Shem is the new boy recently turned football hero at Masindi Secondary School (Massesco). In the programme Football Fever, we meet him in his third term in Senior 4 (Year 11 equivalent). He has been at the school for less than a year and hasn’t made many friends yet. He used to go to a boarding school in Jinja, central Uganda, where his father comes from.
“At first I couldn’t speak the local language. It was a bit of a problem because it’s much easier to express your feelings to friends in your mother tongue than it is in English.”
Shem’s father had to leave the civil service in war-torn Lira, northern Uganda, for fear of being killed and is earning a living by digging in his home district Kyunga. Shem’s parents divorced 11 years ago. He has a crumpled photo of them when they were still together and his biggest wish is that they get back together.
The 17-year-old lives with his 62-year-old grandmother in a two-roomed, concrete house in Masindi. Even though he has to share a bedroom with two cousins, he likes living there. His grandmother is a primary school teacher and gives him good advice.
Shem is mad about football and wears his Manchester United top with pride. So when he is picked to play for the school team in the regional heats of the prestigious Coca Cola Football Cup, he is thrilled. The school’s reputation is at stake because the previous year they were knocked out in the first round without scoring a goal.
“The other boys in the school couldn’t accept that we could do well and the headmistress did not have all that much trust in us. It was a big challenge and we said let us prove to you we can do it.”
To prepare, Shem went running every morning and practised ball skills for three hours after school each day. He was excited about being filmed and the thought that hundreds of people will watch him play football.
“I was very happy being filmed. People get jealous when they see you with a white man. The director Ed Kellie is a good person. I didn’t mind expressing my feelings to him or him coming into my home. I would like him to visit my home in Kyunga District so I can show him my animals and gardens.”
In the second match, which Massesco drew against Unitec College, Shem scored the goal which earned them a place in the quarter-finals. This was a glorious moment which won him the respect of his schoolmates and the attention of the girls.
“I ran around the pitch with my T-shirt over my head. The whole school came onto the pitch and jumped on me. The next day, everyone was cheering and thanking me, and the girls were hugging me. At first I wasn’t all that popular, but now everyone knows me as ‘Shem the footballer’.” My nickname is ‘Senior’ because I can do most things on the pitch.”
In the first quarter-final against Excel High School, Shem played a defensive role and they won 1-0. Although they lost their second quarterfinal to the ‘giants’ at Vienna High School, Shem is proud of what they managed to achieve.
“We were jubilant when we won the first quarterfinal. The teachers bought us soda and Mrs Mukasa congratulated us. Even though we lost the next game, the students at Massesco were happy because they never thought we would make it to the quarter finals.”
Coca Cola has been sponsoring the football tournament for the past ten years. This year the company ploughed $85m shillings (£25,500) into the event.
“I think the Coca Cola sponsorship is good because it grooms good players for the national team. It has helped me to develop my talents and to become popular which is important to me. It’s a major lift.”
Shem started seeing a girl in Senior 4 at the beginning of the championship. The school frowns upon relationships so he has to keep it a secret. Shem believes it’s better to abstain from sex than risk getting HIV, but reckons about 90 per cent of students use condoms for fear of getting Aids. Shem is being responsible about the threat of Aids. He had an HIV test last term which was negative. He has asked his girlfriend to have a test in the Easter holidays.
“You may find a really beautiful girl but she may be infected. In order to trust someone you must have a blood check up. I had a HIV test last term. At first I feared I had HIV caught it through injections, but I was ok.”
Shem’s best friend Patrick has recently become a Born Again Christian. Shem doesn’t think it will change their friendship as they still share the same ideas about some things.
“I listen to Patrick evangelising – I don’t mind. We can share certain things but Patrick can’t join me at discos any more. We can stay friends but he has a big challenge to try and convert me. I don’t think he will stay Born Again – it’s a very big challenge whereby you have to give up your character.”
Next term is Shem’s last at Massesco, as his father wants him to study A levels at a school in Kampala. Shem thinks school is invaluable for developing reasoning skills. He doesn’t know what will happen to his girlfriend when he leaves. He wants to become an engineer, but his dream would be to become a professional footballer.
“If you are not educated your reasoning capacity is low so you get involved in quarrels and fight all the time. I want to study mechanics at university. I would love to become a professional footballer but it’s very hard. Of course, if opportunity knocks at my door I will take it.”