Hat Fund Global Initiative: HABARI UGANDA

A group from the HAT FUND (HF) just returned from visiting Uganda and we can safely say that the trip was an eye-opener. We were amazed by the warmth in which we were welcomed in spite of the disparity in the life we lead in U.S. to the life that Africans lead.

Cover Shot-Without DateThe aspirations of the youth in Africa are no different from youth anywhere else in the world. Very simply, they seek to better their lives. According to a McKinsey Report “Finding opportunities for young people is a critical challenge for Africa, where 62 percent of the population — more than 600 million young people — is below the age of 25. With no signs that population growth will slow in the decades to come, it is imperative that Africa leverage the talent and energy of its youth to create dramatically higher levels of prosperity and equality and avoid the latent risks of unemployment and social instability.” (Source: http://voices.mckinseyonsociety.com/empowering-youth-in-africa/)

Indeed the HF community is extremely motivated by the above and that’s because at HF, our credo has always been that when you open up a child’s world to knowledge, skill, and aspiration, you open up a world of opportunity for the child and that makes a better world for all of us.

There are many challenges in Africa and each of them needs to be tackled simultaneously in several ways by several. One proven way to tackle those challenges and promote development is through sports; the intensity with which any society engages itself in sport can be a measure of the society’s overall health and development. Even the United Nations has recognized that sports can be a tool of development. There is, in fact, a Special Adviser on Sport for Development in the Office of the UN’s Secretary-General.

So, what’s our action plan? It is commonly said that there are several ways to peel an orange, so we will do what we do best – we will use the sport of tennis as the medium to provide African youth with the window of opportunity to break-out from the cycles of generational poverty. However, because we only have a limited management bandwidth and financial means, we will begin in Uganda.

Our plan for Uganda is to engage ourselves at several levels. At one level, we will provide training to a greater number of deserving Ugandan children and at another level we will educate Ugandan tennis coaches so that they in turn may be better trained to coach their wards. For our proposed engagement in Africa, our inspiration and confidence is drawn largely from our hands-on experience in the life of a Ugandan youth, John Lutaaya, whom we have written about in one of our earlier Blogs (“Serve and Return”, January 2016)

This proposed initiative would see us engaged in Uganda in the following ways:

  •  Conduct coaching workshops and, youth clinics and certification courses for Ugandan tennis coaches
  •  Continue our on-site consulting and advisory services to add value to existing Youth Tennis Programs. Tena Academy, Kampala is our initial program partner
  • Popularize the sport of tennis and broadcast the benefits of playing the game in communities identified as needing a sport activity
  • Provide support, upgrades and sustenance to tennis programs already existing in the communities and add further playing capacity where possible. Support will include donating essential playing gear, consumables, transportation, school fee subsidies and advice on maintaining the gear and the courts

In our assessment, the training of coaches will be fundamental and of extremely strategic importance to the success of our mission. Our effort will be to identify coaches through tennis associations and federations, even if they possess only a semblance of knowledge of coaching tennis. We will share our knowledge (in tennis coaching) in order to bridge the deficiencies in their existing coaching methods. Just to give an example, it could be something as simple as teaching those coaches to use smaller courts and slower tennis balls with beginners. Our support will include help in preparing the right kind of courts, using the right kind of racquets, balls and coaching aids, athletic training, body conditioning and prevention of injuries commonly associated with playing tennis.

Parallel to building up coaching capacity, we will be equally focused on discovering Ugandan talent seeking to learn tennis. Each student will not only be taught how to correctly play tennis but more importantly they will be mentored on developing skills and imbibed with knowledge (for example: interpersonal and relationship management skills and responsible citizenship) that will bring them success even off the tennis-court.

As you can well imagine, creating this reservoir of human capital will need funds. Let us not kid ourselves into believing that Ugandans can afford to pay for all this learning. The World Bank estimates that 72% of the African youth population lives on less than $2 a day to help their families, 30% of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are forced to work (Source: http://voices.mckinseyonsociety.com/empowering-youth-in-africa/). Therefore unless there is a promise of decent living and meals-on-the-table, it would be foolishly ambitious of us to expect Ugandan youth to join our programs.

The children are living in such dire circumstances that it is not enough to simply convince them, and their parents, of the big picture of tomorrow but they require convincing that even their needs of today are provided for. It is therefore our mission at HAT FUND that every deserving child should be enabled to choose our program over the drudgery of working for a subsistence wage. We can only do this by ensuring that when a child chooses our tennis program over choosing to go elsewhere to work, that child’s living requirements are taken care of.

We have judged that by far the greatest value will be added to Ugandan communities if we focused our initiative in Ugandan soil itself rather than by embedding Ugandan youth in U.S. facilities. At the apex, the HAT FUND will partner with High Altitude Tennis, LLC in executing the various parts of this initiative. At the grassroots level, Hat Fund will partner with Ugandan coaching institutions (like Tena Academy and others) to bring the greatest good for tennis enthusiasts and novices alike. The ultimate aim is that the sport may provide joy, financial independence and recognition to the Ugandans.

To support this initiative, HF is already adequately prepared with motivated and trained tennis coaches to conduct train-the-trainer workshops and clinics. However to fund our initiative to build the coaching capacity (infrastructure and teaching resources) in Uganda as well as support the children’s basic needs (meals, transportation, and school fee subsidies) we will need the support of benefactors, sponsors and contributors. Therefore, over the next several months, we will be organizing fundraisers and working to develop partnerships to garner funds for our engagement in Uganda.

Contributed by A. Adeni with L. Segelke

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To learn more about how you can help or to make a donation please contact us at

W: www.thehatfund.org

E: HFsponsor@thehatfund.org

P: (303) 968-7729


Twitter: @thehatfund

Facebook: The HAT FUND, Inc.

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John Lutaaya- NOW is the START

When John was 9, he started as a ball boy at Lugogo Tennis Club in Kampala. It was a chance to earn some money and to be around what he loved… sport. The ITF Development Program that aims to ensure tennis at the highest level involves many nations. In 2009, an initiative focused on offering young people living amongst the ghettos in Kampala, Uganda, offered an unsuspecting young man the chance of a lifetime.

john mothers

One fateful day, Dr. Liz Odera, Director and Head Tennis Professional, Sadili Tennis Academy, selected him and 5 other students to play tennis. She encouraged John to focus on tennis and his education.

After a year of hard work and dedication to both sport and education, John was awarded a scholarship to the Sadili Tennis Academy, part of the Malezi School located in Kitui Ndogo Slum, Nairobi County.

Eventually, his hard work paid off and the East Africa ITF called on him to play tennis on behalf of Uganda in East Africa U12. “My first year I played nationals… I was ranked #3 in singles and #1 in doubles over the next three consecutive years!” John proudly recalls. He shone as a star in that tournament.

Unfortunately, Uganda was dropped from the ITF Development Program due to membership debts, leaving young aspiring players with a feeling of uncertainty and fear as they desperately attempted to cling to the fleeting opportunities available for a chance at a better life.

Despite such a predicament, John remained at Sadili Tennis Academy, and started looking for other sources of funding in Nairobi. His days there were very hard; his daily reality included a struggle to purchase food. He faced so much uncertainty for his future, and was only able to return home to visit with his family once each year due to the expenses. John needed ongoing support and reached out to John Nagenda, one of the advisors to the President of Uganda, and somehow convinced him to provide resources for his day-to-day needs. Mr. Nagenda became John’s savior during those times.

Although John now had his basic day-to-day subsistence needs met, he lacked assistance to continue his education. The average school fee for non-government secondary schools in Uganda is 300000UGX ($88USD) per term, a number unattainable by most of the poverty stricken families. However, in 2007, the Government of Uganda introduced free Secondary Education but the students would have to pay 100000UGX ($29USD) per term for basic amenities like uniforms, meals and stationery supplies. The unfortunate reality remains that the standard of education in government schools versus non-government schools differs vastly, and the majority of young people yearn to study in non- government programs.

Devastated by his circumstances, John was not able to find funds for school. He went to home schooling for 4 years after primary school because it was cheap and offered more time for tennis training. Teachers from Malezi School would come and teach students for 5 hours a day. Dr. Odera kindly sponsored John and several other students allowing them to share books. The long-term effects of this reality seemed insurmountable…

John was never able to take the exams required to continue his education at the university level in Uganda. Even if he had been able to take the exams, John knew the University fees were far too high for him to afford. On average, a student has to pay 4500000UGX ($1,315USD) per semester to enroll in University. John struggled for the 15000UGX ($4.5USD) needed everyday for his 3 meager meals and to pay for his transport to play tennis.

John’s mother always encouraged him to go to school and she urged him to create opportunities for his future because she was not able to provide for him, as she had wanted. She was not able to complete her secondary education. John’s father did indeed go to University but lived as a polygamist leaving his mother to raise John and his sister. While growing up, the family struggled day to day. John remembers Christmas day to be very special because his mom would save all year to provide John and his siblings with some new clothes.

He was given the opportunity to work part-time at Sadili Tennis Academy as a tennis coach, lifeguard, and on the maintenance staff in order to support himself and help to support his family. He would send close to half of his earnings, 100000UGX ($29USD) to his mother in Uganda. After taking care of his modest needs, he would save close to 50000UGX ($15USD) for his future.

John soon realized that one of the best things about Sadili Tennis Academy is that they have built relationships with coaches all over the world. With continued encouragement from his family, John pleaded with officials at Sadili Tennis Academy to help with any further opportunities for him, so that eventually he might travel to the United States and make a better future for himself and his community in Uganda. Sadili recommended him to a program in South Carolina.

William Blick, President of the Uganda Olympic Committee had taken notice of John and his talent. Mr. Blick set to work raising $1,000 for the travel expenses that would allow John to go to the United States to train. This experience would allow him to continue growing as a tennis player and pursue his academic goals. John eventually settled in South Carolina where Coach Jon Prenelle encouraged John to work hard and pursue his dream of going to college.

John indeed worked very hard to learn, improve and create new opportunities for himself. He trained day and night but unfortunately, not a single opportunity came to him in those three months in South Carolina. His training ended and he was to go back home to Uganda. In desperation he asked Coach Prenelle if it would be possible to extend his stay. Coach Prenelle called Ryan Segelke, his friend and CEO/Co-Founder of High Altitude Tennis, LLC in Colorado, and asked if he could help in any way. Later that evening, Ryan spoke to his wife, Leslie Segelke, Founder and Executive Director of The HAT FUND and just like that, John found himself on a plane to Colorado.

Training at High Altitude Tennis Academy provided another level of tennis training and experience for John. “This is the place where I have heard information that is not common to the many places I have been to. It is always more than tennis at HAT because I even learn stuff outside tennis and this creates success both off and on the court,” explains John.

Mr. and Mrs. Segelke worked with John to create an action plan that would lead to fulfillment of his dream. First of all, John needed to take the SAT exam, an essential step on his road to a college scholarship in the U.S. HAT arranged for John to work with a tutor and Susie Watts of College Connection donated her time end expertise to work with John.

John felt he was back in school again, as his tutors would direct him and lead him through his studies. Preparing for the SAT was not easy as the grammar taught in the United States was very different from that taught in Uganda. He indeed struggled with the studies but his tutors never gave up on him.

HAT arranged for John to visit several Colorado Universities. 
 Upon his visit to Colorado Christian University, John felt an
immediate connection. He felt like the environment at CCU was calling out to him and this was a huge motivation. With true enthusiasm he devoted more time and more focus toward his goals.

John was extremely excited to meet John Goodrich, the Head Tennis Coach at CCU. Coach Goodrich was the first college coach he had ever met and actually spoken to in person about the possibility of playing tennis on their team. He was glad that John found him. John regularly updated Coach Goodrich about his progress, as he was afraid he would change his mind about having him on the team. John had experienced many disappointments in his life but he was overjoyed by the coach’s reassurance.

HAT created a second family for John. His new teammates and their families in Colorado spent time with him on and off the court. He started to make friends in order to feel at home. He began opening up with them more and more, so that they could know him and he could know them. Being there never felt foreign to him, as he had the place to share his stories, and traditions from back home.

John’s dream became a great inspiration for the entire HAT family. They rallied around him offering support however and whenever they could. The HAT Staff made sure John had everything he needed to feel secure and be able to focus on his training and studies. Mr. Segelke worked closely with CCU to complete the requirements for admission. The HAT FUND provided John with the funds to travel back and forth to Uganda in order to satisfy all of the immigration requirements. Even Mr. Sadu, father of one of his teammates, after seeing him struggling with his preparation for the SAT offered to spend extra time working with John in his studies. A true team effort!

The road to his dream of a college education will continue to be difficult. However, John will not face these difficulties alone. The HAT FUND and its partners will continue to support John and the many other deserving young people struggling to change the course of their lives.

The HAT Fund has changed my life, I will be forever grateful,” says John. In the fall of 2016, John will hopefully be starting college. For his goal to be accomplished, he needs your support.

Join us in offering children the power to transform their lives through sport and education.

Learn more about John:

http://www.denverpost.com/sports/ci_28985827/world-away-from-home

http://www.thehatfund.org/tennis-phenoms-education-dream-hinges-on-test/

Be a support to John by becoming a part of John Lutaaya’s #GivingTuesday Campaign. Here’s the link, https://www.razoo.com/us/story/Hat-Fund