Sophomore Dougie Barnard volunteered in Uganda this summer, teaching tennis to local citizens.

Family Connection Leads Barnard To Offer A Hand In Uganda

Oct. 16, 2012

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Story Written By Notre Dame Senior And Media Relations Student Worker Lauren Chval.

NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Sophomore Dougie Barnard is soft spoken and humble. As a member of the Fighting Irish men’s tennis team, he will be competing in the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional Championships this weekend. Just a few short weekends ago, however, he could be found at the Martin Luther King Center, playing flag football with the kids of South Bend in the Irish Experience League.

It’s not a surprise to see Barnard volunteering his time to play sports with kids. This past summer, the tennis player spent two weeks with other student-athletes in Uganda teaching African children about the potential of sports.

“The trip was about sports and development,” Barnard explains. “About how sports can develop character and create a future for you. It can forge opportunities. We also stressed that sports are for boys and girls, and girls should feel empowered by sports.”

Barnard’s humility is apparent as he starts to talk about this trip. He wants to make it clear that it wasn’t just him on this trip–it was many other students, it was the professors who came along to do research, it was the office of Student Welfare and Development that organized the trip.

But truthfully, Barnard deserves to be proud of his contributions. This is not his first trip to Africa, or even his second. Barnard’s history with Africa is long and rich, and it is perhaps that history that gives him such a heart for the kids he has spent time with.

Barnard’s family participated in foster care for a few years when he was a child. They were in the process of adopting their most recent foster child when the little girl’s father came and took her from the family. Barnard describes the situation as “heartbreak for our family.” Shortly after, his mother Rene went with her cousin on a trip to Kenya to look for an orphanage to sponsor.

“It was on that trip that my mom met a baby girl and fell in love with her and decided to adopt her,” Barnard remembers with a smile. “So she lived in Kenya for seven months to adopt Eva.”

Eva joined the Barnard family in 2005 and marked the beginning of their relationship with Kenya. In 2006, Barnard made a trip to Kenya himself with his father and older sister. During those two weeks, they were able to visit the orphanage that Eva was adopted from. The family visited Kenya again in 2010, and in 2011, Barnard’s high school sponsored an educational trip to the African country.

Upon his return from his third trip to Kenya, Barnard established a “Kenya Club” in his high school. It is safe to say that the student-athlete entered Notre Dame with plenty of experience and knowledge of Africa. This passion called to him again as a freshman in a Peace Studies course.

“This past year, in my Peace Studies course, we decided to pick a country to focus on,” Barnard recalls. “I voted on Uganda, I’m not really sure why–I knew that it bordered Kenya and there was something going on with the LRA.”

During the class, Barnard began to educate himself on Uganda. In the middle of the semester, he received word that Student Welfare and Development was coincidentally sponsoring a trip to Uganda over the summer.

“There was just so much excitement about Uganda that entire semester,” Barnard says, “and knowing that I was going to be visiting Uganda as soon as the semester ended made me even more eager to learn everything I could about Uganda.”

Barnard and the other student-athletes traveled to villages and schools in the country in order to teach children what is called the “Play Like a Champion Today Initiative.” Each child–particularly in grades fifth through eighth–received a booklet that the athletes taught to their class.

“We would go through one page at a time together,” Barnard explains. “We could be talking about, for example, sports and how to be a champion. To be a champion, you don’t need to win the game. How you can be a champion by treating the officials with respect, by treating your opponents with respect, and by being a team player.”

Barnard was also able to build relationships with Ugandan children during his time there. The child that stands out most in his mind is a thirteen-year-old named Eddie. Barnard describes him as being incredibly attentive and inquisitive during the lesson. Later in the day, when the kids came to their guesthouse to hang out, Barnard says he learned that Eddie had been orphaned in 2002 and had grown up in the care of his aunt.

“I asked him what he wanted to do when he got older, because I could tell he was a good student,” Barnard remembers. “And he said that he wanted to be a priest. I said, `Wow, that’s really cool. Why?’ And he said, `Because I want to serve God.’ That’s so amazing for a thirteen-year-old.”

Travelling to Africa does not seem to be losing its draw for Barnard. Indeed, this fourth trip has only served to inspire him more. Barnard plans–within the community developed among the student-athletes who made the trip together–to carry on fostering service in African countries.

“The hope is to continue what we started,” he says. “And give this opportunity that we had to future Notre Dame students.”