Lacrosse at the Butula Hekima Academy Kenya, Africa: A Photo Essay

"All right here we go!" Ryan exclaimed, I started the engine and we started roaring our way through Nairobi. Patiently, Ryan Rabidou and Danielle Visco waited by eating fresh samosas to pass the time for my 10:30am arrival. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the Butula Hekima Academy to start a youth lacrosse program.  

Through winding roads full of pressing oncoming traffic, big black bellowing puffs of smoke coming from the tired old truck in front of us and the bike lane being used by people simply walking to where they need to get to, throw in a British influence of driving on the right side of the road, we careened our way through hours of reggae African radio and potholes to arrive the following morning, bright eyed and full of stoke. I couldn't believe how beautiful the school was, it a few hundred yards set off the main road flanked by tall green trees and lush gardens and farms that ushered a feel more sought of a jungle than rural Africa, this was new to me indeed.  

Almost immediately, we began getting our hands dirty by building our lacrosse goals. Bob had quickly introduced himself, a tall, soft speaking, authority bearing man who wore more of an island outfit of flowy off-white pants with sandals than the conservative image of an African school director. A crowd of students surround us and just stare, about 50 of them, wondering "Who are these people? what are they doing with those big nets?" I couldn't of blamed them... we were banging nails into big pieces of wood formed from a cut down tree that Bob commissioned the week before. More students gathered and became interested, they helped to lace the nets and within hours we had two full size, 6x6 working lacrosse goals, success! The rest of the day was filled with relaxation, and orientation.    

Tuesday we woke to a bright sun beating down on us peering into the window, I can't sleep too well, awake at 5am. I quickly jotted down in my journal and began thinking about our practice plan today. Ryan, Danielle, and I had sat down with Bob the night before to go over a lacrosse schedule, and worked out four sessions that would work best for the students considering they have multiple short and long breaks throughout the school day allowing them to run free and swarm the lacrosse the field (which was shared with the grazing school cows and chickens in the early morning and late evening).  

Our typical day looked like this, Session 1: 9-9:40am, Session 2: 10:20 - 11am, Session 3: 12-12:40pm, Session 4: 3:30 - 4:30pm. We stood outside in the field, under the sun, holding our lacrosse sticks, Danielle her camera, looking around wondering, "Okay so what now?" A weird feeling came over me... all the sudden we were ready to do what we set out to, on the precipice of actually teaching African students the game of lacrosse, 9:05am nobody out here, 9:10am still nobody, we just stood around with big grins and jumpy feet.  All the sudden about 30 students run for their lives out onto the field yelling and screaming, it was Class 3, 8/9 year olds.

The session goes great! We hand our their practice jerseys donated from UN1TUS in Ohio, and pull our our lacrosse sticks donated from LacrosseUnlimited in New York and balls from SlingItLacrosse in San Francisco.  The introductions start furiously with Ryan and I asking the hard questions like "HOW OLD ARE YOU", "ARE YOU READY?!?", "THIS IS LACROSSE!". We were excited to get rolling and the kids shared the same enthusiasm eager to learn but they were still in shock seeing us and what lacrosse actually was. From here, Ryan and I demonstrated passing the ball and the proper motion, catching, and moving with the stick, this alone would take some time.   

The session was almost done and before we knew it we quickly jumped into some cradling technique and the kids loved it, like they were rocking a baby which some of them were certainly used to. Time expired and they had to get back to class, they gave the jerseys up for the next class and ran away with big smiles on their faces. They were the first class to be introduced to lacrosse and were so excited about it. The rest of the day we went on to teach the next three sessions with similar plans, learning about passing and catching, the parts of the stick, and cradling technique working our way up from Class 3 to Class 5. 

Our last session of the day included the Class 7 and Class 8 students with an addition of Markvivan and Victor, two boys in younger classes who we discovered after a few practices and they quickly picked up the game standing out, with one girl named Masai as well from a younger class. This group for the last session was our leaders group, made up of the oldest students from the school of whom we would dedicate this last session to everyday to help develop and train who will be a role model for the younger students to watch and learn from. Our practices with this group were incredibly productive as we built up from catching and passing to 2 on 1 ground ball drills, shooting drills, and furious games of steal the bacon which we dubbed "steal the sugar" considering the local area is known in Kenya for its sugar plantations.

The days and nights followed along with a weather pattern that decided to cooperate with us for the week, offering blistering hot mornings along with mild humidity and cool cloudy afternoons, giving us just enough time to squeeze in our last session. Evenings it rained, nearly every day around the same time, 5-6pm. Practices continued and we cycled through all the classes of students, 8 of them in all, from students aged 5 to 15. The youngest classes were especially fun, getting their jerseys and learning to pass/cradle. They actually picked it up quite well amongst others, and were a joy to be around. 

By Friday, we had taught lacrosse for 5 consecutive days, putting in over 30+ hours of lacrosse time with the students in and out of the sessions, and leaving our equipment so that during their own school breaks they could come and play with the sticks. Ryan noticed that a growing number of the students kept getting better day by day just from them spending their spare time throwing around during breaks and after school.  It was working, the students were really getting into this sport and were hungry for more.  

Then came Saturday, the big day.  From the onset, Kids Lacrosse The World planned on holding a Lacrosse: Family Festival & Friends event which would include fun/games, lacrosse, and an appreciation meal with an anticipated number of 40-60 people. The event turned out for the better to be bigger, much bigger in scale with so much more. We had 300-400 people attend the event, including school students and parents. Many of the teachers made it out to join us for the festivities and we all had a terrific time. With the increase in people to feed, we ended up making massive amounts of stew, chicken, veggies, rice, and juice.  All in all, we fed close to 300 mouths. The event was wildly successful with nearly every school student showing up, and about 100 parents dawned in their weekend best to come watch the event and learn about lacrosse.  Our resident DJ Alvin was there (one of the school teachers) with his MC set up, playing tunes that would move and groove everyone all day.  Ryan, Danielle and I set the stage by introducing ourselves and who we are, along with what we were doing there in Butula.


Once the setup was complete, we decided to warm up and start the festival with a wild game of limbo, the students had never played before but loved it. They were killing it! Ryan and a few teachers coordinated the game to get things started. 

The activities included ground ball battles and a relay competition that included a ball scoop, run to other goal and touch it, cradling, coming back and shooting on the original goal and leaving the ball for the next student. Ground ball battles were done on both ends of the field combining the older students in one section, and the younger together in another.  

Then came the dancing. After a brief break, Ryan put on his iPhone containing the all important songs "Electric Slide" and "Cupid Shuffle" which we put on blast, dancing in front of the students singing and dancing showing them the moves. They quickly grabbed onto the vocals and were moving along with the shuffle, over a hundred of them, smiles everywhere.   

Another break ensued, and we collectively caught our breath, panting in the midday sun, today had been particularly hot and we still had the main event to go, our lacrosse demonstration. Without any lines on our field and our sidelines taken up by onlookers and parents with tables/chairs we decided to play "steal the sugar".

 It was intense and the students didn't want to disappoint, with the two teams divided up and ready for battle.  One side represented the ThunderRidge Highschool team from Denver, Colorado with their donated home white game jerseys, and the other side the UN1TUS away dark game jerseys.  The game got off with the away team going up 3-0, but the home team would bring the tally to 4-2 in a matter of minutes. With the parents seeing the sport for the firs time as well as other community members, it was a crucial time for us, the students, and the school. The game went on, and the score hit 6-3, I walked out onto the middle of the field and announced that the next goal would win no matter what, we were running out of time.  In a matter of seconds, behind Ryan's pump up rally with the Away team, they took the ball down and scored on a odd man situation, victory! The crowd roared and parents applauded.  Ryan sprinted out onto the field and joined the massive celebration his team was having, while mine had just lost, with our heads still held high. The teachers clapped and were happy to see the younger students so into the game and rally around their older peers, looking on and rooting for the teams. Suddenly, the students of the Butula Hekima Academy had truly come together for the first time.  

Lastly, we closed out the festival with awards. We gave away an offensive MVP, defensive MVP, most improved player, and the heart of the lion award (leadership). We also gave our donated InsideLacrosse t-shirts to all the teachers for their continued commitment all week to help us run a success lacrosse program and to show our appreciation for what they do outside of lacrosse, they loved their shirts! As well, the eldest students from our last session and teachers all received certificates of recognition for participating in the lacrosse program throughout of week. 

The final awards were given and there was silence, then a drum started playing. On the far side of the field from Ryan, Danielle, and I, a group of students began to dance, with the lead girl in front beautifully singing.  A fellow teacher next to us told to take a seat, they grabbed the microphone and it was the first time we sat down all day.  The next 45 minutes took my breath away as the group of students began slowly making there way towards us when suddenly they were right in front of us.  The parents become excited and students cheered, the girls sang an appreciation song which went on for roughly twenty minutes. The heat hit my face and all I could do was stand up and think about the culmination of this entire week, it hit me in this moment. I started to get emotional and couldn't believe that we had pulled this off and brought together this school. The girls continue to sing and dance, with little english words dispersed randomly throughout the chorus "thank you again, we are going to miss you". This was their way of honoring us and thanking us for everything we did, this meant a lot to us.


Afterwards the festival was over. We hung with the students, played, sang, danced, and took photos with some parents.

This family festival day was an incredible ending to our program, and one we will never forget. Kids Lacrosse The World plans to continue this tradition, as well as the Busia Lacrosse Club at the Butula Hekima School. Throughout the week, we taught lacrosse to 200+ students and affected so many more. The students taught us all how to make the most of the days we are given. There relentless joy was contagious and I can't wait to make it back to Kenya to work with these terrific kids. Kenya Lacrosse is on the rise!


Thank you to Danielle Visco of LuvLens for all photos.