Sport has the power to unite communities and create social change. During a recent interview with Emerging Cricket, Nigeria’s women’s team captain Samantha Agazuma stated that ‘female cricket can be an uplifting and empowering force’. But in order for people to experience the benefits of a sport such as cricket, participants must have a safe and welcoming place to play the sport. Emerging Cricket spoke to Musana Felix about the Soroti Cricket Academy, one such place.
Soroti’s early story
Felix is the founder of the Soroti Cricket Academy. His journey with the sport started in 2001. During his time at school, Felix’s ‘developed a strong passion for the game whilst also ‘realising a sense of responsibility.’
Fast forward to 2014, Felix was working in Soroti, a city in the eastern region of Uganda, and it was here that he realised the need to create a safe place for children to play. In 2014, the majority of cricket-related activity was limited to two locations, Jinja and the capital city Kampala.
But Felix’s passion for the game remained and one chance meeting kickstarted his drive to establish cricket in the city.
‘One day while on my evening jog I met a group of five girls playing cricket without suitable equipment. As much as they loved the game, the lack of equipment made it rather unsafe, making it impossible for them to play cricket the right way. Batters did not have gloves, pads, and helmets, The wicket keeper did not have wicket keeping pads and gloves. They only had one ball and they were bowling really fast,’ he says.
‘I was touched by their passion and bravery and started helping them by mobilising and purchasing equipment every time I travelled back to the city.’
As Felix continued to purchase more equipment and word spread that cricket had come to town, ‘the numbers of interested kids grew to around 30 boys and girls. The sessions were held at the Soroti Sports ground and that is how the Soroti Cricket Academy started.’
Soon after starting the academy, Felix and the other individuals involved with the project ‘soon realised that the area’s socio-economic conditions, and the children’s lack of self-esteem were a hindrance to the development of their cricket talent. In a situation where girls are almost certain to be married by the age of 13 and boys go into casual manual labour, cricket became a key distraction to keep them in school and keep them aspiring more.’ Ensuring that children stated in school and continued to have life or sporting aspirations ‘forms the cornerstone of the academy’s mission and vision.’
An academy with a broader purpose
Felix is cognisant of Uganda’s many serious social and developmental challenges.
‘Youth in Uganda face a lot of challenges. For example, the cost of education means that very few families can afford good schools for their children. As a result, many teenagers are dropping out of school, facing unemployment and poverty. This in turn creates other problems, including parents giving away their girls for marriage before they turn 18 in return for a financial incentive. Alongside the situations already described, teenage drug and alcohol can be prevalent abuse along with teenage pregnancies’.
The Academy is directly involved in responding to these challenges. According to Felix, ‘the academy works with teenagers who have dropped out of school.’
Felix believes that sport can make a particularly significant difference to Ugandans. ‘Sport has provided livelihood opportunities for Ugandans; it has helped them obtain scholarships at universities; it has created role models for young Ugandans, and has united all Ugandans.’
Soroti’s people support the academy because of its track record so far, and the general love for sport in Uganda. The academy’s reputation is reinforced by its support for participants in their education. According to Felix, the academy offers services that ‘improve player welfare through career guidance, mentorship to overcome family or social issues challenges, and simple access to education through donation of books and study materials.’
The impacts, according Felix, are multifaceted. He says, ‘the other services we (the Soroti Cricket Academy) offer our cricketers have helped kids stay in school for longer, become less susceptible to early marriages, and helped steer kids away from crime and drug abuse’.
Notably these services help to increase the knowledge and awareness of HIV AIDS with the aim of helping reduce its community transmission in Uganda.
Building on success stories for the future
Soroti has played a part in the emergence of some of Uganda’s national team players They have, in turn, become role models for current members of the Academy. Notable women’s players include Ilukor Esther, national team wicket keeper and U-19 captain; Alako Proscovia, the first woman to score a century for Uganda; and national team opening bowler Joyce Mary Apio.
‘When kids from Soroti see their peers at the back of the national newspapers it develops feelings of pride and success. The feeling of success and the need to keep trying has helped focus and stay engaged,’ says Felix.
Felix has grand plans for the academy’s future. These include improving the main oval in Soroti, setting up practice nets and to build an astroturf wicket. Reflecting honestly, Felix notes that the facilities are ‘not in good condition, affecting the quality of sessions with the cricketers.’
In order to further develop the Soroti Cricket Academy, Felix and his team are ‘aiming at building the right partnerships to mutually support some of the academy projects and alleviate some of the challenges faced as we empower the kids and develop the sport.’
‘We are also looking at giving some young players more international exposure to also help them improve their talent further,’ he finishes.
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