By Cassie Logan | @c4ssielogan
ARLINGTON, Texas – UT Arlington student-athletes Simba Walker-Williams and Martin Lopez are setting out to experience something bigger than themselves.
The UTA SAAC members are shifting focus away from their athletic and academic careers into an opportunity to give back and absorb a culture far different from the United States. From May 20 to June 5, Walker-Williams, Lopez and Tim Kennedy, UTA Athletics student development specialist and SAAC advisor, will volunteer with the Musana Community Development Organization in Iganga, Uganda. Kennedy will be returning to Africa for the fifth time.
"It's hard for student-athletes to do anything abroad because they're constantly either in season or offseason," Kennedy said. "It's always been a dream and desire of mine to take student-athletes to a developing country and to expose them to what life is like outside of the United States.
"It's a great opportunity for our student-athletes, not only to have an impact on our community of Arlington and on campus, but also globally, and to be able to take the UTA SAAC brand to another country."
In 2008, three female college students from Boulder, Colorado volunteered at an Igangan orphanage that housed 162 starving, uneducated and unloved children ranging from ages 4-14. Many suffered from untreated bacterial infections and malaria due to unsanitary conditions, and received one meal a day that consisted of ground corn meal and water. They were all squeezed into three small rooms without beds or blankets to sleep on, each covered in mud and sometimes rats when it rained.
As the children wore scars of physical and emotional abuse on their faces, the volunteers were inspired to start their own orphanage called Musana Children's Home. Musana means "sunshine" in the local language.
By September, the organization was established and relocated 80 of those 162 children into a place they could call home, with medical care, education and proper nutrition.
The desire to become a self-sustaining social business rather than a charity led to changing the home's name to Musana Community Development Organization. The community now employs more than 70 Ugandans who maintain Musana's Nursery and Primary School, dairy farm, café and health center.
While in Iganga, Kennedy, Walker-Williams and Lopez will serve the community by working at the health center, farm and bakery, as well as participating in games and activities with the kids at the children's home. It's also a way to branch the UTA SAAC brand, not just through Arlington, but globally.
Lopez, a freshman cross-country runner, is grateful for the chance to experience the world outside of the USA so early in his collegiate career, and is eager to share his serving heart with a country in need.
"I'm pretty excited, especially because it's my freshman year and it's adding to my college experience," Lopez said. "[Kennedy] has really instilled a motive in us that the trip is for us to go and serve and that's what I'm really looking forward to. It's going to be a nice time and helping the community of Iganga is our main purpose."
By supplying Ugandans with the tools and skills needed to be economically and socially independent, the country and its city of Iganga will soon hope to reverse the cultural normalcy and pass down these teachings to future generations.
Walker-Williams described the trip as a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness lives less fortunate than those who have the ability to get an education and have roofs over their heads. The SAAC Team Community Captain and cross-country runner learned to adapt to various environments at a young age, when his mom sent him to camps across the country. The senior is preparing for the trip with an open mind and open arms.
"As a kid, my mom sent me across the country for camps and that really opened me up and allowed me to get comfortable with different people I didn't know," Walker-Williams said. "When [Tim Kennedy] presented the opportunity, it wasn't hard for me to say yes."
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