A Heart for Children in Crisis
Falcon student-athlete travels to Uganda to help orphans of HIV/AIDS pandemic
By Pete Fairbairn
When sophomore neuroscience major and volleyball player Nicole Slimko was first in Bowling Green on a recruiting visit, she immediately felt a comfort level and recognized the opportunity for a transformative learning experience.
“I felt really at home here and it reminded me of my hometown,” recalled the Crystal Lake, Ill., native. “I could see myself growing here and I knew BG would have a lot of resources for me to build on everything in life.”
That initial impression has proven spot-on as Slimko enters her second year after an exciting and eventful freshman year. Initially uncertain about her major, she knew it would be in the medical field. She started out majoring in biology, but decided to switch to neuroscience after the first semester.
“After my first psychology class I realized that I love learning about the brain,” Slimko said. “I talked to my advisor and she thought I might really like neuroscience, since it involves a lot more psychology classes.”
At the same time, the talented student-athlete quickly found her rhythm on the volleyball court, starting all 28 matches for BGSU as a freshman. Slimko had the most kills for a Falcon in almost 15 years when she posted 31 in a five-set win over Wright State. She led the team with 340 kills, averaging 3.24 per set to rank fourth in the MAC.
Out of BG and into Africa
You would think all of this was more than enough activity and accomplishment for even the most exceptional underclassman, but in the case of Nicole Slimko, you would be wrong. Added to all of this and just before her summer class and training regimen began, Slimko managed to fit in a two-week mission trip to Uganda.
“A teammate from my club volleyball team told me about the experience of her older brother and sister who had gone to the Juna Amagara mission in Uganda,” said Slimko. “They just loved it and were talking all about it when they came back, describing how awesome it was. It changed their lives and they couldn’t wait to go back.”
When one of Juna Amagara’s founders came to Crystal Lake to discuss the need for a medical clinic, her teammate’s family sprung into action and spearheaded a fundraising campaign. Two years later, the project was funded and Slimko was on a plane headed for East Africa.
Since 1980, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has killed more than one million parents in Uganda, leaving more than 1.5 million children vulnerable to the ravages of poverty and disease. While extended family and other kind-hearted people have taken nearly half of these children in, around 800,000 of these orphans have been left on their own. In a country with no substantial welfare system this means that every day is a dangerous struggle for survival for children of all ages. These are the children who are served by Juna Amagara.
Slimko’s group was tasked with bringing supplies and helping to set up the new medical clinic, along with touring the organization’s schools and providing recreational instruction and equipment.
“The kids really like volleyball, but they don’t have any of the balls or nets,” said Slimko. “So I asked Coach Tomic if she had any equipment she’d be able to donate. She said yes, and it was really awesome because we were able to give six balls to each school, along with some nets that we purchased.”
When Volleyball Head Coach Danijela Tomic found out about Slimko’s plan to help Juna Amagara, she was not at all surprised.
“Nicole has a courageous, caring and kind personality and always looks for ways to help others,” observed Tomic. “She exemplifies the type of student-athlete we want in our volleyball program. She is a great role model and a great ambassador for BGSU, and we were very proud to support her mission trip to Africa.”
A heart for continued service
Slimko has plenty on her plate as the new academic year and volleyball season get underway. As BGSU continues to provide an ideal platform to grow intellectually and athletically, the talented and motivated student-athlete is thinking about opportunities for continued service.
“I want to go back to Uganda already, and I’m planning to return when I graduate,” said Slimko. “The mission is so important and I want to do anything I can to help provide the children with what they need to feel loved and supported, and to be safe, well-educated and healthy.”
As a follow up to her trip, Slimko has stepped up to sponsor Elizabeth, whom she met in May.
“Sponsoring Elizabeth is a blessing that will help me stay connected with the community and mission,” said Slimko. “My time with the children was a great experience and I would encourage others to seize any such opportunity. For me, it was life changing, opening my eyes to everything I have and reminding me not to take anything for granted.”