Innocent Mbabli is Head Coach at the Hope Hockey Skills Foundation (HHSF) in Uganda. Where much of the international hockey community has been forced into a temporary postponement of activities, participants on the Hope Hockey Skills Foundation have been able to access training and education over the past few months.
For the children who attend the camps and training sessions, this is about far more than purely learning how to play hockey. Through interactive and fun sessions, the coaches and volunteers also teach the children fundamental life skills, such as cooking, making clothing and healthy eating, as well as educating them on social skills such as good communication skills, sexual health and drug avoidance.
As Innocent says: “By interacting with the kids on a regular basis and talking to them about life choices, that is a way of making them stronger and more resilient to life’s challenges.”
The HHSF has also been active in sharing out food parcels with families in Kampala who have been affected by the pandemic. For the past few months, the coaches and volunteers from the programme have been visiting the homes of many of the participants to check on their health and living conditions.
More than 200 children aged 3-18 take part in the HHSF programmes of activity. The camps and training sessions are held in the lower income areas of Kampala, such as Naguru. This is also where most of the nine coaches and four volunteers come from, so there is a real understanding of the challenges faced by the children and their families.
Innocent uses two examples to illustrate the work of the HHSF.
“Shafic is boy who joined us in 2015. He was a boy selling eats [Maize], which he used to sell on the street while moving around every evening. He comes from a humble family. Both he and his younger sister and brother play hockey too.”
Innocent persuaded Shafic to join in the hockey sessions after he invited the lad to sell Maize to the other hockey participants and their families. This created a ready market, but more importantly, introduced Shafic to a sociable and healthy lifestyle. He became a popular member of the group and soon found his way back into education. He completed his primary school education and has won a scholarship to the best field hockey playing school in Uganda, Kakungulu Memorial Secondary School. He also helps out as a junior coach on the programme.
Innocent says Shafic has become one of the best young players in Uganda.
The other example is Batusa Colline. Innocent explains that Batusa started playing hockey in 2012. He joined the HHSF in 2014 and is now both a player and a coach. Through his coaching experience on the camps and his work as a volunteer and coach at subsequent Hockey5s tournaments, he was offered a full scholarship at Kakungulu Memorial Secondary School.
He became school captain, then joined a top club side – Wanainchi Sports Club – and has now graduated to the Under 19 national team. Soon he will be travelling overseas to play professional hockey in Italy for Hockey Club Pistoia. As Innocent says: “This is a case of a player grabbing opportunities and living his dream.”
For the future, the Foundation is looking for more sponsorship so it can develop camps in different areas of Kampala. Aside from the hockey coaching, the Foundation is also supporting the creation of businesses, such as a bakery or craft shop. The idea is to create opportunities for the hockey players to develop careers, as well as healthy lifestyles.