Written by H4H Volunteer, Leah Westbrooks
How does one sum up three crazy, totally unexpected, completely exhausting, and absolutely epic months??? I don’t think one can, but I am definitely going to attempt to give you somewhat of an insight into these past few amazing months that I spent working with Hoops 4 Hope in Cape Town!
First and foremost, you probably want to know who I am… My name is Leah Westbrooks and I hail from the small island of Ireland… I just graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in the States this past May and a dream of mine after college was always to travel to Africa to work with children… That dream became a reality through an incredible organization called Shooting Touch.
Based in Boston, Shooting Touch grants one lucky, graduating senior each year, the chance to travel anywhere in the world for ten months to use the sport of basketball to create social change… Sounds unreal, I know, but this surreal opportunity is exactly how I found myself in the middle of Cape Town this past June… Shooting Touch linked me up with Hoops 4 Hope and well, as they say, the rest is history!
As I look back over the thousands of photographs I now have and think over all the MANY experiences I have gone through with H4H, it is difficult to choose any memory as they were all such different but equally remarkable times. However, I have decided on giving you a taste of my top three memories, in no particular order!
Lets see, to begin with… One of my favorite things about working with H4H had to be doing the after school programs. During the week I was mostly based in the townships of Crossroads and Philippi where I would help coach basketball sessions and lead life skill lessons. It was so encouraging to see how, come rain or shine, kids turned up. And I don’t think it was just about the basketball, more so I believe it was about the friendships that were formed, not only between the children and their peers, but also them and us, the volunteers. Even though we would be there every Tuesday and Thursday in Philippi, there was always this one young boy who would ask me at the end of each session (without fail!) if we would be back the following Tuesday or Thursday… In an area that was riddled with poverty and crime and where it was rare for children to see adults so invested in the everyday happenings of their youth, I think for that young boy that that simple question had such deep connotations… “Yes, we will be here”, was more than a simple answer, it was confirmation to the child that someone cared, that there was follow through and hope for at least another afternoon of fun and learning with people he now called friends.
I couldn’t talk about my time with H4H without talking about the Shooting Touch Female Camp we ran in July! The interesting and unique thing about my time in Cape Town was that I was partnering with H4H while working for Shooting Touch… this meant that I got to wear many different hats and enjoy the craziness of being involved with both! One of the main reasons I am on this 10 month sabbatical through Shooting Touch is to create some extra hope and joy in people’s lives through the sport of basketball… My favorite thing about being part of the Shooting Touch family and partnering up with Hoops 4 Hope is sharing in a similar idea, the idea that basketball can be used as a tool to not only bring together people from many different backgrounds but educate and mentor them, help them grow as well as see and believe that there are so many opportunities out there in this crazy but beautiful world we live in!
So, in July I organized an all girl’s camp that was run in Crossroads. My fellow work mate at Hoops 4 Hope, Lindsay Nickel, helped me coach the 30 plus young women we had during the four-day camp. Lindsay is currently a junior at Brown University in the USA and plays basketball there so it was great having her coaching skills and input all week!
The over arching theme of the camp was “choices”… The girls ranged from ages 9 to 16 and we wanted to show them throughout the week that in everyday life there are choices they will have to make, some big, some minor but that there are consequences and things that result from their choices. We also wanted to ignite the idea in their minds and hearts that opportunities are out there, that they deserve the luxury of having the ability to “choose” what they want to do with their lives, in the sense of, choosing to work hard in school which would lead to finishing secondary school, which would then lead to the opportunity of choosing to possibly further their education onto college. This was just one of the issues we chatted about… we also lead talks on eating healthy and choosing to live a healthy life style… we talked about self esteem, responsibility, body image, boys of course (!) and on the final day we had a great HIV and Aids prevention talk. It was great having the training from Hoops 4 Hope on the Life Skills as many of our chats were based off them. We challenged the girls to pursue their passions and “dream big”, not to create false hope but to instill the idea of a very tangible dream becoming reality. Many of the girls at the camp are coached by men in their school and club teams, and their communities are very male dominated- I think it was important for them to see myself and Lindsay in such a leadership role, to see where our passion for sport and pursuit of education has taken us.
Running the girls camp was definitely a massive highlight of my time with H4H, but I think helping out at the Basketball Without Borders camp was the perfect way to conclude my H4H Cape Town experience. Every year NBA Africa runs a Basketball Without Borders camp somewhere in Africa and every year Hopes 4 Hope is invited out to teach the campers life skills and run sessions on HIV/Aids prevention. This year the camp was being hosted in Johannesburg at the end of August and I got to go as a coach from Shooting Touch and as a facilitator from H4H (once again, many hats!). To say it was an experience of a lifetime would be an understatement… It was such a joy getting to coach young men and women from all over Africa as well as such a privilege having the chance to help impact these future leaders by teaching important life skills and lessons.
Even though this is just a snippet of my time with H4H in Cape Town, I hope you can now see why it was so crazy, totally unexpected, completely exhausting, all the while being absolutely epic!! I was literally “living the dream”, or at least my dream and the thrilling thing for me is, the Shooting Touch adventure continues on… I am currently in Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) until December, I head back to Cape Town with H4H for the month of December and then it is onto Harare with H4H in Zimbabwe until April… So watch this space people and keep on dreaming!!!