By Brooke Stern, S.O.U.L. Foundation Co-Founder and CEO
As International Women’s day approached this year, I wanted to do something for the women of Bujagali Falls. I could not let this day go by without recognizing the incredible women of this village- it’s all about the women, the women are the backbone of society and they are what makes the village run.
S.O.U.L. supports over 250 women in the Bujagali Falls area. The day before Women’s Day, we had 54 women at our tailoring meeting and I announced the idea of having a women’s netball tournament. The idea of having a sports tournament just hit me and I knew that it was the right way to celebrate the women in our community. I wanted to do something different and give them a chance to take time off, time when they didn’t have to think about their kids or cooking or cleaning. These women range from 20 to 75 years old, all with different skills, some with 2 babies, some with 11 or even 12. They are women who cook and clean and wash and learn new skills with S.O.U.L. all day long and they never get to express their inner child and just have fun! So I said, “what do you guys think of having a netball tournament?” They screamed and yelled and chanted and danced in approval, so I said, “It’s on!”
I wasn’t sure if we would have a great turnout or not, but as soon as 3 o’ clock came around women started arriving in packs. Since S.O.U.L. Foundation has been in the village, women here have learned to work together. They used to garden alone, wash their clothes alone- caught in a survival of the fittest mentality. Now they all do things together. Because our programs really focus on teamwork, they have realized that more people are better than one and that they can go to their friends for help and support.
We prepared the nets and the chalk on the field and as we did this, 50…60…70… 80 women showed up along with hundreds of kids. Then the elders started coming, saying, ‘I’m here to watch the netball tournament!’ Even people at the river were talking about it, it was the biggest thing in Bujagali and the women were so proud, saying, “yes! Today is our day!” I made a speech talking about how important it is that the women know how important they are and feel empowered and feel respected and know the importance of their role in society. That was the focus of the day and the women came and we had three and a half hours of the most incredible netball and football games EVER!
The women were on the ground dodging balls, screaming, chanting, keeping score and fighting over points and I could tell it was such a needed escape for them. Afterwards we brought out cookies and juice and the women didn’t expect anything, they thought it was just the game, so they felt even more special. I just wanted to keep doing more for the women, so I went in my donation pile and brought out everything I had. I called each woman by name and each one came up to get a shirt, or a skirt or a purse. When the women accepted their gifts they put them on and danced and serenaded the group. Some of the women made speeches about what the day had meant to them, how it was the best day of their life and it had changed the way the see themselves. I could really tell how S.O.U.L. Foundation has had an impact on their lives and made them feel empowered and given them skills so they don’t have to rely on their husbands, and they understood that it was their day, and not only on International Women’s day, they are now empowered to feel like they are in control of every day and in control of their own lives. It was a great day, and a truly incredible experience.