Caryl M. Stern is President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. She was recently in Senegal where she visited Basketball without Borders, a phenomenal community outreach program by U.S. Fund for UNICEF partner NBA.
Where to begin? I want to describe what we are experiencing here but need to find the right words… It is amazing to divide your days between the abject poverty we are bearing witness to — the service projects we are participating in — and the absolute fun we are having traveling with NBA players, coaches, and staff. The laughs have been many; the tears we shed together at the “door of no return” on Goree Island where countless future slaves were pushed through, reminded me of trips I’ve taken to Auschwitz.
|U.S. Fund for UNICEF/2010|
We led HIV education workshops for kids, watched/played a whole lot of basketball, helped with the training of 100 hopeful African youth who love basketball and are learning far more than hoops here, and participated in a number of service projects. Today we distributed and hung hundreds of anti-malaria bed nets in a village outside of Dakar. It was unbearably hot — very grimy — and involved quite a bit of work. Homes were one simple small room — sometimes with 8+ people living in them. But when a very elderly man we delivered to asked us to wait while he prayed to thank God for sending us and then blessed us all; or when a little girl jumped in my arms — well, it really did not feel hot or dirty at all. Senegal is beautiful — magnificent beaches, tropical foliage, and people who meet your eyes and smile when they pass you.
The poverty is apparent everywhere — clean, running water is scarce and the fact that the power goes out many times each day is just a fact of life here. The 100 kids at the NBA “camp” are from all over Africa. They speak many languages — some traditional/tribal, others French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic and English. They are united in their love of the game and prove that you do not have to speak the same language on the court.
We are all proud to be here but proudest are the 3 NBA players originally from Senegal. They are close to bursting as they show us their country and show their country who we are. Their individual stories awe us all as do the stories of the other NBA players from Africa. It is for me so inspiring to see faces I know from my TV screen leave their celebrity status at home and become people without names… People whose hearts are huge and whose generosity astounds us all as they teach, lead, hug and help the people of Africa. I am thrilled to be with them!