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Fellowship Recipient Reflects on African Adventure

Written by Lindsay Nickel, H4H Volunteer

Name: Lindsay Nickel

Age: 20

Hometown: Los Altos, California. (Bay Area!)

School: Junior at Brown University, RI.

 

How you first heard about H4H:

I first heard about H4H and the organization’s great work in South Africa and Zimbabwe through my mentor, Eli Wolff, who has known Mark Crandall for many years.

What made you want to volunteer?

Since coming to Brown, I have become very interested and involved in this new field of study known as sport for development, which explores how sport can be used as a tool for individual, community, and societal development. As a member of the women’s basketball team at Brown and having played many other sports since I was young, I believe in the power of sport as it has taught me some of the most important lessons in my life. I began thinking about how I could investigate this intersection of basketball and youth development to see whether or not sport can be an effective way of educating the youth in the townships outside of Cape Town. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to travel to South Africa through the funding given by the Royce Fellowship for Sport and Society here at school.

Reflections, observations, pictures, etc!

Haha where to begin!

My time in South Africa exceeded all expectations—though I really don’t think I had any idea of what to expect. During the two months that I was there, I mentored teenage coaches who act as peer leaders for the youngsters in the primary schools, I ran a 4-day girls empowerment camp for 35 girls, and I took away a great deal about the sustainability of grassroots organizations. I met some amazing people and saw a country that I hope to one day travel back to.

I remember the first few days in the townships to be a bit of cultural overload as I was constantly trying to understand what daily life was like by asking honest questions, talking to kids/young people/adults, and just trying to understand and connect. H4H All-Star Thabo went out of his way to help us form these authentic connections. I initially remember thinking how great it was to see how much these kids who come out for the H4H after-school program LOVE basketball. In a country where soccer dominates, basketball is still very much a niche sport. It’s refreshing to see the joy that these kids have playing the game (try to imagine twenty kids all running to give their teammate a big high-five for just winning a round of steal-the-ball by scoring a simple layup)… perhaps because it is an escape from the realities of life outside the gates of the schoolyard.

Leah, also working at H4H for the summer, and I ran a 4-day girls empowerment camp in the Crossroads township in July. The week was great—a lot of fun. Individual skills were improved, team YoungStars won the championship at the buzzer, and there was of course lots of singing and dancing. It’s always refreshing to see the excitement and passion that some of these girls play with, especially those new to the game of basketball. I discovered that Mazambe (what we call Knockout) was the overwhelming game of choice for all 35 of these girls ages 11-16 who came to camp from the surrounding townships.

As an empowerment camp, Leah and I gave much thought to the healthy lifestyle message we wanted to present each day and decided to dedicate our four days to healthy eating choices, self-esteem, focus, and lastly an HIV/AIDS discussion. Thabo came in on the last day to lead a game of “find the ball,” which is an HIV simulation that we also use in the after-school clinics. All of these life chats were done over a healthy snack midway through the day, which we called our “girl time.” Overall, a very successful week.

A couple times a week after work, I would workout with the women’s basketball team at Cape Tech University. Interestingly, it was going from coaching in the township during the day to practicing with a college team that I gained a deeper understanding of the universality of sport.  Whether I was playing with girls my age at the collegiate level or coaching youngsters at a more basic level in an after-school clinic, I saw that concepts of basketball are the same. I did not know any of these girls I was practiced with, I could not communicate with a lot of the kids in the township as they speak little English, but yet the basketball bridges that gap. It is similar across the globe—it is taught and played very much the same way. Basketball really is a unifying force.

The highlight of my experience was most definitely meeting people and becoming friends with those I was working with. Thabo, the face of the organization in the townships, welcomed me into his home, introduced me to much of his extended family, and went out of his way to teach me about South African culture, tradition, and way of thinking.  I also found that many of the kids I met had goals very similar to those that I had when I was 14/15/16 years old. One morning at the Ikamva Labantu community center, a young girl named Monalisa struck up a conversation with me.   Just 11 years old, she had come to the court outside of our office to shoot baskets with her younger brother. Monalisa began telling me about her dream of attending school in the US and traveling around Europe. She told me about her love of sports–mostly soccer and basketball– her family, and how much she loves school. It was these simple interactions each day that really defined my time here.

Lastly

Other highlights of my time in Cape Town included great white shark cage diving, scaling the side of a mountain to see a Cape Town sunset, Sunday night dinners with Africans/ Europeans/ Americans, and some good pickup games around Cape Town. I also spent a week with the Cape Town men and women’s basketball team at the college national championships outside of Johannesburg. Oh, and I saw some pretty big wild cats on a safari in the northern part of the country.

Throughout the experience, I had amazing support from my friends, teammates, Brown basketball coaches, and faculty. I had experiences that I’m sure will be with me for the rest of my life with people that I hope to stay in touch with. A huge thank you to Kita, Thabo, and the rest of the gang for welcoming me into the Hoops 4 Hope family!