by Olalekan Okusan, ITTF Africa Press Officer
Lukaaya did not know what the future held as a young girl growing up in Naguru, the largest city in Kampala.
She wanted education but there was no means for her parents to give her the needed support. In 2002, she began playing table tennis; through the sport, she was able to secure a scholarship to tertiary education and thus a degree.
“Actually, it is a funny story. I escorted a friend who played table tennis because I used to play tennis; that was when I held the bat for the first time, I was 13 years old and still in secondary school. I discovered that table tennis is a beautiful game; almost every person has played it at some point. I look at it as a way to not only have fun but to help mentally, physically and emotionally; to have a stable mind to deal with life as well to experience travels and gain financial benefits.” Amina Lukaaya
Very quickly Lukaaya realised the benefits of playing table tennis; she progressed quickly.
“Table tennis is a non-contact sport . It’s the fastest game I know. It engages and stimulates the brain and the physical part of the body. It’s very competitive. It can be played almost anywhere. Tennis has made me some friends for life. There is nothing like the sound of the ball. Because of my love for table tennis, I excelled; I was able to get a scholarship which enabled me be in one of the best schools and universities in Uganda.” Amina Lukaaya
Now married, the 32 year old mother, attributed the successes at table tennis very much to her husband.
“I have a very understanding husband who supports me. I try to put time aside for training; especially when I have a tournament coming up, this has indeed helped me to thrive.” Amina Lukaaya
Sense of satisfaction
A player of note but is it providing opportunities for young people which gives her the greatest satisfaction.
“I am a founder of Mimi’s Tables, a non-profit organisation located in Naguru, Kampala. Mimi’s Tables gives children the opportunity to develop their talent in sport as a tool to break the chains of poverty and crime. I intend to use this project as a give-back to the community I grew up in. If a child is able to have a dream to be better than they have seen in their homes and communities, then I would be immensely proud of them; this is what I bring to them. A chance to dream.
I would like to thank those who have given a helping hand to these kids in our pursuit for better life. We are grateful to Nike, Ping Sans Frontières, the schools that extended bursaries to us, Kakungulu Memorial, Mbogo High School, Kawanda and to the various coaches and individuals who have shown us love and support.” Amina Lukaaya
Need to raise profile
Successful but Lukaaya believes there are still much to do to raise the profile in Uganda.
“In Uganda, we have a promising generation of young players who just need professional input to go to the next step or level. We have many table tennis enthusiasts in Uganda. People who love the game. The National Council of Sports and the Uganda Olympic Committee ensures good policies to the development of the sport. It is up to the leadership to invest in structures in looking for additional sponsorship which can propel the game. We need able leaders who can nurture the latent potential.” Amina Lukaaya
During the lockdown necessitated by COVID-19 pandemic understandably Lukaaya has been required to adapt.
“Sports arenas and spaces were put on lockdown during the pandemic, so I had no nearby place to train from. I spent all the lockdown days with my family. Yes, I loved every moment of it. It has been a long time that I spend time at home. I got to do all the things I had put aside because of lack of time and I got to read more books.” Amina Lukaaya
Helping others and for Amina Lukaaya, an ultimate goal for her players.
“The Olympic Games is the ultimate dream for every active and competing athlete. You can play but that is not the only way you can serve. For some, you can be an official, or be a leader, a coach, a mentor. For me, seeing the kids at Mimi’s Tables or anywhere else for that matter pick up a bat and hit their first ball and make a return is the start. It could be the first step toward a significant change in their lives. You can go as far as your heart wants to go.” Amina Lukaaya