Written by Patrick Corrigan
On August 9, I flew from JFK airport in New York City with six other NCAA Division III basketball players and three coaches into Nairobi, Kenya, on the first Travelbond trip. The trip was filled with adventure and excitement and was life-changing. The purpose of the trip was to see how we could most affect the country with basketball as our catalyst. We traveled to four different towns, competed against Kenyan basketball teams, saw wildlife, went to orphanages, and learned the Kenyan ways.
The Kenyan people are amazing—always upbeat, smiling, and excited to meet new people. They loved when we spoke Swahili, their native language. The Swahili greeting is "Jambo" (Hello) and gratitude "asante sana" (thank you very much). A laid back "sawi sawi" (everything is cool) also made them laugh. The majority of the Kenyan people spoke three languages—Swahili, English, and a tribal language.
We played four games and won all the games handily. The teams we faced were very athletic and talented individuals, but lacked fundamental knowledge of how to play the game properly—floor balance, cutting and picking, and help defense were almost nonexistent. Part of the problem is that players typically don't start playing basketball until they are 14 or 15 years old. But also, the coaches do not put their players in good positions to succeed on the court. Our coaches showed them offensive and defensive strategies and they improved rapidly.
After each game, we followed with a basketball camp for the all the kids in the school. The camp focused on fundamentals and kids of all ages attended. The effort and attention they put into basketball was refreshing and made coaching them a fun and memorable experience.
Kenya is hindered by poverty and crime; however, the hunger to learn about basketball is present. Over the next five years, Travelbond's focus will be to build more courts, conduct more camps, and start some recreational leagues for younger kids—to spread the game and get kids to pick up a ball earlier.
One of the Kenyan coaches explained to me the role basketball plays in the kids' lives. "Basketball practice and games are the kids' two hours a day where they don't have to worry about their problems at home." Additionally, kids see basketball, soccer, or rugby as a true opportunity to a better life—to make it professionally or to an American university.
In between basketball camps and games, we traveled to three orphanages. One of the orphanages was in the slums of Nairobi. There were people sleeping on the sides of streets, trash was everywhere, and homes were made out of whatever people could find. The kids were adorable, but their living situations were miserable. We played games with them for hours and got to know them. They loved duck, duck, goose. We brought the kids beds, food, and basketballs.
On the tourist side of the trip, we went on two different wildlife safaris, one in Nairobi and one in Nakuru. We saw donkeys, cattle, zebras, and monkeys on a regular basis just hanging around town. The views on the safaris were unbelievable - we were on mountain tops overlooking a forest that ran to a lake.
We saw countless baboons, birds, and buffalo on the safaris. We saw only one giraffe, one rhino, and a couple hippos, but they were magnificent creatures. By far the most entertaining animals were the baboons. They spent all day wrestling with each other. At Nakuru, we saw close to fifty baboons walking around. They would get within three feet of you. If you had food in your hand, they would take it and run away. We saw a baboon walk into a car full of people and take a box of cookies. The baboon got the cookies and fled the car to the highest tree, where he then enjoyed his new box of cookies.
The trip was better than I could've imagined. While in Kenya, we had the pleasure of meeting President Obama's grandmother. She said it best, "I love basketball. It is more than a game." I met so many good people who all love basketball and loved helping others. The trip makes me further realize how lucky we Americans truly are, and that sometimes we take things for granted. We are blessed and should help those less fortunate—whether through basketball or through other common interests. These people are very similar, we just happened to be born in different situations. I hope to make it back to Kenya soon and make a difference.