I am called Grace Ayaa and I am the director of Chrysalis, taking care of activities , general development and expansion in Northern Uganda .Many might have heard about the hard conditions of all the children up north who are just recovering from the past war and no one would have thought that board games would be something that the kids would even think of as something they could embrace, but surprisingly it has been far from that. I personally have grown to love the games so much; it has been a way of spending time learning and teaching the kids at the same time, and getting to know their different abilities. There have been kids who we thought were not at all academically bright, but when it comes to games, they are so excited and takes them few hours to perfectly play the games; they get that feeling of “There is something I can really do very well”, so I would say that the introduction of these games has made the kids feel so empowered and able to interact with each other more freely, thus the need for us to make this games go to the most remote areas of Northern Uganda and later to the rest of the country. It is one approach that could even be embraced by the authorities to help integrate the otherwise most remote kids who do not have the opportunity to enjoy many activities, as other children do.
A few years ago we opened a centre in Koro, near Gulu, a large town in Northern Uganda. We started a small board games club by working with our own members who stay very close to our centre and the result was very promising; lots of kids, even those from nearby villages kept increasing by the day, so there came the idea of inviting most of them for the convention and the result was that I had to use a lot of tricks to keep some of them out because the numbers were becoming alarming!! It has been very challenging putting all these together, since it involved myself learning the games first before I can teach them to play myself, and I was also reliant on my colleague Ben who is usually based in the Kampala office or when he comes to Gulu for his field work, we then sit together for a few hours when he teaches me two or three new games. Of course it’s not that easy always, but then there are also particular ones that are my favorites that I took to very quickly. I particularly loved Thurn and Taxi, which I really would like all of our clubs to have a copy, since we have only one. Planning ahead even for your next route is something that stimulates strategic thinking, even for kids who have never before played any board games.That is the part I really love most ,it also turned out that there are lots of kids out there that only need this kind of intervention for them to be aware that they are also capable and useful to the world. This gives them lots of encouragement and hope!
In March this year we went further into many more districts of northern Uganda. Now we have clubs in ; Agago(2 clubs) Lira(2 clubs) , Gulu (2 clubs), Omoro, Nwoya, Koro our center and Koro Abili clubs. Some of these are really in very remote areas and am so happy that we got this started in those places, as this has brought a lot of enthusiasm to the kids to the communities as a whole, you can see some of the parents coming around to watch what their kids are doing and others of course want to try them out. A lot more have helped us rejuvenate the traditional games that the kids obviously did not know and there has never been any better avenue to get such things done and we are proud to have provided that avenue! Many have learned to play omweso, by introducing the international board gamesand yet this is a game that originates from here – the kids were so motivated that they didn’t even wait to have the boards specially made, they all started making holes in the ground and using such local seeds or small stones. Some adults who visited us while we were playing, also taught a few old games that some of them embraced immediately. The Omweso is what we did for the competition during the 2018 Convention alongside Molerats in Space and Dragon & Flagon, and prizes were given out particularly for these games.
We also have a toddler’s games club with members from our Little Butterflies Nursery School and the other younger kids from around the center who cannot be part of the major teams.They have been doing very well. We just started with just a few very simple games, but these have been really successful, so we plan to expand the number very soon at the request of the nursery teachers who are the ones in charge of this particular area. I would also like to see us expanding working with these younger children, yet we have too few games to handle the influx of the young ones who are not old enough to be club members and yet they keep coming everyday that we are there.
Then came the very popular Uganda Village Boardgame Convention 2018 at the Chrysalis Centre, Koro which, for a whole month everyone was looking forward to! For those who were there last year and knew what would take place there, it was yet another upcoming excitement, and for the new ones, it was a great adventure to look forward to! Lots of preparations for our part started at least a week before the D-day, things like organisation of transport from the different areas, purchase of furniture. and so on . We initially were preparing for around 127 people in total though, we ended up with about 165 , with a bit more on some days when local kids would join, either to watch the others play or meet the “visitors”. Looks like everything was well with the beddings, foods and the games itself and we are going to turn the bedding mats into play mats for board games, as it will mean less need for tables. Some people were a bit nervous about the games which were set for the competition and others were just okay, but with time in the Convention to practise, most succeeded. We discovered later how these games have helped all the different teams gain confidence in themselves. Generally I feel that we have achieved the goal that was intended for the Village Board Game Convention. The first Convention in 2017 was also a great success and at the time we thought i would be hard to better. However this year we had many more children from much further afield from almost all over the Northern region, thus we would say we are now ready to host even a bigger number in 2019. However, this however entails a lot of additional planning. We shall need to put up a few more structures especially the sleeping areas, we had quite a bit challenge in finding everyone a space to sleep and also the it would be very helpful if we had bunk beds and mattresses, which would possibly take up less space. Next year, those that come will be even more experienced at playing games and we can do an even better job.
Despite all these few challenges, we achieved our objective, because you could see that even those from the most remote parts were able to be friends from each other and learn to be team mates. All this we attribute to the games and we hope that we shall continue to reach more and more remote areas, thus empowering and helping children realize their potentials in different fields other than what they learn at school.
With all this in mind, we wish to cover the whole of northern region this year, including the districts of Kitgum, Amuru, Oyam, Kole , Lamwo, Apac, Dokolo Otuke . We also had hope that we would continue helping the existing games groups with the new games that they won at the Convention, because some are still new to them and they need ttraining. All in all, we need to have a continuity in all these areas, new games for them to learn and new opportunities to meet fellow gamers. The sky is the limit for us with the games!
We do need your support to develop this project further and have more than 50 games that we are ready to transport to Uganda, though we still need more games donations. If you would like to support the Ugandan team directly, then please click here