Giving Back to Uganda

June 19, 2019

Henry Kalungi ’10 lives thousands of miles from his homeland of Uganda, but there’s rarely a day when his positive impact is not felt there. The soccer professional started a foundation for Ugandan youth after playing for Winthrop and then professionally with several U.S. teams, including his most recent team, the Charlotte Independence.

The Henry Kalungi Foundation was created for a number of reasons, but mainly it fed Kalungi’s desire to make a difference and to give the children of his village the same hope he had growing up. He remembers constructing soccer balls from plantains, cherishing the pairs of shoes and shorts he wore, and indulging in hearty meals and refreshing sodas only on special holidays like Tanksgiving and Christmas.

Now, through his foundation, “special holidays” are more frequent and have evolved into celebrations where new shoes and clothes, savory foods and soft drinks are given freely to villagers.

“When I came (to Winthrop), my first thought was ‘how can I make a difference where I come from?’ Because my education was an opportunity that not very many people get. So it made me understand that I'm blessed and I'm loved, but I have to spread this love to other people,” Kalungi said. “I have always believed that God never makes mistakes. The way He got me through my childhood, then to America, then the doors that opened for me, it made me understand that He has blessed me to be a blessing to others.”

His talent has enabled him to transform lives in Uganda, but as a young boy, Kalungi’s affinity for soccer ruffled the feathers of a strict father who emphasized hard work, discipline and the value of education. It wasn’t until Kalungi became a standout player in boarding school that his father, Salongo Godfrey Kirumira, began to come around.

Then came a recruitment opportunity to play soccer at Winthrop. Kalungi, who had been honing his skills playing for the Ugandan Youth National Team, knew the prospect of receiving an education in the United States would win over his father — a teacher — even more.

His father’s approval was liberating, and Kalungi made the 30-hour journey to Rock Hill in 2006. But his father’s longstanding expectations also kept him focused — reinforced by his faith that “God will always take care of tomorrow.”

“My dad is disabled yet has worked so hard to get us where he wanted us to be. So I always kept that in my mind. If my dad can work this hard and help us, we don't have an excuse. I understood that I have a special privilege to be here, and I need to use that.”

Giving back was a sentiment echoed by former Winthrop Head Men’s Soccer Coach Rich Posipanko when he first recruited Kalungi.

“He said to me: ‘We are giving you this education, and I want you to one day give back.’ So when

I came here, I always knew I wanted to make a difference back home,” Kalungi said.

One of his first charity initiatives was establishing, with his brother Ivan, a Ugandan soccer academy in 2009. Then came the foundation, developed by the siblings with the help of Kalungi’s wife and former Winthrop volleyball player, Jaqueline ’14, ’18.

Posipanko is proud of Kalungi’s charity work. “Failure was never going to be an option for him, and his outstanding work ethic has made him successful,” Posipanko said.

Kalungi keeps strong ties to the soccer communities in Rock Hill and Charlotte; he often trains with players at Winthrop. And he keeps strong heart ties to his South Carolina family, including former Winthrop staff member Susan Gunderson and Tom Hickman, Winthrop’s longtime athletics director who retired in 2016.

“I'm thankful that I have always been welcome … once you are an Eagle, you are always going to be an Eagle.”

Last updated by hayeskk

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