“I have always asked my mother what happened to me but she has never been able to answer that question,” says 23-year-old Jovan Magino, a youth football coach with disabilities.
Born with six sisters, Magino, who is the third born, is the only person with a short stature in his family, a condition he says made him a subject of bullying at school.
Standing at about four feet, Magino is one of the dwarf persons (commonly referred to as Nakalanga in Luganda) with a short stature syndrome or sometimes cited as growth hormone deficiency, which is a form of arrested growth that mainly affects children at birth.
No to self-pity
To the world, the common word that describes Magino is disability. But on the technical bench, the truer words are talent, passion, teamwork and determination.
After the loss to Kitara region in the national finals of the annual Airtel Rising Stars (ARS) tournament, Magino’s team huddle in the tree shade at Mubs-Nakawa and wipe away the tears. The camaraderie is apparent in the easy smiles, chatter and jokes afterward.
Speaking to the team goal grabber, Beatrice Adokole, I immediately learn that they have entrusted their football career to the coach and not his physical appearance.
“We are happy to have him as our coach. There’s no place for self-pity or resignation from him. His character makes us work harder without emphasizing our limitations,” Adokole says.
Magino did not choose to have a short stature that probably limited his career in football which his former youth coach James Alitho, the current first choice goalkeeper of URA, said was overwhelming. But he has chosen to live life large and full.
Magino has been coaching for about five years but his breakthrough was in 2018 when he guided the Eastern Region side to the ARS semi-finals in Lira. This year, his team, who were the hot pre-match favourites, lost 2-0 to Kitara in the finals. Nevertheless, he is happy with the achievement.
“Honestly we did our best. I think we made costly mistakes in defence but I am happy many of my players have had scouts and coaches from other teams talking,” Magino, a Pentecostal Christian, said.
Having started school at North Road Primary School in Mbale, he was later moved to Namatala where he completed his Primary Leaving Examinations. He joined Oxford High School where he dropped out in Senior Five. In his early years at Oxford, Magino says he was bullied yet he ended up becoming the sports and games prefect unopposed.
It was here that he was spotted by CRO during a friendly game. In 2008, he met James Alitho who was the coach of the girls’ team and a member of the senior team.
He momentarily left CRO, because they were paying more attention to the children they had recovered from the street before he returned. Child Restoration Outreach (CRO), an NGO assisting street children and their families transforming them into productive citizens.
When Magino dropped out of school, CRO offered him an option to learn welding instead of football. They never believed he could have a role in football yet Alitho stepped in with an important teaching about achieving success, no matter how distant it may seem.
As the head coach of Amus College (in Bukedea District) girls’ team, he has put together 35 players, among whom, Esther Namataka and Beatrice Adokole have earned calls to the national team. His preferred formation is 3-5-2, preferring to attack his opponents.
Yudaya Nakayenze, Fazira Ikwaput, goalkeeper Juliet Adeke and Joan Nakirya formed CRO’s golden generation. When they left Mbale for teams in Kampala, there was a gap which he dared to fill.
In 2015, he mobilised young girls and took the team to the national finals in Lira. But he faced stiff competition from other teams especially Sky, CRO and Tigers. He secured scholarships for them at Mbale Progressive and moved with them to Amus College, which is the breeding ground for Kataka FC, a team that plays in the Fufa Big League.
When he left for Kataka, the obvious deficiency was no longer height but coaching licensing.
With the help of Fufa delegate Latif Mafuko, he was able to complete a one-week beginners’ coaching course at Njeru Technical Centre in Buikwe last year to begin his journey into the future.
“The reason I feel close to girls is that I grew up with six of them. I learned that girls listen more to their superiors than boys do. Growing with them taught me to be a peacekeeper because sometimes girls lose their cool. Among the girls, the only way to win is to swallow your pride.”
He used to play with girls in the U14 category at CRO as a midfielder and learned that girls easily adapt technic because for them football is a new venture.
He is also happy that he is helping empower girls through football.
“In Mbale, girls are vulnerable to early pregnancy. Being part of the team helps them share knowledge and information. We are even happy that they have seen some of their peers play for the national team and this makes them think about the future,” he explains.
Off the pitch A professional welder with a certificate from Mbale Community Polytechnic, Magino is yet to establish his workshop in Mbale.
Discrimination: Despite being a coach, Magino still faces hurdles and intolerance.
“Sometimes back I used to cry about it. But now, I am okay and live positively.” Magino says.
Social service experts divide the challenges for the disabled into three broad categories: public acceptance, accessibility and employment.
Magino is happy that his role in football has made him accepted in many offices even by parents, some of whom were at first suspicious that he would harass their girls, but he shares his frustration with some individual’s lack of respect.
“Some players who don’t know me always despise me. It is something I have gotten used to because it changes over time. But they later appreciate what I do with them,” he said.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle for many people like him is getting a job. But Magino is happy that in December, his sponsor, whom he got through CRO promised to avail him starting capital and tools for opening a welding workshop to complement his coaching job income.
None of his sisters has a passion for football as one is a hair dresser, another a phone seller, while the other is pursuing a career in law.
“It does not matter, my world is bigger than my family and I want to impact one girl at a time,” he sums up.