Behind Dream 2014 and the 'Gift of Friendships'
Fields of Growth founder Kevin Dugan and associate director Aimee Dixon recently reflected on the journey that brought Uganda, the first African lacrosse team, to the FIL World Championship in Denver.
|Kevin Dugan, Fields of Growth|
On Aug. 5, 2011, on a dusty, sun scorched field in Uganda, I was officiating the first-ever organized lacrosse game in Uganda. Shortly after the opening faceoff, midfielder David Onen cut through the opposing defense, left his feet and dove down the alley to score the first official goal on African soil. This moment marked the realization of a dream to see organized lacrosse take root in Uganda.
Later that fateful day in 2011, as the sun was setting on the Ugandan capital of Kampala, young American and Ugandan lacrosse players were celebrating arm in arm, dancing and cheering after the conclusion of the historic event. Amidst all this excitement, Ugandan attackman Ibra Makanda started yelling, "What's the dream?" and drew a loud "2014!" from the crowd.
A shared dream between the world's biggest lacrosse community and the world's newest lacrosse community was born, a dream to bring Uganda to the 2014 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Championship in Denver.
Over the past five years, we have developed real and authentic relationships with the Ugandan lacrosse players. This dream was envisioned out of a desire to help our friends realize their dream. I am reminded of a quote from Thomas Merton: "Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone — we find it with another."
These words help to sum up the true gift the game of lacrosse and Team Uganda have given us: the gift of friendships.
Dreams can tie mankind together, but dreams also demand action. And that is where the inspiring story of the Dream 2014 Campaign, led by Aimee Dixon, begins. — K.D.
Dream: (noun, etc.) the visionary creation of the imagination; a strongly desired goal or purpose; a hope for something better, a future different from today.
On September 19, 2013, Fields of Growth International launched the initiative to bring Africa's first-ever team, Uganda, to compete at the 2014 FIL World Lacrosse Championship in Denver.
The ambitious initiative, titled "Dream 2014," aimed to combine sport with culture and education to promulgate the harmonious development of humankind.
The foundation of what would become the "Dream 2014" campaign began on Aug. 5, 2011, at the King's Cup tournament, Uganda's inaugural national lacrosse championship. The excitement of the upcoming world championship, even three years away, and the thrill of competing at the highest level captured and evoked a spirit of hope within the first generation of Ugandan lacrosse players.
Trial and Error
|Aimee Dixon, Fields of Growth|
I joined Fields of Growth International in winter 2013 as the associate director, and shortly thereafter moved to Uganda for six months. Fueled by my passion of using sport as a catalyst for international development, there was an intense excitement behind organizing and hosting the first-ever tryout and selection process for the Ugandan national team.
However, even after the selection process, evaluating 60 men ages 18 to 31, "Dream 2014" remained just that, a dream. It was an idea transmitted and fueled by the kinetic, shared love of the game. Eventually, the final squad of 24 was chosen.
We finally had a team. Now, they had to get to the United States.
The week following selections, I landed in Boston's Logan airport on Aug. 27, 2013, knowing one thing for sure: I had my work cut out for me. Within two weeks, the campaign developed a strategy for executing a successful five–month fundraising initiative with a target goal of $150,000, and laid out the framework for what was sure to be an arduous visa process.
What does it take to transport a native-based group of individuals to the United States, the country with the strictest visa regulations? An army of volunteers, unwavering resolve and refusal to take no for an answer.
Tangibly, it required the purchase of birth certificates, passports, visa fees, international and national flight expenditures, meals, lodging and individual player per diems.
The fundraising goal for "Dream 2014" was high, and so was the need for sacrifice to obtain it. The campaign operated on a 100-percent volunteer basis with individuals, interns and staff putting in more than 90 hours of work each week.
The fall of 2013 was challenging. By early November, the campaign was three months and $80,000 away from reaching the Feb. 1, 2014 deadline. A call to action was needed.
Incredible strides were made in those next three months. On Jan. 1, 2014, the America's Fastest Shot Contest took place around the country. Supported by 21 college lacrosse programs, the one-day event raised $21,598. Additionally, the $1 for Uganda mini-campaign received $7,000 in seven days, by issuing a challenge to the American lacrosse community.
In the final week, with $15,000 remaining between us and our goal, I traveled anywhere and everywhere between Boston and Baltimore, championing our cause to new donors and sponsors. I grew accustomed to taking all my meals to go and my meeting outfit became my everyday uniform. Every meeting was an opportunity.
Jumping the Hurdle
I frequently use the word "challenging" to describe the trials and tribulations of the campaign. A challenge can be mitigated and overcome. The visa process was exactly that: a challenge, and our largest one.
On April 1, 2014, I received notice that only seven of the team's 18 players would qualify for a standard non-immigrant visa.
The following month, three members of Congree went to bat for the team, and a pro-bono immigration attorney assisted in the filing of an I-129, a 100-page petition to the Department of Homeland Security asking for the team members' applications to be evaluated as a group. Though an approved petition would not grant the individual visas, it would drastically strengthen and help to legitimize the applications. On May 15, 2014, we received word that the DHS had approved the petition.
On June 17, Team Uganda arrived for individual interviews at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda. On July 2, the head coach of Team Uganda and a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Andrew Boston, met with embassy officials to combat the unofficially rejected application. On July 3, every player received visa approval and the entire team would travel to Denver.
Two days later,, the first African team to participate in the FIL World Championship departed Entebbe, Uganda, for Colorado and the United States.
Welcome to Denver
After months of hard work and overcoming many challenges, it was finally time for the dream to become a reality. I departed New York City by car and made the 30-hour trip to Denver in a day and a half. My exhaustion was outmatched by the realization that "Dream 2014" was coming true.
And the next 15 days were just that: a dream come true.
Team Uganda quickly became the belle of the ball much before the party began. The Cranes' spirit for life and competition was magnetic, leaving a lasting imprint on the local and international communities. — A.D.
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