The Grind

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Flag of Rwanda  ,
Sunday, December 2, 2012

Whew!  Just finished week 2 of 3 of the 1st Annual Shooting Touch December Classic.

The event is set up as follows – 3 weeks, 3 differentlocations, teams formed from each camp to compete in a huge celebration at the(hopefully) National Stadium, which would be a huge treat for some of thesekids.  We had planned to get the morning with the younger kids (ages 8-14) – probably because we thought the older kids (14-18) would get up later in the day.  This was exactly the case when we held our training camp for SIRA Sports Inclusion at SFB in Gikondo. 
SFB has a really nice court, at the end of a cliff, and it actually reminded me a lot of Denison’s campus – up on a hill, lots of trees, and very studious students.  Its so cool to see how college life is there – the majority of the students studied outside in groups!  Very cool. 

Anyways, on Monday morning, we arrived at the nearby Mburabuturo school to meet the young SIRA kids, get their names, and walk into SFB.  No one from the younger group showed up, and, not to be denied our first day, Isa and I went on our own little recruiting trip, dribbling around the soccer field and asking “street kids” – the term here for kids who don’t have enough money to pay for school – and they got so excited, and immediately lined up.  As cliché as it sounds, the people I met here that have the least, really do have a lot of happiness in their lives.  Isa and I have had so many conversations that once we return, we will never ever ever buy a new car.  From living here and riding in buses where the bottoms are rusted out, but strangers talk to you and are interested in what you are doing – your perceptions of things and material goods really

It was incredible to see how hard these kids played – they showed up in this small foam shoes, most of the ripped, or just no shoes at all, and went as if they were wearing the most stable, ankle-protecting pair of basketball shoes – I give them a lot of credit.  This makes me that much more excited to give them shoes once our shipment gets in

They were all so receptive to our life skills and leadership lessons, they absolutely loved amoeba tag – the game where if you tag someone, they have to hold your hand, and this continues until there is a huge blog of the “person” who is it, hence, an amoeba (pretty nerdy name for the game, I know, but props to the Ann Arbor YMCA for teaching me that, its fun to play
even with grownups).  The top moments of the week

-  On the morning of day 2, when we did our morning round-up, the kids were just sitting
and talking, and unbeknownst to us, just started recalling basketball terms that we taught them the day before, kids were chopping their feet and yelling “close out” and “BALL BALL BALL!” 

 - One kid was acting up throughout the week, but if you got on him, he really did his
best.  We talked about discipline with the kids, and this same child acted up once more, and another kid really showed he understood what we were talking about when he came up to me, pointed at the kid, and whispered “no discipline.”  What a priceless moment!

- The looks on the SFB student’s faces when they saw the “street kids” walk into their campus. 
We actually got stopped at the gate by security and they asked us what we were doing.  Isa and I made it a point to have the kids walk in a line, and be quiet so we can continue using
SFB courts.  If some kids can’t pay enough to go to public school, you can just imagine how much it would cost to go to a private higher education institution, so I am pretty sure there haven’t been too many instances when 30 “street kids” have ventured into the friendly confines of SFB.  Talk about breaking down barriers.

- The morning after the monsoon of the century.  The night before Thursday’s camp, it rained harder than Isa and I have ever seen here.  As said before, the court lies at the bottom of a small cliff, and there was a small stream running into the sewer that surrounds the court to keep the court dry.  However, the stream, overcome with the incredible volume of the water, broke out into an all-out river, and there was a huge pile of silt covering the entire paint area of one side of the court.  This made camp a little difficult, but the picture and the story are almost worth it.

- The older kids really were into learning, and really put all their efforts in, and are super excited about the game at Amahoro. 

The second week, we held camp at Club Rafiki, in Nyamirambo – one of the poorer, if not the poorest section of Kigali.  Club Rafiki, and their leader, Fannie, have really been open to us.  Not
to mention, Benjamin – a.k.a. “the man” – has a great relationship with the center and has a youth team there, so we were very well connected.  They have a lot of good stuff going on there, in fact, Luol Deng and some other big basketball names were there running a clinic in June.  The atmosphere is hectic, but in a good way.  There are constantly kids running on the court, people listening to music, studying in the library, learning life lessons, people doing pull-ups and dips, and people playing checkers (which by the way they play with right-side-up and upside-down soda bottle caps as black and red checkers – so cool!).  The numbers of participants fluctuated throughout the days, but there was a solid group of about 20 younger kids, and around 30 older
kids.  This was a lot to handle with only 2 baskets and 2 counselors, but it worked out very well.  Some of the younger kids were part of Benjamin’s youth team, and already have a good sense of the fundamentals.  It was nice to see them step up and be leaders and kind of coach the kids who were just learning the fundamentals.  One kid in particular – Junior – really impressed me.  He is only 8 years old, but his whole family plays basketball, and he competed and held his own against 14 year olds! 

The older kids loved to play, loved to compete, and really listened to us.  It was nice to see
them make some basketball plays – they used the ball screen, some backdoors, and some post up game, but other than that, it is rare to see structure in pick up games.  It is also rare to see
solid defense.  The whole basketball culture here is heavy on fouling, hand-checking.  I don’t want to sound like a soft basketball player, or an American-basketball-centrist, but really, it is almost an entirely different game here – you can’t get in the lane because people actually push you, you can’t get a rebound because sometimes, people maul you – and they just keep on playing.  The team who handles the contact the best usually ends up winning.  To combat this, Isa and I were heavy on calling small fouls, and eventually the campers adapted their defensive.  One older kid had a (presumably used high school) jersey with "Tiberi" on the back - which was so cool to me, because my college teammate and good friend at Denison for 4 years has his last name.  Never knew I would find a Tiberi in Africa, that's for sure.

At each camp, we had a skills competition, a hot shot competition, and a 3-point competition. 
One kid scored an amazing 41 points in a 1-minute hot shot competition, the most by far I have ever seen.

The best part of this week was when the older kids would come up and ask us the schedule for the week, and they’d ask “tomorrow” and we’d go “yes” – then “Wednesday?” and we’d go “yes” and with every “yes” answer, their eyes got bigger.  Also, another great thing about the Rafiki kids – they showed up ON TIME and were ready to go.

 In all, over a 2 week span, we had 101 campers!  Isa and I are feeling pretty good about

The weekend before our first, camp, I met with a Health NGO leader, and he referred me to a ton of public statistics and resources, which I will be sure to use in the very near future, once I figure out how to incorporate them into activities instead of just lecturing kids. 

We are starting to encounter a problem in terms of getting female participants.  It is very hard, because we have only worked with youth centers so far, and it seems like only guys go there to play sports.  I think our next move is to work with schools - which would be perfect because school is about to start up again - because that guarantees us a population of young ladies to work with. 

This also brings me to a second point – how many different things you have to keep in mind. 
You have to be so spread out, and learn how to do many things – sometimes even on the fly.  Besides adapting to the new culture, you have to: coordinate sponsors, coordinate your
shipment (dealing with customs in a different country is very challenging), meet with people, budget your money extremely carefully, plan your basketball clinics, be able to communicate with people who don’t speak your language.  Even though it is challenging, I really love it – so just a heads up to those applying now – this will be a very difficult task, but that is why you are applying, wasn’t it?  You will really be suited for almost anything after this.  This program
really affects both sides of the sabbatical – the grantee and the people being affected – in an incredible way.

So, from here, we have one more week of camp to go, then a week of preparing, then getting everything together for the big tournament.  Hopefully our shipment will get in so we will have goodies to give out to contest champions.  If not, Justin hooked us up with some nice Reebok gear so we do have some nice things to give out. 

Fun fact – According to trivia night, the top 4 countries that produce the highest number of movies are India, Nigeria, France, and the
U.S. (I don’t know the order).

I am so thankful for this opportunity, no matter how many curveballs are thrown in the way.  Hope all is well at home!
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leahwestbrooks on

Little Junior is a baller!! Great stuff guys, keep up the good work!!! x

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