Breaking Boundaries: Uganda Women’s Lacrosse Road to Worlds


Breaking Boundaries: Uganda Women’s Lacrosse Road to Worlds

PHOTO COURTESY OF KALI BILLS

This story originally appeared on behind the whistle, the official IWLCA blog, and is republished with permission. Kali Bills is the head coach of Adrian College and the Uganda Women’s National Team.

Greetings Lacrosse Family!

I write to you today with a joyful but heavy heart. How wonderful it has been to see decades of work for opportunity and equity for female athletes in sport come to fruition. Although we have a long way to go. Uganda and other African countries are decades behind when it comes to easy access to opportunities for girls and women in sport and in life.

In May 2021, I was blessed to be asked to coach the first ever Uganda Women’s National Team towards the Women’s World Lacrosse Championship and grow the game in Africa. Three out of four of our US staff are members of the IWLCA, and we became a quick family on our first trip to Kampala, Uganda for tryouts and team training camp.

When we arrived on the first day of tryouts, there were no clubs, no balls, no cones and no goats wandering our turf. To say it was different from what we are used to is an understatement.

Throughout the week I learned most of the stories from our athletes, some of which were really hard to hear. Some walked over an hour to and from the field just to experience the trials. Some ate their first meal in days during the trials. Cleats or ripped-bottom shoes were the norm on our dirt court, and the smiles and laughter were endless.

During the water breaks, we danced. The team tried to teach us a few phrases in Lugandan and we ate fruit that had fallen from the trees right on our field.

Mealtimes at camp were most rewarding as we began to learn more about our players, have conversations, break down cultural barriers, and learn more about their lives outside of lacrosse. It was really difficult to hear and fully understand the difficulties that these young women had to face at the beginning of their lives. Yet when they stepped onto the pitch, they played the game with such fierce passion that you would never know they were in pain, or what kind of situation they would be back in after the last whistle. I have never coached players who have played with such genuine joy.

As you may know, Uganda is a poor and stricken country. And we have an uphill battle to get our young women here to compete at the end of June. Just because we are a “national team” does NOT mean that we get all the bells and whistles, swag, basic equipment and budget that the general population would think of when hearing the title “national team”.

In Uganda, girls and women often lead difficult lives with few educational opportunities or experiences like this, to perform on a national stage. Because they are recognized as second-class citizens, there is really no way out of poverty. Brothers are more esteemed than sisters and usually chosen to be the school goers. On average, 30% of girls have the opportunity to complete secondary education and go to university. Those without the finances or the privilege to complete high school are forced into early marriages to provide for their poor families.

So why is this team and its mission to reach the world championship so important? This opportunity will change the future of these 18 women for the better and show Ugandan girls and women what they can achieve through sport.

The Uganda Lacrosse Association, a member of World Lacrosse, sent two men’s teams to world competitions. This team will be the first senior women’s team from an African nation to compete in the world championships. The first one! Not only that, but it now paves the way for the game’s continued growth in Uganda and strengthens the chances of women’s lacrosse being included in the 2028 Olympics. It’s history in the making, and I’m honored to be part of it.

Most of our team are under 20, and this opportunity to perform on the biggest stage our sport has to offer would be, in its truest essence, life changing. This will undoubtedly change the trajectory of these young women’s lives for the better. This team has so much talent, love, energy and passion, and this experience can really open doors for them when we bring it to life.

But we need your help. Help us grow the game, empower girls and women, and make history with us. Here are two ways to help:

Editor’s Note: The IWLCA is collecting information from teams that are currently fundraising to cover the cost of participating in the 2022 Women’s World Championship this summer and will share this information with our members and post it on its website. If you would like to financially support Uganda Lacrosse, or any other team, information and links to donate will be available on the IWLCA website from April 25, 2022..