Nov. 15, 2012
By Lauren Chval
As University of Notre Dame junior men's track and field thrower Jordan Stumph's birthday approached last June, his mom asked him what was on his wish list.
"I said, 'I don't want anything. I seriously don't want anything,'" Stumph says. "I have enough stuff."
Stumph says his unusual reaction came from a change within himself that happened during the two weeks he spent in Uganda.
The trip was initiated through both the Notre Dame Student Welfare and Development office and University classes taught by Dr. Clark Power and Professor Kristin Sheehan. The student-athletes who travelled to Uganda were required to take a pair of courses with Power and Sheehan in preparation.
"Our goal was to assess the extent to which Notre Dame's Play Like A Champion TodayTM Sports as Ministry or Coaching for Character clinics would serve the children of Uganda," Clark says. "We wanted to involve the student-athletes in giving clinics to coaches and teachers in Uganda and also in applying the principles of the Play Like A Champion TodayTM approach in working directly with children."
Over the course of two weeks in Uganda, the group travelled to many different primary schools, staying at each location for one for two days. The first day involved interacting with the children in a classroom setting, while the second took the classroom outside for a field day filled with numerous sport activities.
"The goal was to spread our love of sports," Stumph says. "They see sports as physical education for the pure purpose of staying fit. That's what they think of it as, like a physical activity to be healthy. But we wanted to show them that it's about having fun, learning character, learning teammates, you can become a leader--all those different things. We wanted to send a message that everyone, no matter what, can be a champion. Giving these kids hope and making them think differently about what sports are about."
Junior women's tennis player JoHanna Manningham agrees that the effort was about bringing a broader definition of sports to the Ugandan people, but she says she had to be careful to manage expectations.
"We had go in with a humble heart and just realize that we're not going to change the world by going over there for two weeks," she says. "You're not changing the world, but you are changing someone's life."
More than just trying to change the Ugandans view of sports, Manningham says she was interested in how young girls look at athletics. Many of them had never considered sports as an opportunity.
"It's definitely less common for girls to play sports in Uganda, and it was interesting to see girls kind of change in a way, saying, 'Oh, I can do this, too,'" Manningham says.
One of the most rewarding aspects of the trip for Stumph was the bond he forged with a little boy named Joshua.
"We were touring the school, and he came out and just took my hand and was holding my hand and started walking me around," Stumph says with a smile. "On the first day he came up to me when we were getting on our bus to go back to where we were staying and he gave me this little bracelet and said, 'This is so you can remember me forever.' It was the coolest thing."
In finding out that Joshua was a big basketball fan, Stumph gave him a Michael Jordan hat. Generosity was certainly one of the main takeaways from the time in Africa for both Manningham and Stumph.
"I learned that these people, although they have nothing, are some of the most generous and kind-hearted people you will ever meet," Stumph says. "We went to some of the houses and gave them food that would last them about a week. Almost everyone who went to a house received something in return from the family. We could not give the gifts back because that would be a huge sign of disrespect, but I just thought it was crazy that they were willing to give up so much just for a small amount of help."
Manningham had a similar experience.
All of the athletes were assigned a family to visit in a village and provide a small amount of help. Manningham's family consisted of a grandmother, a mother and 11 grandchildren.
"A lot of them were HIV-positive and that was more common in the village than in the cities, but it was really hard to see," Manningham says sadly. "It really touched me because I went over there and gave our donation and she gave me four pineapples, and that was probably her food for a long time, and she had so many kids, and yet she wanted to give back."
Both Manningham and Stumph independently describe the Ugandan culture as "incredibly loving." Manningham, who had never before been abroad, says experiencing that kind of friendliness made her want to come back and share that attitude in the States.
Seeing both the culture and the living conditions in Uganda are what led Stumph to change his perspective on what he wanted for his birthday. He says the trip caused "a split within myself."
"It definitely made me think, `Why?' Like why, here, do we have basically whatever we want?" Stumph says. "Even the people who are poor here can get assistance. There, it's really sad to see some of the conditions that these people live in. We went to some of the houses in the village and they're basically just made of mud. It's very eye opening."
As individuals, the trip opened their eyes. As athletes, both Manningham and Stumph felt themselves going back to their roots.
"It made me realize what's really important as an athlete," Manningham says. "You kind of forget. Seeing how sports develop my character--I need to remember that. Because that's why we do them in the first place. This reminded me of that."
Stumph agrees, adding that after the opportunity of coaching Ugandan children, he now finds himself more coachable.
"Now, when my coach is telling me something, I really try to figure out different ways," he says. "I ask more questions of him now just to try to figure out exactly what he wants, and I think it's helped me a lot."
As Manningham says, the trip wasn't about changing the world--it was about changing individual lives. With that in mind, both student-athletes are eager to continue the experience in the future.
"We've been really gung-ho about wanting it to happen again," Manningham says. "Even if we don't go, we want other people to be able to experience what we did. We really would like to see a lasting impression. We don't want it to become a Notre Dame athlete trip to Uganda every summer--we want to be able to set up something where each year we go over and see progress. We'd love to see more organized sports within the culture and just getting them out there and actually doing tournaments or something like that. We really want to keep it going."
Power says that everyone on the trip has been grateful for the chance to transform his or her education into service, acting on Notre Dame's mission.
He says, "All of us found that the time we spent in Uganda changed our lives forever."
Stumph phrases it exactly the same way.
"I think it would be a really cool thing for Notre Dame to make it a tradition. I think they could expand it because so many people here are interested in sports. Doing it has changed my life, and I would want more people to have that opportunity."