are business majors, in a position to have an experience with micro venturing and social entrepreneurism at the grassroots level.”
Dugan said the project also sends a positive message to the athletes.

“The main people that we’re playing lacrosse with are girls and the main people that we’re helping are women,” Dugan said. “I think it’s really powerful message for our guys to see that and for our guys to respond to that and to have Division I athletes serving and trying to empower marginalized women in rural Uganda.

“[We’re] going over there with that humble spirit like, OK, I’m going to learn more from Africa more than Africa is going to learn from me … We need Africa more than Africa needs us.”

Dugan said the organization is currently selling T-shirts, modeled after the TOMS Shoes one-for-one design.

“We make about $6 to $7 per T-shirt. That’s how much a live chicken costs in Uganda,” he said. “You buy a T-shirt and we buy a live chicken for the AIDS widow poultry-rearing project.”

For more information on Fields of Growth International, contact Kevin Dugan at [email protected] or visit www.fieldsofgrowth intl.org