Carrie Barker stepped off the plane in Kampala, Uganda, and immediately was overwhelmed by the heat. She didn't let the climate get to her though, as she was determined to do what she had gone there to do.
When Barker, the Northern Illinois women’s soccer coach, received a call from the founder of International Sport Connection, Jens Omli, to travel to Uganda to train 180 African soccer coaches, she realized that that was her chance to not only see a different part of the world, but also to make an impact on the youth of Africa.
With Omli, Barker made the trip to Uganda, alongside coaches Michael Giuliano from Wheaton College, Lisa Berg from Arkansas State, Diane Wiese Bjornstal and Stacy Ingraham from the University of Minnesota and Ian Barker from Macalester College.
All seven coaches traveled to the equatorial country in an effort to help 180 African soccer coaches obtain their U.S. Soccer E-Licenses and their International Sport Connection coach certifications, in hopes that they would go back with the knowledge to coach their children.
"We didn't want to go there for four or five days and then leave," Barker said. "We wanted the coaches to go back and teach the kids."
Barker, who was born in Bogota, Columbia, has visited countries throughout the world including Denmark, Italy, Germany and many more, but said that traveling to Uganda was new territory for her.
“I have never been to Africa,” Barker said. “It is a beautiful country with beautiful people.”
Barker noted that she was shocked by what she saw from the people of Uganda and how the simplest of things can mean the world to such a large group of people.
“The people live very simple lives. They have such an abundance of energy. It is very simple,” she said. “A soccer ball is an extremely important part of their lives.”
The people weren’t the only thing Barker was surprised at however. She got a literal taste of the culture, as well.
“I ate their food,” Barker said. “Africans love fruit and I absolutely fell in love with it. I fell in love with the sugar cane. I ate it and the passion fruit every day.”
When she wasn't getting in touch with the culture, Barker spent most of her time working with the coaches, putting in six hours of her day on the soccer field.
While there, Barker got a clear sense of the determination of the people who live their lives trying not only to survive, but to help their youth succeed through one of the only ways they know how – playing soccer.
“They have so much passion and energy. It was a very colorful group,” Barker said of the 180 candidates. “Those coaches were looking to impact the children. The coaches wanted to go back and teach the kids. And we know that they are going to go back to their communities and make a difference.”
Having all the coaches go back and teach their children was Barker's hopes all along. It seemed fairly easy for the former soccer player turned coach, except the process might have been tougher had it not been for the easy comprehension of the game.
“Soccer is a very simple sport," Barker said. “It’s not a complex formula.”
Barker believes she left Uganda having made an impact on many people in need, though the coaches weren't the only ones who walked away with newly gained knowledge. Barker said it was more of a mutual experience.
"We learned from them, and they learned from us," she said.
Barker made many friends during her visit and plans to stay in touch with every last one of them, even though she may see them again soon to finish what she started.
"We made friends for a life. We exchanged e-mails," Barker said. "But I'm looking to go back next year as well and make it even better."