An African basketball story

Last year, while on a safari with other CanAssist supporters, Kingston teacher Nancy Grew was drawn to the small community of Ramula in Siaya District of Kenya. In addition to several others, the safari group visited two schools there, St Catherine Primary School and the Ramula District Secondary School, both having been beneficiaries of CanAssist support in the past.

Nancy is also a dedicated basketball fan and had brought basketballs and school supplies donated by Truedell Public School and a few uniforms from Kingston Impact for the kids at the schools. She was astounded to find that they had heard little about basketball and did not know how to play the game. Fortunately, one of the teachers at St Catherine school was keen to learn and over the next while he coordinated with another coach in the district to start to introduce the sport to the Ramula community.

Knowing that sport was a great way to develop teamwork, discipline, strategic planning and physical fitness in students, Nancy decided to encourage the community to develop a basketball programme for students in the district. She corresponded with coach Donald and was supportive, both financially and through encouragement, of a Ramula district basketball initiative.

Students of the very rural St Catherine school were joined by others in nearby communities and formed a team. Nancy learned that they had the opportunity to participate in a tournament in Kisumu, about 90 minutes away from “the rural”. She wished that she could go to see this game and to encourage the development of basketball in the district, but thought that was a pipe dream.

But pipe dreams can become reality. Nancy applied for a brief leave of absence from her teaching position with the Limestone District School Board and was grateful and delighted that it was approved – for five working days. This gave her a week to make the 14,000 km trek to Kisumu to see her team play in the tournament, have a brief visit to the community, and return home.

I was planning a trip to review CanAssist projects in Kenya and Uganda so I arranged for part of my safari to overlap to include the basketball tournament, too.

On Saturday January 14, we had the pleasure of watching these kids compete. The tournament was similar to any junior basketball tournament in Canada. It was held on an outdoor court at a Muslim school in multicultural Kisumu. The temperature in the sunshine on the court was about 32 degrees C. Despite this, the kids were energetic and motivated. There were five local teams and the games were for half the usual regulation time. The Ramula district team was entered with the name “Kingston” and our team sported donated Kingston Impact uniforms. Balls used for the games had been supplied by the Lakers Basketball Association of Kingston.
I know little about basketball but Nancy was impressed by the level of skill of these players, on all the teams. We were also pleased to see that one of the teams was made up of teenage girls – a reflection that girls and women in this country are being encouraged, at least in some circles, to be empowered to have equal opportunities.

We were delighted to cheer on the Kingston team and watch them win their first two games. Then they won the semi final game and advanced to the finals. Prior to the final game, the kids were all given a big lunch. The outcome? The Kingston team won the tournament, collecting a little trophy to take back to the rural Siaya District community.

What does this all prove? Anything is possible. These rural kids, through hard work and perseverance were able to learn enough in a few months to perform competitively. Nancy, also with determination and support was able to attend the tournament, half a world away. She is now even more motivated to continue to encourage the Ramula community by helping to set up a local league at two schools in the next year. She will look for support to build two sports pads that can be used in the community for basketball and other outdoor sports activities. She hopes that the lessons learned through participation in sports activities will benefit the kids throughout their lives. Stay tuned to see how this story ends.

Nancy has blogged about her mission and her recent trip to Kenya at

Watch Catherine’s news report about the tournament here:

Parts of this story appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard on Thursday January 26, 2012.

Getting to Mbita …

The trip to Mbita from Nairobi involves a short flight to Kisumu, a two hour taxi ride to a ferry dock at Luanda and a one hour ferry trip across Homa Bay to Mbita town. There is now a relatively new Tarmac road to the ferry. Before this road was made asphalt, it was muddy and twice in the past, the McGill student group has been stuck on the road, once having to leave one of our overlander trucks mired in the mud overnight.

imageThe ferry trip is always amusing. This trip I arrived about 15 minutes after the ferry had left and had to wait two hours for the next one in a dirt-floored lean-to with benches adorned with ripped cushions, the stuffing belching out of them. It is certainly hotter in this part of the country. In Nairobi the temperatures were pleasant and actually cool. In Kisumu it was in the mid-thirties.

As I waited for the ferry, I watched the fishermen come into the landing nearby in their wooden boats, typical of the region. There is always an on-shore wind early in the evening and the lake actually turns from calm to treacherously rough.

Finally the ferry arrived and a few cars and passengers disembarked. However, there was a small herd of cows that had spent the trip on the main deck and they had to be cajoled and whipped to leave the boat down the car ramp. The region has had more rain than usual in the latter part of 2012 so the lake water level is higher than I have seen in the past. This meant that the ramp for cars ( and cows ) was steep so the cows balked and slid as they exited the boat. In their anxious ride over they had produced a fair amount of dung which littered the deck and the ramp, so much that the cars that were boarding ferry were having trouble getting up onto the boat, their wheels spinning in the “bullshit” and spraying it around. Eventually, two and a half hours after I had reached the landing, the ferry was loaded and ready to depart.


I happened to meet Linda, an Amercan woman who now lives on Rusinga Island. Our paths had crossed on my previous visits the region. She  was returning to Rusinga Island with some new wicker furniture including a couple of nice chairs, so the two of us sat on the deck of the boat amidst the dung having a visit and watching the sunset.

My "home away from home" for the next three weeks.

My “home away from home” for the next three weeks.

The bottom line is that I arrived safely in time to have dinner and a Tusker with the film crew for Nightrunners, the movie. I feel quite at home at the ICIPE station here and figure it is my 8th stay here. I know all the staff and vice versa. I will be staying in the same room I have had for the past few years, overlooking the grounds that lead to Lake Victoria.  I have already had welcoming  hugs from Tabitha, the lady that cleans my room. Another of my international homes.image