Why the heartbreak of Humboldt is touching teenagers in Uganda
Viral photo of Ugandan child showing support for Broncos is because of little-known charity
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'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
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 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.
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.