I am a struggling gifted story teller and my stories are inspired by my life time experiences or aspiring dreams. Please be patient with me.
Frank And The Games V 1.0
It’s one thing to say something and entirely another to do something. It was actions and not merely words that brought me to where I am today. Having a vision and bringing it to life is the journey that we are all on. I was lucky enough to see my dream become a reality and make a difference in others' lives. In 1999, I had a clear vision in my head of a game, not just any game but one that would get people up and moving their bodies, getting healthier at a time when the nation was becoming more and more sedentary. Having this vision was one thing, but I needed technology to get this message out to the people. This was the challenge.
At that point in history, technology was limited, there were computers, sure, but social media had not yet been born. I needed a platform to tell the world about the games I had created. I needed to get my message out and inspire people. In the beginning, I was only developing these games with my friends. Who was I to make this grow from a simple game in my backyard to a global movement? This was the world with no Shark Tank, no Dragons Den, and no angel investors. I had a dream, and I alone slowly, bit by bit, made it happen. This is my story from the beginning of crossing continents with my family, to supporting my newly adopted home to become a healthier nation. This is the full story, both the successes and the failures. Here is how it all started.
This all started just shortly after my mother, sister, brother, and I migrated to Canada. Just getting that far was already a miracle. We came with nothing more than broken dreams, a haunting past, and a will to start over again. My story starts back in Nairobi, Kenya. We were refugees, it was 1990, and I was only ten years old. I was too young to understand why the police hit us with tear gas in our own home, but I was pulled along by the events of the time. We narrowly escaped the police brutality and danger. Eventually we headed to camp Walder, a refugee camp on the outskirts of town. The journey took five days on a dirt road that stretched miles and miles with nothing to see. A few ostriches, some giraffes, the occasional zebra, and more carcasses of dead cattle than I could count were what made up my passing view. We encountered the occasional bandits on the way, who setup fake road blocks so that the bus was forced to stop. But, we were lucky, we had an armed military officer on the bus that provided us with extra safety in case of trouble.
Upon arriving at camp Walder, all we could see there were military-style tents, a white multipurpose tent with blue writing, boldly giving the name of one of the primary NGO’s involved, Care International, and a United Nations Flag-off in the distance. It was a dreary landscape; for miles, all you could see were dead desert trees and a few makeshift shops for the locals. The camp's most visible element was human suffering. Malnutrition was everywhere, and temperatures soared to a sweltering 112 degrees.
Food and medical supplies destined for the campsite were often hijacked by the bandits, leaving little left to feed those in the camp. The tiny makeshift shops were what sustained commerce. Some people exchanged a pound of sugar for soap or maybe wheat flour for medications. It was a barter economy, and people were doing the best they could to survive, but most weren’t. People were dying every day, and death looked like the only real way out of camp Walder.
I remember pushing a makeshift wooden wheelbarrow loaded with water from a local well. Pushing it through unmarked gravesites of strangers left forgotten who didn’t manage to survive. Even just walking past was enough to break my heart.
Every day at the camp was hard. The heat of the day was scorching. That heat is burned into my mind with all the other details. I remember it like it was yesterday. There was no power in the campsite, the only power we had was generated to run water pumps. When you heard the diesel generator, that’s when you know you had to run to get in line for water. Unfortunately, that’s also when wild animals showed up for a drink too. You had to battle back wild boar, waiting patiently for them to get their fill. To keep water cool to better quench our thirst, we wrapped the jerry-cans in ration supply bags, soaked in water, and stored it in a tent away from the direct sunlight. The water was barely palatable, but we needed it to survive.
There were good memories from that time as well. One memory that stands out in my mind was the fusion and melting of African cultures from across the continent, all mixing together. There were so many different languages, but we were all united in our hope and faith for our collective survival. Nightly prayers were a powerful moment when you could see everyone expressing their unique language and culture. The Zairians always prayed out loud and sang. Every evening at 7:00 o'clock, they congregated and sang songs of praise to the Lord. I couldn’t understand the songs they sang, but if you just let the music take you away, the songs will get stuck in your head. One song they sang daily went…” Yawe nabibele yawe samolawa…” I didn’t know the meaning of the words but the intent was clear. There was this calmness and spirit which took you by surprise and often left you in tears. Soon I learned that the word Yawe meant God. They started the prayers with high spirit and they also ended them with high hopes. “Haleluya, Ha leluya…Hale lu ya!... ” and everyone departed back to their tents after that, filling their spirit up to give them the strength to face the next day.
People at the camp often applied for asylum through the United Nations, waiting patiently to see if their destiny would be approved or denied at the hands of strangers. My mother applied, and every day we went to check to see if we could find our name written on the list posted on the iron gates. Three years rolled by, and we nearly lost hope, but, one day, as we walked up to that same iron gates and stared once more at the long list of typed names, there it was. Finally, our name was on the list.
Once we were approved for asylum, they flew us to Nairobi, and we stayed there for another year until our papers were processed to come to Canada. I will never forget that moment when we came back to Nairobi. The taste of freshwater and good food. Things people took for granted that we didn’t have in the camps.
Coming to Canada
Coming to Canada
On February 21, we left Jomo Kenyata International airport and flew to Canada. We arrived in Canada on February 22, 1993, on a cold wintry morning. We spoke no English, and everything was foreign to us. This was the new beginning. We enjoyed our first snowfall and the smiles of so many nice people. We were welcomed, and people at the YMCA did the best to help us out in those hard times. So forever, I owe my gratitude to them.
Coming to Canada was both a shock to our system and a godsend. Everything was foreign to me. Everything seemed fancier than I had seen before. When we arrived, it was winter, and none of the trees that lined the streets had leaves on the branches. They were all dressed in Christmas lights. I had never seen trees like these before so thru my child’s eyes I imagined that these must be fake trees. They were in fact just average trees decorated for Christmas, but as I child I could not imagine how they could be real, I had never seen anything so beautiful before. How rich did a country need to be to afford to put up artificial trees along all the streets, I thought. A silly childhood misunderstanding maybe, but it showed how little I understood of this new world at the time. Canada, wealthy or not, welcomed my family and me with open arms.
My child's mind was learning to cope with everything new. In Kenya, we washed our laundry by hand. Here in Canada, there was a machine, but we had no idea how to use it. Instead we did our laundry in the bathtub and hung it outside in the cold. The laundry got thick and frozen with icicles clinging to our jeans.
There was so much to learn in this new life of ours. This was also the time when the games were invented. I needed to find ways to pass the time and cope with all the change. This was the moment when I started to develop games to play with my brother in the basement. All these different games amused him and made me feel like time was well spent together. As a grown man now with a family of my own, I look back at that little kid entertaining his brother in the basement with fondness.
Fast forward to 1998, we are now Canadian citizens, and I just graduated high school. What would I do when I am done with school? I would be lying if I told you I had a clue. However, I remember during grade 12, our teacher gave us an assignment. The assignment was to come up with an after school activity. In school we had been learning about the impact of childhood obesity. I learned that obesity is a disease in developed countries; however, nothing much has been done to address the problem. This was such a contrast from the starvation I had witnessed in my childhood, but I soon learned that the consequences were equally devastating and often despite what you would think impacted the poor.
This was the moment when I knew I had found my life’s purpose. I maybe couldn’t help the people in the refugee camp with starvation, but this new home had its own hardships, and this I could certainly do something about. I started my own research and came up with games people could play to help alleviate obesity. These games were inspired by my childhood games. I wanted to be innovative by coming up with new solutions. If kids don’t play sports, maybe that is the problem. What if I create my own games, affordable and entertaining games. Will they play them? I didn’t know, but I wanted to try. Reinventing the wheel is never an advisable path, but that is precisely what I did. I underestimated the time it would take to develop and bring such an idea to life, but I was young, innovative, and full of energy. Even if I didn’t succeed, I knew it would be an adventure worth the pursuit.
Throughout the years 2000 to 2007, I was experimenting with different designs and games. I filed for my patent for a game apparatus in the year 1998. During that time, I got my friends to play the first game, and I recorded it on the simple VHS camera. Everything was difficult during that period of the birth of technology. The real breakthrough in the digital video came in 2007. This was probably when the first iPhone started capturing videos, and you could directly upload them to Youtube. This is when it became possible to share information like never before, and I knew I could get my message out. Everyone now knows Facebook, Instagram, and of course, youtube, but this was just the beginning of that era. I knew I needed technology somehow to get my message out, So I took a break from the games and perused information technology professionally. I graduated as a Computer Network Technician in the year 2016.
It has been a long break from the games, but they kept calling me back. Technology had improved a lot in the last decade. It is now better and faster, and distribution of video content moves at the speed of light. It's now April 2015, I have a family of my own and I live in Saskatchewan. Youtube and Apple now support innovators. The time is finally right to bring the games back to life. April 2015, I called my mom on the phone. I asked her to send me the old supplies I used to use to play the games. I was ready to start again in my community to develop these games and make a difference. The obesity epidemic was only growing, and nothing had changed since my high school heydays. So something had to be done.
The doorbell rings. It's the mailman. A package had arrived from Ontario. I rushed downstairs to receive it. I saw that it was the package my mom had sent. It was full of the old clubs made out of wood that I had first crafted for the games. Though I had never taken any designing course, I took a natural liking to designing of these clubs. I called them barlets. It was just a name I made up which I thought was cool, I wanted to call them something unique as they were unique to the games. The games themselves were simple and all centered around swinging the barlet and hitting the ball. Of course there was running too which made for a great getting a workout. I had used the bartlets at the youth sports center where I first launched the games. Seeing this package brought about all the memories from the early days of the games. I hadn’t seen these old wooden bartlets in six years. I was flooded with a feeling of gratitude. My mom was so kind as to send all this to me, just another moment when she supported my dreams. My mom had done everything she could to support us thru the years.
Even though the games started as just kids playing in our basement, it was when they went online that they genuinely began to take flight. This critical merging of technology with real-life activity made this not just a bunch of games but a movement. In July 2015, my website was launched, and I received a gazillion support from all social media on the internet. Fans began to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Youpic, and many other social media networks. My message was Let's Play. This simple message was at the heart of the games and really at the heart of the movement to fight childhood obesity.
I was playing with my family at the park, and other people saw us playing and asked if they could join in. Every once in a while, I invited other kids to play with us too. But during that time, it was family play. Slowly, I started inviting youth and kids to play. I encouraged more and more kids to play and join in the games. This was the moment where technology and real world games began to merge. I took pictures and posted them online, on my website, and on social media accounts. A lot of people started following me, celebrities and everyday people. Even today, new people are still following me, I believe it’s a good cause.
The "Let's play tour" took me to Ontario, where it all started. I visited the youth center from my childhood. The youth center I used to play at to pass the time after school. To my dismay, the center was underfunded, and kids who used to play there were not playing there anymore. The center was now nearly empty and very downtrodden. Seeing this only inspired me to do more to bring it back to its glory days. I found kids there that day. I invited them to join in and play. I had a ball and four wooden bartlets with me. We played just for fun and oh boy, was it fun. We played for hours until one of our balls got stuck on the roof of the building. I ended up donating two bartlets to the center to use anytime they want as long as they could get the balls off the roof.
I am not in any way a role model, but seeing the kids playing these games in schools or at the parks make me believe that dreams do come true. The smiles from little Josh and Meriam when they first picked up the ball and the barlet and started playing was the inspiration that drove me to keep going. For me growing up, I had none of the opportunities that they have. The closest I remember to getting to play a game as a child was fetching water with a make shift wheelbarrow. We had to carry water from 8 miles away to our tent in a jerrycan by hand. A full water of a jerrycan is about 5 gallons or what amounts to nearly 50Lbs in weight so I used the wheelbarrow and brought two in one trip. It is very treacherous to carry that load from a long distance. It was heavy, and we had to do it over and over again to have enough for just in case. What’s more, it wasn’t a modern wheelbarrow you might buy at a homedepot. It was made from a v-shaped part of the acacia tree. Once the v-shape branch was cut, it naturally made the handles and the wheel itself was made by cutting a groove in a sizeable log. I pushed that wheelbarrow through dirt and dust for two years in the dessert. Through graves sites, and lion’s dens. This was a far cry from a child getting to play a game, so maybe there was some part of me that wanted to give games to children to bring back a childhood that I never had.
I knew I had found my life’s purpose. My adopted home of Canada needed me. I was going to make sports for disadvantaged kids possible for everyone. I was going to get kids having fun together. I was going to join in the cause to fight obesity and chronic disease. I was going to get kids healthy and moving again.
The launch of my website and the start of the games brought an overwhelming response. Anyone and everyone from celebrities to everyday people joined in the cause. People were suddenly linking Pitchball and fighting Obesity, two things that had never been linked before. It was an exciting time. The games were becoming a real solution to this much talked about epidemic of childhood obesity. It was so satisfying to see people playing what was just a dream before. But, what started with a simple idea clearly needed more support to grow. It required more than just me to get the fire going. My mission was to get everyone talking about childhood obesity. I had so much support as a refugee child arriving in Canada, this was my chance to give back to the community that had helped me grow into the man I am today. I wanted to get everyone playing. It was my way of returning the favor.
The beginning of things is always challenging. I had a tough time in the beginning. I may have had excitement for the games, but I did not have the sense of business to sustain the mission. All I wanted was to play, and if playing makes others happy, I was delighted. Mostly, I used the games to raise money for a cause with other charities. I once held a big event to raise funds for the Canadian heart and stroke foundation. This was a chance to join forces with an impressive organization that was making a real difference. Together, we raised awareness about how preventable heart disease and strokes were if only everyone could get their bodies moving. And really, what better way to get moving than to do it having fun and playing games. I received my first sponsorship from Bell Canada. They came thru and helped to make the event a success.
I have learned that if you have a dream and act on it, it will someday come
true. I would be lying to say that I knew what I was doing initially. I just took out the bartlets and a ball and started playing. if I brought a smile to peoples face all the better. I am a person who was supposed to be dead, but thru luck and courage, and maybe because it wasn’t my time to go, I was given a second chance in life. I endured so much suffering in my early days in the refugee camp. Way more than any child should bear. But this experience gave me purpose and drive to build a life that mattered.
As I write this I need your support more than ever. There is still much work to be done to raise awareness around childhood obesity as well as people stranded around the world in refugee camps. This is the goal of this book. I need your support to help our mission grow bigger. Let’s keep the conversation going.
I did not stick to just one game; I kept innovating and creating more games. I was fascinated with the application of the barlet. The joy of watching people play my sports brought so much happiness. These are the many games that came out of this journey.
As the name suggests, long putt is a game of how far you can strike the ball from the ground
and count how many yards the ball traveled. Similar to shot-put in the Olympic games. You hit
the ball from the ground with the round part of the barlet. You score points on how far your ball goes when it lands. The game could be played on a football field, and you score based on the number of yards you manage to hit the ball. The idea here is that you can easily find a football field in any town and just play. Again since the ball is rubber, it can’t cause any harm. It is hard to hit the ball across the whole football field
Naturally, a good sport needs some interaction; which brings me to Pitchball. Pitchball is an exciting combination of both tennis and baseball. The setup here was like a tennis court without the net. Six cones were used as markers on the field, two cones on either side to mark home bases and two middle ones to indicate a boundary between players just like a net. The idea is to keep the ball on the ground while hitting it back and forth within bounds. You score points similar to tennis. Flipping the barlet into the air, you were meant to hit a served ball in motion. If you managed, you would get a grand slam. Two players can play at a time with a maximum of four players on the court. You defend your team with the barlet only. You can not use legs as defense. This game was great fun and was guaranteed to give you a workout while keep things simple.
Bounce and Pass
In this game you bounce the ball on the barlet a few times and pass it to your team mates. The players would bounce the ball three times and pass it. The goal is to bounce and then pass between two players on the same team. If the ball falls short, the other team or player takes it from there.
Thank you for reading now go and play and lets keep the conversation going...
Bounce and Pass
© 2020 Frank Kigozi