An interdisciplinary team of USC public health and pharmacy students and alumni concluded their summer in the grassy fields of northern Uganda, where they led a public health and soccer camp for more than 1,000 youth.
Non-profit organization Ray United FC hosts the yearly camp as part of its efforts promote healthy kids and communities through soccer and education. USC Associate Professor Heather Wipfli worked with her son, Ray, to found the organization in 2014 to benefit Ugandan youth in rural communities where she often works as Associate Director of the USC Institute for Global Health.
The experience invites USC students and alumni to serve as educators in public health workshops that coincide with the high-energy soccer tournaments.
A community affair
From Aug. 8-12, the third annual event gathered more than 1,000 elementary and high school students and more than 50 educators, community staffers and university students in Uganda’s Oyam district.
Prior to the camp, facilitators received a day of training and stayed overnight in the homes of local families.
“It’s vital for anyone doing this kind of global work to learn about and connect with the community they are serving,” Wipfli said.
Besides soccer training provided by professional coaches, the program offered public health, citizenship and leadership education. Donations garnered by RUFC and the students themselves allowed camp participants to receive free bags, t-shirts, public heath workbooks, pens and pencils—as well as meals and clean water.
Global, and local, collaboration
The team of 15 Master of Public Health and Doctor of Pharmacy candidates, faculty, USC School of Pharmacy staff and USC alumni worked alongside students at Uganda’s Makerere University and partners from regional organizations including Global Health Network Uganda, Youth Rising / YAWI Uganda and Football for Good.
The USC team “worked synergistically with our Ugandan counterparts as we facilitated health education sessions on various talking points such as infectious disease, nutrition, and gender roles,” said Louella Gonzalez, a student in the USC MPH online program, in a blog post reflecting on the experience. “Each day we met a different set of bright and determined young Ugandans whose lives were different from ours, but whose dreams of a better future we shared.”
The pharmacy students and staff, with local health clinicians, provided more than 300 people with HIV, Hepatitis B, blood sugar and blood pressure testing on the final day of the camp.
Memories for a lifetime
Simone St. Claire, MPH ’17, a graduate of the B.S. Global Health and MPH progressive degree program, served as a camp counselor and conducted a menstrual hygiene project, funded by the Anderson Family Global Health Immersion Fellowship through the Institute for Global Health.
“Thanks to the openness of our team and the participants, I was able to have candid conversations with adolescent girls about barriers to menstrual hygiene management in school,” she said. Her seminar taught the girls how to make sanitary pads with materials the USC team provided, as well as with materials they were likely to find in and around their homes.
“Whether under a beating sun or in a rainstorm, everyone brought their energy and their spirit to the field and that’s what made RUFC 2017 such a huge success,” she said. “We really were like a family by the end of the week.”
Kennedy Yesigomwe, USC Institute for Global Health’s Uganda coordinator and Makerere University alum, said he was “amazed” by the overall engagement and enthusiasm: “People had a positive vibe throughout.”
Following the camp, the USC students enjoyed a wildlife safari and visited health agencies including the Ministry of Health, Uganda Cancer Institute, Infectious Disease Institute and multiple rural health centers, as well as Makerere University’s schools of public health and pharmacy.
To date, RUFC camps have reached more than 3,000 kids in the country’s central and northern regions.
To learn more and sign up to participate in upcoming camps, which will soon include Mozambique, visit https://globalhealth.usc.edu/ugandaimmersion.
Video by Evan Pye, MPH ’16. Evan works as a program advisor at Global Health Network in Uganda.
Read Simone’s reflections about the experience on our travel blog: