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Ugandan Kayakers Overcome Obstacles, Reach World Championships

David Egesa, 40, a member of Uganda's kayaking team, paddles against waves during a team practice session in the River Nile in Jinja, east of Uganda's capital, Kampala, Aug. 19, 2015.

Uganda's kayaking community celebrated last November when four of its members qualified to compete in the International Canoe Federation's World Freestyle Kayak Championships.

But getting to the competition, set for August 30 to September 5 on Canada's Ottawa River, was quite a challenge for Amina Tayona, David Egesa, Sadat Kawawa and Yusuf Basalirwa.

Their visa applications were initially denied over questions regarding the athletes' personal assets and whether they would leave Canada. Undaunted, they reapplied, including land titles, trading licenses, student enrollments, cover letters and even bank account information from their coach. But the applications were rejected again.

The kayakers debated whether to give up, but soon their story spread.

Canadians wrote to their representatives in Parliament and appealed to the consulate, and broad social media campaigns helped bring people like Robert Zwanenburg, the chair of the Canadian Freestyle Kayaking Committee, to champion the athletes' cause.

Visa applications were submitted again, and this time, they were approved. But Jacques Dippenaar, who helped manage the team's visa arrangements, said there was one more hurdle to overcome: finding money for the flight.

"With all the visa stuff, we hadn't bought the flights until we had the visas confirmed," Dippenaar said. "Combine that with all the visa money that got spent ... we were short about $5,000 total."

A crowdfunding campaign helped make up the shortfall.

Kawawa said the team has been welcomed warmly in Canada: "People are really, really friendly, and the way people came out and helped is unbelievable. ... Everyone is happy to see us, and we're also happy to see everyone. ... It's been a nice moment for me, for Uganda, for Africa, my family."

The championship will be streamed live. For more information, go to the championship's website.

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