Building community by coaching rugby in Africa

- Ali Lee, Vikes Communications

In June 2013, two Vikes student-athletes travelled to Uganda, siezing an opportunity to represent the Vikes and BC rugby programs internationally, while volunteering with Gainline Africa. Rugby players Sofija Novakovic and Caitlin Harvey left the island for 20 days to venture to Africa, supporting Gainline Africa’s international development work using the sport of rugby to support healty communities.

Gainline Africa, a Canadian organization, is based in the formerly war-torn Gulu region of northern Uganda, where the organization works closely with a local club team known as the Gulu Elephants. The majority of the Elephants partner with high schools in the local area, gathering volunteers to help coach boys and girls after school. Both Novakovic and Harvey were the on-site Canadian coaches, educating the local coaches, as well as coaching the youth and highlighting their experiences in Canadian rugby.

“Running around with the boys and girls from these schools reminded me of why I fell in love with rugby in the first place,” said Harvey upon return from the trip. “It was refreshing to revisit the grassroots of rugby and remind myself that the most important aspects of any sport involved a passion for the game and teammates you play for.”

The eye-opening experience was two-way, as both Vikes became leaders, coaches and role models immediately to the many aspiring rugby players who would often have to borrow cleats or just play barefoot. Gainline Africa helped organize donations from rugby associations in Canada, supplying jerseys and equipment to the program.

Both Harvey and Novakovic had to fundraise money for their trip down to Africa, a process which cemented their dedication to Gainline Africa and their passion for expanding the reach of rugby. Gainline Africa's mission is to empower youth and improve their community's quality of life through the sport of rugby.

At one of the practices in Kitgum, the rugby team was sharing the playing field with three other local schools and teams. At one point the football team tried to take priority of the field since they had almost triple the number of players. The relentless rugby youth still wanted to practice and stayed until late training with Harvey and the other coaches in the end zone of the field.

“The fact that the students wanted to continue training until they couldn’t anymore spoke volumes to me and shows just how resilient and passionate they really are,” remarked Harvey.

Both Harvey and Novakovic will return to the Vikes for the upcoming 2013-14 season. Novakovic, a psychology and sociology major, has played rugby for over eight years, while Harvey has played since grade nine and is majoring in bio-psychology.

“The coaching tour was an excellent learning opportunity for both of us and was a great opportunity to give back to those who are less fortunate,” added Novakovic. “We will also gain some great skills to bring back to our team in Victoria.”

For more information about Gainline Africa visit and to read more about the Vikes visit


In this story

Keywords: athletic, sports, Africa, Gainline Africa

People: Sofija Novakovic, Caitlin Harvey

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