This past Sunday, 10 members of the Shooting Touch Team just returned from an unbelievable 10 day visit to our international programming in Rwanda. After years of grassroots hard work, enormous stress and lots of questioning…was incredible to see the program first hand. We shook the hands and hugged the locals who have been part of our Shooting Touch Sabbatical Programs for two years. We are so thankful for the gracious welcome we received upon our arriving in “the land of a thousand hills”.
We visited the Eastern Province of the country – Rwinkwavu, Kayonza and Nymirama where we are registered as an NGO. We played on the courts our Grantees built from scratch. We participated in a multi-town Shooting Touch tournament in which 4 Shooting Touch locations were represented. We were pleased to meet the leaders from many communities – including a representative from the U.S. Embassy and the mayor of Kayonza. Basketball was alive and well. Joy was evident and competition was born.
We worked together with a local girls orphanage to paint a court we rehabbed next to a youth and family center. We came with over 100 pairs of sneakers in tow, and presented them to the youth participants that had the best attendance records. For some, these sneakers were the only shoes they had. Barefoot no longer.
We played ball and got to know the Shooting Touch kids. We also met with prospective on-the–ground partners in an effort to advance our visibility and sustainability.
We saw just how far our Grantees have come. We witnessed such a dramatic change in their level of confidence – how they handle themselves and how they take ownership and responsibility over this social entrepreneurial program. The lessons learned will prepare them for so many of life’s hurdles ahead.
We squeezed all the juice out of the fruit on this trip and the lessons we learned along the way were invaluable.
First, the level of poverty where we are working is overwhelming. You see it on television, read about it in the news, but to see it first hand is something that sticks with you. Basic health needs like proper hygiene education, access to safe drinking water, the availability of nutritious foods, and the funds for functional shoes are not easily obtained. As the Director of the program, you are constantly reminded that the stress to keep the organizational wheels turning is far outweighed by the motivation to support these kids, their families, and their communities.
Despite the daily challenges that they face, the kids exhibited such joy, such happiness, and such enthusiasm for basketball, always giving their best. The kids are incredible. Their pure excitement in being able to play a simple game and have access to a court to simply… have a place to go…is very evident. The lesson learned was… perspective. Have it, own it, and always try to keep that positivity as a drip on the brain back here in Boston. Lord knows these Rwandan children do.
Second, our off-court curriculum, which touches on the importance of health and fitness, gender equality, disease prevention, and leadership skills is taught the moment our kids step on the courts that we built. We know there is huge value with a “Theory of Change” element to our off court curriculum piece. But…there is significant value being provided just through the sport itself. And that should be recognized more by the larger fundraising world.
Shooting Touch is so proud to be able to provide access to the sport, and having seen it in person, we have no choice but to keep on keeping on with our efforts, our work and to see this program grow.
Third, passion and joy combined is the best marketing campaign you can have. All week long, kids would run over hills, barefoot, down rocky dirty roads… sprinting towards our courts yelling “Shoootinnnggggg Taaaachhhhh.” Kababa, a 12-year-old boy from Rwinkwavu, shook my hand said in his Kinyarwandan-inspired English, “Thank you for doing this. Shooting Touch is close to my heart.” We were sitting in a van one morning, stopping for gas in a remote village far from where we were based and all of the sudden a group of 10-15 children on their way to school in yellow uniforms, out of nowhere, pass by, look in and see us…they started cheering “Shoot-ing Touch, Shoot-ing Touch”, waving, clapping, smiling and tapping on the window. Kids were learning about us across the region and people knew who we were and what we stood for. That was powerful.
Fourth, we have a plan. The model for the program in Rwanda has become stronger and more focused. We are creating a nation-wide youth league (4 teams, 2 Coaches in each of the 4 towns in the Eastern province – females and males, 18 years of age and under). We are raising the level of play and exposure to the sport, as well as using its hook and magnetic ability to bring thousands of Rwandan youth together on a consistent basis to provide potentially life-saving public health messaging. We will partner with a public health force that will help educate these kids on health promotion. That is our value, that is our “quan.” It’s pretty simple, we know basketball can bring children together, and we know basketball, so we do it well.
Fifth, we hustled and made great programming progress. As a result of our 10 day trip, we have MOU’s already in development for partnerships with the FIBA’s Rwandan Basketball Federation (FERWABA), the country’s Ministry of Sports and Culture, public health giant Partners in Health and the Nike Foundation’s Girl Hub. We met with the US Embassy and USAID, who will both be great resources for us moving forward. We are on our way to align with the right partners, so we can create the greatest impact.
Rwanda is invested in Shooting Touch, and Shooting Touch is invested in Rwanda. Our model is working, but we are still perfecting it to take it to the next level, through thoughtful monitoring and evaluating.
Sixth…and most important…the key to this all is…funding.
For our supporters, thank you for joining our cause. Your impact is felt and I can assure your return on investment is very evident in the lives of the children we just saw. Their smiles and pure joy prove it.
Please continue to join in on our ride, hold on and know that we have come a long way in five years. And…we are just beginning.
Our bridge from Boston to Rwanda is holding steady, so continue to take the walk with us in using the power of sports to help others.
It really does work.