Written by Ngoni Mukukula
This Exchange Visitor almost never made it to the USA. . .
When Mark Crandall met Michael Brookes, a Public Diplomacy Officer in the Embassy of the United States in Harare, at a Summit in South Africa in December of 2011, little did they know their meeting would positively impact on the life of Francisca Sekete, a poor girl from an unknown and underprivileged community of Dzivarasekwa in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Inside a month after their meeting, Michael invited our Harare office for a meeting to ascertain areas of possible cooperation between the Embassy and Hoops 4 Hope Operations in Zimbabwe. Yoni Marmostein and myself put together a 7 minute presentation. At the time of the meeting it appeared to me that Mark had done a great job selling Hoops 4 Hope to Michael. A lot of issues were discussed including the possibility of sending a girl from Zimbabwe to the USA as an Exchange Visitor. That idea sounded so remote to me but I followed up on it two weeks after our meeting.
We short listed 4 girls, and in the end Francisca, who won the once- in -a -life -time -chance to travel the USA – her dream country. The teenager was over joyed. I helped her to apply for her Visa and she booked for her appointment. The day for the interview came and I found myself at the USA Embassy on the day of her appointment with the Consular. I wished her well as she joined others going inside. Before I could leave she came back quickly and said, ‘ I forgot my passport at home’. I was a little upset with her but then I thought it was not the time for that. She made a phone call to her parents and they started looking for her passport back home. An hour passed and the call to say we found it did not come. Before we knew it, the business day came to an end and her parents had turned their place upside down, her passport was nowhere to be found.
In the next 72 hours Francisca went from being the happiest girl in Zimbabwe to the most miserable one. She went from hero to zero. In her ordeal she hardly ate anything, she had very little time to sleep and cried a river. Her passport was nowhere to be found and as the days went by, it became apparent that she had lost her passport. Francisca tells me that she got a lot of courage from Michael Brookes each day he called her and assured her that as long as she had a passport she would make the trip.
Meanwhile the days kept counting down and now it was a week before the once in a life time trip. The only option that was left was to get a new document. It was still possible since an emergency one takes 24 hours. The biggest challenge was that Francisca lives with her widowed mum and money was going to be an issue. An emergency document is quite expensive in Zimbabwe. I sent an SOS to friends of Hoops 4 Hope. By the end of the day a great ‘Samaritan’, an angel donor, said she was going to help Francisca. Francisca’s mum cried tears of joy.
Francisca wrote, ‘ I felt alive again. I felt the biggest happiness of my life. I would love to meet (the angel) and express my gratitude to her. I really appreciate everything she did for me.’
Francisca applied for her passport and got a new document. A Visa was issued and Francisca made the trip the USA as an Exchange Visitor. During the trip she met with Hillary Clinton, the USA Secretary of State, and went to Denver to watch the Final Four NCAA Women’s Championships.
Francisca is also grateful to the Sports United Program. She said, ‘they taught us a lot of things, some of which I want to share with my community now that i am back.’ In the USA Francisca became friends with Zola Crandall and she says she felt so loved and special to have them (Zola and her Dad Mark) welcome her in the USA. She tells me, ‘Coach Mark has a big and loving heart. Everything was a blessing from God.’
Francisca is back home and it is great to see how the trip has impacted her. She is happy and laughs and talks a lot.