A bridge is a useful method of closing a gap. Basketball is a game played on a court with two nets and a ball. What do these two things have in common? Well, more than you think.
As I write this I am sitting in an African home in rural Kenya just a stone’s throw from the Equator. The home belongs to my friend and colleague Dan Otieno. He and I work together to manage infrastructure projects in East Africa funded by the CanAssist African Relief Trust.
My involvement with CanAssist has provided me with a bridge to learning, adventure and most importantly, the ability to help others. CanAssist funds projects in the areas of education, health, water and sanitation. We build schools, latrines, install rain-water tanks, fuel-efficient stoves and more. To date, we have completed more than $1,000,000 of infrastructure development in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and the Congo.
For the past two weeks I have been walking to a local school. The walk, some 45 minutes long, includes a paved road, a rocky dirt path, steep hills and one bridge. Recently, I learned that the bridge was built by the Millennium Development Group. It crosses a small stream that turns into a fast flowing river in the rainy season. Heavy rains meant residents who lived downhill could get cut off from the trading centre at the top. This modest bridge has improved the quality of life for the residents here and it also ensures that children in the area can walk to school with less risk from fast flowing water.
Walking to and from the school each day, I have had much time to think and reflect on my work with CanAssist. Basic needs such as water, sanitation and education are all things that we take for granted in the West. But here, in rural Africa, they are often hard to acquire.
The school that I visit is called St. Catherine and I have been team teaching with a local teacher. Coincidentally, one of the first lessons that I taught was about the basic needs in the district and in an older class we discussed the importance of tourism. The tourist teaches. But what of basketball, you are asking? Patience is a virtue!
In addition to learning the basic subjects, the students at St. Catherine School are also learning to love a new sport. This came about inadvertently. When I first visited this school in 2016, I brought school supplies, basketball uniforms and a basketball. Surprisingly, I learned that the students here knew nothing of the game. With no electricity, television or access to the internet, students were cut off from many things, including the great game. Time for a bridge, I decided.
I believe that boys and girls, from all parts of the world deserve the opportunity to learn and play a new sport. To build this “bridge” I needed financial support. Donations from friends and family were supplemented by a generous donation from the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. Less than a year later, a paved sports pad was built, the first in the area. Now the school has both boys’ and girls’ teams. One of the teams even competed in a tournament in Kisumu and won!
The “bridge” that made this happen was constructed from an assortment of materials, including vision, passion, determination, persistence, team work and of course, money. For lovers of basketball this story is heart warming. For me, it is reaffirming. Through this story I learned that anything is possible. In fact, it was my own grade 4 students in Canada who told me that this was the moral of the story.
In closing I must share, that on the first day that I walked down the hill, on this 2018 trip, I crossed the small bridge, and as I approached the school I heard the familiar sound of a basketball bouncing. It was break time. The “team” dressed in uniform, were practising. They were there simply because of their love of the game. They were playing on a paved court. They were happy and active and engaged. They were the benefactors of a “bridge” called basketball.
Nancy Grew is an elementary teacher who currently holds a released position with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. She also volunteers her time as trustee and project manager for the CanAssist African Relief Trust. CanAssist is a Canadian charity funding infrastructure development in East Africa.