Alumna Shilla Omuriwe Buyungo ’05, ’09 is standing patiently in a conference room at Wahlstrom Library, waiting for a photographer to direct her. But there’s a problem. She’s just stopped by UB to say hello to old friends, and there’s not much time to find the perfect setting for the impromptu photo shoot. “I’m not dressed up,” she says.
What to do? There’s a colorful painting that could make a pretty backdrop, but it hangs high above a large sideboard, and Buyungo is also eight months pregnant. No worries. Buyungo happily obliges. Hop! Before the photographer removes his lens cap, she’s sitting on top of the sideboard, beaming a megawatt smile.
“Oh! I like that!” she says, when he shows her the digital image moments later.
Boundless enthusiasm and athletic grace—both are hallmark Buyungo. She tells you she was introduced to volleyball in high school, threw herself into “focusing really hard” on developing her game, and then played for the Purple Knights for two years while she was earning a master’s degree in Counseling with a concentration in Human Resource Development. She later served as UB’s women’s volleyball assistant coach while she was earning her MBA.
Upon graduation, Buyungo returned home to Uganda, but she continued to play the game she loved at Kampala Amateur Volleyball Club (KAVC).
And then, the unexpected.
In 2012, KAVC men’s volleyball team asked her to be their coach. She hesitated. They asked again the following year. It was a historic choice: if she accepted, she would become the only female coach ever to manage a top men’s volleyball team in Uganda–and possibly in all of Africa.
“At first, I thought, ‘Are they serious?!’ But I had nothing to lose. I’ve played the game. I had been an assistant coach at UB, so I went for it,” she recalls.
Her second year on the job, the men’s team won the National Volleyball League Championship. It was its first national title since 2010, and the public went wild.
“Shilla Omuriwe Buyungo is proof that Margaret Thatcher was right when she quipped that sometimes the best man for the job is a woman,” New Vision newspaper reported.
Buyungo remembers her players “carrying me all over the place” when they won the national crown. “I was in a haze.” Today, the novelty of being Uganda’s only women volleyball coach has diminished. She and the team have found a steady pace. “We have a very good pool of players. They just needed someone to focus then, which is what I did that first year. Now they understand what I want them to do to succeed,” says Buyungo.
As for her own game, Buyungo still plays “for fun” with a veteran’s women’s amateur team. And she and her husband, volleyball player and fellow KAVC coach Peter Buyungo, are committed to raising the next generation of players. Their daughters Peytyn, 5, and Petra, 7, are in a children’s volleyball training camp run by KAVC. Their son, due in February 2017, will play, too, she vows.
“I just want to pass on my passion,” says Buyungo. “That’s what is exciting for me.”