What started out as a three-week Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer assignment in July 2002 has led to a robust Little League program where the crack of the bat was seldom before heard—in Uganda.
Richard Stanley’s baseball roots were obvious when he arrived in the central African nation and began handing out ball caps to project beneficiaries. As part owner of the AAA Trenton (N.J.) Thunder, Stanley lives and breathes the sport. Further, he believes it can make a difference in children’s lives.
After spending 23 years at Proctor & Gamble in edible oil processing, Stanley has completed seven ACDI/VOCA volunteer assignments since 2001 in Bulgaria, Ukraine, Thailand and Uganda. During a 2002 stint in Uganda he helped cottage-level oil processors better compete in the market.
On his last day there he met Christopher Gashirabake, a Ministry of Justice official. It turns out Stanley’s reputation had preceded him from the weekend softball games he had been playing with U.S. embassy and USAID employees. Before he left for the airport Stanley found himself promising Gashirabake to help start up Little League in Uganda.
Upon returning to the U.S. Stanley solicited support from Little League International and Major League Baseball. Those organizations responded with donations of enough equipment to start a league. Richard then contacted Francis Wafula at the Ugandan Mission to the UN to clear the way for shipments of the equipment by late June 2003.
The ACDI/VOCA office in Kampala and Mr. Gashirabake helped at the Uganda end, as did U.S. Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, who troubleshot customs and tariff issues. Pick-up games among the Americans in Kampala had generated interest among some young locals and provided a rudimentary farm system, with the ambassador himself serving as a top scout. Newly hired Uganda Little League Country Director Priscilla Nakabuuka, contacted schools to recruit more players, as well as trainers and coaches, and by fall 2003 the cry of “play ball!” was routinely heard in Uganda.
Ambassador Kolker said, "Richard faced a huge challenge in Uganda. No authorities in Uganda knew or cared anything about baseball. Some of the early fields gave 'sandlot' a whole new meaning.”
Continuing steady donations of equipment from Little League and Major League Baseball have allowed 25 leagues to be formed that serve 15,000 children. This includes baseball and softball for boys and girls ages 6–18.
In 2006 Major League Baseball, stepped up to the plate, and gave Uganda Little League Baseball an additional $15,000 to help level fields and install backstops.
In summer 2008, for the first time in 68 years of Little League Baseball, an African team traveled to Europe for a regional tournament. The closest one is in Europe, since no African facility is large enough. Local teams pay their way to regional tournaments, but the winners are brought to the annual U.S. tournament in August courtesy of Little League International. With an average Ugandan schoolteacher’s salary at $200 per month, it is understandable why African teams had not ventured to the European tournament. Stanley saw this as a challenge, not a roadblock, and proceeded to clear the way for change.
His most recent donation provides for the purchase of 40 acres near Kampala on which a baseball complex of at least six fields will be built. It will include a boarding school whose dorms can house visiting teams during national and international tournaments.
As a philanthropist Stanley is a consistent, long hitter. Last month he made his 18th personally funded trip to Uganda to further this project. He said, “Our next step is to work towards getting sports programs established in every school district in Uganda!”
Ambassador Kolker observed, “In the literature, Richard Stanley qualifies as a social entrepreneur. To me, he is someone who would never take 'no' for an answer. His dream became an obsession which became a plan and finally a result."
Learn more about Uganda Little League Baseball by visiting www.ugandalittleleaguebaseball.org.
For more information about ACDI/VOCA's volunteer programs, click here.