Riley Spreads Message of Basketball – Part 3

At first glance, my height, skin color, and even my accent screams a foreigner has come to the Nkomazi region of South Africa near the Swaziland border—yet my 4th trip back to this area ensures that I am not greeted as another Umfati Wemlungu (white woman), but rather I am embraced as a coach, sister and friend. This last installment of my African blog is about the most fulfilling part of my trip. Traveling to this remote region in 2006 helped ignite the passion for my humanitarian work. It was then that I learned about all the multi-faceted challenges that my friends faced every day of their lives because they were born in a place where the unemployment rates, HIV prevalence, and poverty levels rank amongst the highest in the world.

When involved in any grassroots effort the key to success is sustainability. I remember coming home from the first trip feeling an enormous ache in my heart to help, coupled with this sense of overwhelming inadequacy of not knowing where to begin. I knew I could not solve their problems myself, but what I could do was be a consistent force helping them move in the right direction. One of the most glaring needs I recognized was that there was a complete void of leadership within their community. Everyone was in survival mode, and therefore they were completely focused on how they personally were going to make it to tomorrow, with little forethought as to how to create a better future. Without someone to inspire and guide them in a different direction, the community was stuck in this hopeless cycle of desperation.

Now I want to introduce you to three amazing young men: Zola, Sabelo, and Scratch. Known as some of the best basketball players in the region, they were participants in my first ever skills camp over six years ago. As some of the older players in the area, they were required to perform the dual duty of coaching and playing. Zola has recently decided to sacrifice his love for playing and in turn spends all of his time investing in the younger generations. He (with the help of his friends) are organizing thirteen and under teams for both girls and boys at the local elementary schools. They spend every afternoon teaching them not only basketball, but most importantly life skills. These men are putting Gandhi’s words to action as they are trying to “be the change they wished to see in their communities.” This time my flight home invoked a few different emotions than my first trip. Yes, I was once again extremely passionate about doing what I can to help, but instead of being overwhelmed by the complex problems, I had a sense of hope. For the first time, this community has young men who are willing to lead, and that is the initial step of making progress sustainable!!