Why the heartbreak of Humboldt is touching teenagers in Uganda

When word of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident reached Jinja, Uganda, there was profound sadness at the St. James Orthopedic Clinic and among the young patients it has helped over the past five years.

Viral photo of Ugandan child showing support for Broncos is because of little-known charity

Sadam Lukwago, 13, travelled an hour from his home in Njeru, Uganda, to get his photo taken showing support for the people of Humboldt, Sask. (One4Another International)

When word of the Humboldt Broncos bus accident reached Jinja, Uganda, there was profound sadness at the St. James Orthopedic Clinic and among the hundreds of young patients it has helped over the past five years.

The clinic is a partner with One4Another International, a Canadian-based charity that helps children with birth defects or injuries get on their feet, sometimes for the first time.

The charity is supported almost entirely by young Canadian hockey players through about 25 hockey programs, primarily in Ontario.

But it does more than raise money for surgery — it also connects young Canadians with the Ugandan youth they are helping through letters, videos and gift exchanges.

That way, Ugandan children feel a connection with the Canadian teams, and the players in this country get to know the children they are helping in Africa.
Children helped by One4Another recover at the health centre in Jinja. (One4Another)

That's why 13-year-old Sadam Lukwago felt compelled to throw on his Oakville Rangers jersey on Thursday, and travel an hour from his home in Njeru to the charity's headquarters in Jinja to hold up a sign of support for the people of Humboldt.

"He came wearing his jersey, his pants, his crocs which were also sent and was more than happy to be the one to send the message on behalf of all the other 18th kids," Glenn Pascoe, founder of the charity, says of the boy in a photo that has since gone viral in Canada.

Eighteenth kids refers to the program that connected Ontario's Oakville Rangers organization to Lukwago, and made him the honorary 18th member of the team.

The boy in the photo

Lukwago was born with a club foot that made it difficult for him to get around, go to school, or even dream of a better future. In the corner of Uganda where he was born, there are few prospects for disabled children such as himself.
Sadam Lukwago, before and after surgery to correct his club foot. (One4Another)

Pascoe describes him as a shy and quiet boy whose life has changed remarkably since getting surgery to repair his foot last November. The combination of his immobility and his family's lack of financial resources meant Lukwago could rarely attend school. Now 13, he's only in Grade 4. But through the support of the charity and the Rangers players, he's now able to begin pursuing his dreams.

"We asked him the other day what he's hoping to do with his life and right away he just said, 'I want to be a mechanic for phones and computers, electronics,' and he said, 'I want to run my own business.'"

Lifetime connections for Canadian kids

Shannon Ritchie's sons Calum, 13, and Ethan, 15, have both helped raise money for children in Uganda through their association with the Oakville Rangers organization.

"I think it's given them a greater appreciation for what they have and that there are people in this world who just based on where they're born and their circumstance are in a much more difficult, challenging situation," she says.

Each year, the boys raise about $70 apiece through bottle drives and other fundraisers to help pay for the surgeries. Ritchie says a key difference is they get to know the children they are helping.

"You see the immediate impact of the money that the boys raise," she says. "We actually exchange, there's YouTube videos and there's correspondence between, so we actually see the progress that the little boy makes, or the little girl, because there's also little girls who have been sponsored. 
Calum and Ethan Ritchie have created lasting connections by raising money to help support surgeries for children in Uganda. (Shannon Ritchie)

"You actually see them immediately after surgery and then through the recovery process."

Ritchie believes her sons are better people because of their participation in the program.

How hockey connected with a clinic in Jinja

Glenn Pascoe has worked as a hospital chaplain and in homeless shelters, but in doing relief work in Uganda, he found his niche.

"We were so moved by the circumstances of the families in Uganda who couldn't get surgical care for their children, we decided to start fundraising for one child at a time and then using local Ugandan surgeons for the operations."
Glenn Pascoe leads One4Another International, which helps children in Uganda get much-needed surgery. (One4Another International)
But he quickly found allies in the hockey community and six surgeries in 2012 swelled to 260 last year. Pascoe's organization hopes to assist more than 300 children this year.

The support of hockey teams, and the connections between the players and the children they help has also created something of a hockey culture in the towns and villages near Jinja a city of 73,000 in southeastern Uganda.

In a culture where soccer is the dominant sport, and ice is a relative unknown, street hockey with mini-sticks is gaining a foothold among youth. There's also great admiration and respect for the Canadians who lace up their skates and play a sport that was once unknown to many in Africa.

So when tragedy struck Canada's hockey community last week, the people of Jinja joined in the grief.


Terry Reith

Network News Producer

Terry Reith is CBC's network news producer based in Edmonton. He's also served as the network's medical reporter, and senior writer for the consumer section of cbc.ca. Reith joined the CBC in 1992 as a local radio and television reporter.