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Innovations: Meet Douglas Smith, a medical student who makes soccer balls in Western Uganda

Douglas Smith: His science meets his childhood technique of making fiber balls

People love the idea of making significant life changes without realizing how much more the smaller decisions we make affect us, but whether small or big, actions lead to change.

Douglas Smith is one of the many Ugandans, whose small decision is destined for changing the biggest part of the life of Ugandans both near and far from him.

A small decision he made was retiring active football at a young age to start a football academy where he realized it was expensive to run the academy with imported quality balls. This will definitely change not any other, but a sports and games life and specifically football in Uganda.

The 26 year old from Rwenkobwa Trading Center in Ibanda district becomes the first Ugandan to have successfully come out with the science of making a ball, but because of lack of materials, his project is still at an infant stage.

There is no record of a soccer balls manufacturing company in Uganda before, and not many but one in Africa.

His football made in Ibanda, which many have termed as ‘Ekihago’ a rural slogan in the Western Uganda youth circles to mean a leather ball, is the first to be made in Uganda.

Humble but ambitious beginning

Smith has an emotional teenage history because, like many young talents that have come out to tell their stories, his parents did not want him into active football, what’s touching is that even when he is trying out this innovation, it has still not been liked by the.

It is only his grandparents that have been standing in his support and encouraging him to do whatever he has been doing.

Smith is a former active footballer, who played for his school teams the entire school life from primary up to High School.

He was such a talented right-winger that after high school, he was signed by the Division I side Ibanda Municipal FC (which now plays in the western region football league) from rivals Ibanda Warriors FC.

However, after joining Chemequip Medical School, Smith decided to have another way of serving his football interests and this time, started a football academy Sportrise in 2017, which he still now runs.

But his work schedule became tighter as he had to train with the club, look after the kids and also go to class, and for this, he decided to call it quits and hung his playing boots.

“I could not manage the three challenges at the same time, just because I am always looking at perfecting whatever I do and poor performance is not in my bloodstream. So I am a retired young football player on record too,” Smith says.

A ball that is manufactured by Douglas Smith

Fiber Balls Making Technique Transforms into Soccer Balls Knowledge

Making a soccer ball is a science, but Smith says he had the technique of making fiber balls right from his childhood.

“I was the best at making balls from banana fibers, which we used to play as young boys in our village. I may not say this transferred to what I am doing right now, but it inspired me to think towards making a different and durable product, a soccer ball,” Smith says.

He says he realized he would never play football at a higher level as a professional outside Uganda, the reason he decided to think of what he could to for the sport he loves, and the idea of making soccer balls came to his mind.

Starting a Soccer Academy

Smith then went into football management and talent identification and promotion, by starting a football Academy, Sportrise Football Academy in Ibanda in 2017.

But the challenge of lack of enough equipment especially balls, ignited further, his idea of making soccer balls.

“The challenges are many and I realized one can’t run a football academy without a good source of materials especially balls if you don’t have sponsors. This forced me to read further about the manufacturing of the soccer balls,” He says.

“I have a complete process of making balls because I did enough research about this and have already made samples of these balls. I only need financial assistance to perfect whatever I am doing right now,” added Smith.

“I now look at the government of Uganda and FUFA for assistance, because the process is no longer because its manual and also there some inaccuracies which can only be perfected with good machines,” He added.

Smith started making balls early this year, after having realized that his young football development project would not survive on expensive balls.

A Product of President Museveni’s Science Gospel

At 26 years of age, Douglas Smith is a true child of Museveni’s Universal Secondary Education (UPE) and USE as he attended Ibanda Town School for PLE and Kitagwenda SS for his UCE.

President Museveni has been emphasizing mandatory science teaching to Uganda children in O’Level, and Smith is among the many Ugandans that had their secondary education at a time the ministry of Education had made sciences compulsory at UCE.

Having completed S.4 at Rwenkobwa in 2012, he enrolled at Valley College Bushenyi where he offered a science combination of Physics, Chemistry, and Biology (PCB) and completed high school in 2014.

He never joined higher institution immediately, as he didn’t have money, but rather went out to work as a store manager and cost controller at Littlewoods and Nicos Lounge in Mbarara for two years.

He saved some money that has enabled him back to school, and he is currently a third-year Medical Student at Chemequip Medical School doing Medical Laboratory Technology.

The help of Science and How he Makes Balls

Smith has yet to establish a big soccer making factory, but rather, he uses a three-roomed house in Ibanda, where he, together with his six workers have been doing this.

However, Smith says he has used this academic knowledge that has helped him a lot in especially in the Bio-chemistry that helps in making leather (Polyurethane) backed by Polyester.

He uses the local leather that he transports from Kampala from which he cuts the panels and then uses the liquid he gets from burning plastics to coat the Polyester to make the inner layer which he says makes the ball durable.

The process of completing a single ball takes him about 7 hours just because it is a manual process.

“We use scissors to do all the cutting and this cutting of panels is not easy, but if we had proper machinery,  the process would be easier,” He says.

After cutting, they manually do the Stitching of the 26 panels backed together with that poly-cloth before making the final touches on the ball.

He says he has declined orders from many people who have been coming to him to order for balls, just because the rate of production is very low due to lack of materials.

The big dream

Smith is a big thinker and believes in himself as he frequently says “I am using my small head to think big”

Given the chance of receiving assistance, Smith is looking at securing a license from FIFA, through FUFA, to start making soccer balls on a large scale.

Douglas Smith with his ball. He believes that with much more support he can do better.

Who is Smith Douglas

Names – Smith Douglas

Date of birth – 14th April 1994-26 years

Place of birth: Rwenkobwa TC, Ibanda District

Schools attended – Ibanda Town School (PLE), Kitagwenda High School (2009-2012UCE), Valley College HS (2013-2014 UACE)

Currently a third-year Medical Student at Chemequip Medical School

Parents – Major Barya Stephen and Kirunga Beatrice

Attributes – Grandparents Late Steven Mbundira and Ruth Mbundira

Playing career – Primary, secondary, Ibanda Municipal, Ibanda warriors, and I have now retired young.

Position – Attacking midfielder-right winger

Management – Sportrise Football Academy proprietor

MAIN PHOTO: Douglas Smith posing with one of the balls he manufactures locally