Uganda Olympian Inspires Jeffs to Care Deeply

By Lindsay Ewing ’15, CCE Athletic Liaison

Over 150 student-athletes sat captivated in O’Connor Commons as two-time Ugandan Olympic runner Julius Achon shared his powerful life story of struggle, strength, and athletic accolades on March 26 at “Caring Deeply,” an Amherst LEADS event which was part of its First-Year Initiative Program.

Despite his athletic achievements, perhaps Achon’s most admirable accomplishment is the Achon Uganda Children's Fund (AUCF), a charity which the humanitarian founded that runs an orphanage and medical center in the Otuke District of Northern Uganda. It is “committed to helping the community [of rural Northern Uganda] rebuild and set a course toward good health, improved education, and self-sufficiency” following the country’s two-decade civil war.

After Achon’s presentation, the first-year Jeffs united in conversation and creative expression as they customized approximately 150 tee shirts to send to Uganda for distribution at AUCF.

The evening was designed to encourage first-year student-athletes to utilize their strengths and resources to engage with their community. The FYI Program includes all first-year varsity student-athletes at the College, and “empowers student-athletes to think deeply about their role as first-year team members and [their] responsibilities as Amherst College student-athletes.”

Achon spoke passionately yet modestly about his life journey. Strife and struggle defined his formative years. As a child soldier, Achon was forced to serve in Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Following his escape, Achon turned to running and developed into a world-class citizen and athlete. After he earned a gold medal at the 1994 World Junior Championships, Achon came to the United States in 1996 to attend George Mason University. He later represented Uganda in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games.

Following his Olympic career, Achon turned to philanthropic endeavors. One day on a run in his home village, Awake, he spotted eleven children crowded under a bus.

“He asked, ‘Where are your parents?’” recounts Gregg DiNardo ’01, director of Amherst LEADS. “And they said they had been shot. At that point, Achon brought them all back to his house.” The Olympian established the Achon Uganda Children’s Fund in 2007. AUCF now cares for 37 children and provides medical services to thousands.

The Amherst student-athletes had a palpable, visceral response to Achon’s story. “As Achon told his story about the struggles he has endured both in Uganda and in the United States, I realized that there is absolutely no reason not to be involved in the community and to help others who are in need,” said Kathleen West ’16, a member of the Amherst Women’s Swimming and Diving team. “[Community engagement] allows for us to help those in need while gaining respect for and growing closer to the members of our own teams.”

While athletic accolades are sought by all those who proudly wear purple and white, the primary goal of Amherst athletics is the development of Jeffs as citizens through sport.

“Achon’s story and athletic accomplishments are impressive…yet what he wants to be known for is his foundation,” comments DiNardo. “He is a perfect example of someone who utilized the power of sport to make changes in his hometown, something every student-athlete should strive for.”

For more information about or to get involved with the Achon Uganda Children’s Fund, visit http://achonugandachildren.org/.

Lindsay Ewing ‘15 is one of four Athletics Liaisons for the Center for Community Engagement. Athletics Liaisons connect student-athletes and coaches to the resources of the Center for Community Engagement and work to create a sustainable culture of service within the Athletics Department.  If your team is looking for community engagement projects, contact Kate Beemer ‘15 at kbeemer15@amherst.edu, Caroline Broder ’15 at cbroder15@amherst.edu, or Nell Patterson ’15 at hpatterson15@amherst.edu.
 
If your team just completed a community engagement event, contact Lindsay Ewing ‘15 at lewing15@amherst.edu so that the campus becomes more aware of what your team is doing to get involved.