Hoops for Health

I was walking back from practice with Bosco the other day; he’s one of our best young players from Rwinkwavu. We were dancing and laughing and mimicking his immaculate crossover from practice that had left his defender baffled earlier that morning. Bosco had a great practice and he knew it. He marched home with unquestionable confidence, leading a pack of seven or so kids that looked up to his personality and athletic ability. As we reached the top of the hill, just before parting ways, a man from the village began yelling at Bosco. I couldn’t understand a word, but I could understand emotion, and Bosco deflated almost instantly. His eyebrows flattened, his lips pursed, his shoulders slouched. This man was wagging his finger, talking a mile a minute and I just stood, perplexed with the situation. The man then turned to me: “He needs school!” he spoke in English, “If no school, he will be a thief! Everyone in Rwinkwavu with no school is a thief!”

“Ok, ok.” I blurted out.

Bosco was already on his way home with his head down and his crossover long forgotten.


(Bosco, Rwinkwavu)

Bosco started school three days later. I got him his uniform and supplies and told him to attend afternoon practice only after he had finished all of his studies. So that’s what he did. But that’s not why I’m telling you this. I’m telling you this because what that man said to me that day is significant. Thievery aside, an uneducated community is a bad community. Lack of education is the root of poverty. Poverty leads to a decline in health. That’s just one side of it. Lack of education additionally leads to inequality and furthermore, mistreatment amongst individuals within that community. That man, a friend of Bosco’s family, was stern with Bosco that day and really dampened the mood of the morning. Regardless, I’m thankful for that moment because it opened my eyes to something major. Shooting Touch is here for times like this; we don’t just bounce balls, we educate. As focused as I am on teaching our young players to dribble with their eyes up, deeper problems persist out east and it’s my job to respond.

I’ve received multiple requests from blog followers back home asking to explain more about the educational side of Shooting Touch, so let me dive in.

I interact with roughly 350 Shooting Touch members weekly. Aside from basketball practice, our boys, girls, and women at my courts receive two health lessons from our curriculum per week. We also teach our women beginner English four times a week. On top of that, once a week, our coaches hold gender-segregated youth talks, allowing our kids to express their problems and concerns regarding relationships, puberty, home life, etc. And on top of that, we periodically have local doctors hold focus groups so that our women can talk about their problems and express their concerns. We take notes, we plan change.


(U13 practice, Nyamirama)

We are currently in the middle of our fifth health unit: “Adolescent Reproductive Health”. We want our boys and girls to feel comfortable with who they are and who they are becoming and we also want our women to reiterate these feelings to their children. This means teaching concepts such as eliminating gender norms, identifying characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships, portraying puberty as a harmless and normal chapter of life, encouraging protective sex, explaining the difference between sex and gender, and giving women and girls the confidence that they deserve and need. This unit is fun, sex education can get silly, but it also exposes fundamental information that these kids and women have never heard before. Numerous aspects go in to making a community a healthy community. Using basketball as a vehicle for education is a fun and effective way to integrate these aspects into the communities of Eastern Rwanda.


(Health Lesson: Who do you want to be?)


(Health Lesson: Gender Equality)

This education is so vital. I can’t express it enough. Out east, selfless and humanitarian actions and interactions are ubiquitous, however, these communities are unhealthy in so many ways. Here are some numbers (relating to unit five) to back it up.

In just my home village of Rwinkwavu, 52% of the women in our program have been victims of abuse, physically, verbally, or emotionally. 45% of these women admitted they don’t feel comfortable telling a man “no” when he approaches them wanting sex. 73% of the girls in our program don’t believe they can do anything a boy can do. Again, this is why we are here. There is work to be done.


(Health Lesson: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships)

Mama Ruth (pictured below) is a part of the Rwinkwavu women’s team. She owns and runs a shop in the village, cultivates her family’s crops daily, is responsible for two children, cooks and cleans for her family, and makes it to practice every Tuesday and Thursday at 4pm. Her husband thinks Shooting Touch is a waste of time. He thinks basketball is a waste of time for women. He let her know that on days that she wants to go to practice, he won’t help out around the house or in the fields. Mama Ruth is HIV positive and gets tired easily due to the medicine she is on; nevertheless, she accepts her husband’s ultimatum and attends our practices and health lessons. She is a strong and intelligent woman and I’m humbled to know her. This is what we need more of. Women ignoring gender norms. Women making their own decisions for themselves. Women being strong. So we have to start with our young girls and tell them that this is how it should be, and we have to let our young boys know that this is how it’s going to be, and we have to make sure our women go home and teach their young boys and girls this knowledge. Just thinking about the possible effect I can have on this village and others in the east gives me the chills. I, along with my Shooting Touch team, can really make a long-lasting impact if this information is taught correctly and successfully gets through to the kids.


(Mama Ruth, Rwinkwavu)


(Mama Ruth, Rwinkwavu)

We know we have issues when the men in an eastern village (in which one of our courts is situated) actually believe that it hasn’t rained in two months because the women there are playing basketball. It never rains in December and January; it’s the dry season then. This is a prime example of how lack of education can lead to an unhealthy society. There are a lot of theories floating in the air because of nonexistent education and so this is why we are here. We want to help. We want to introduce them to new, useful ideas.


(Health Lesson: Puberty Role Play)

I’m thrilled Bosco is in school. I know it will help him in life, but aside from math and history, Shooting Touch provides what schools can’t always give, and that’s knowledge concerning humanity for the sake of personal and societal well-being.  Not only am I proud to be teaching 13 year-olds the difference between sex and gender but I’m proud to say they truly understand the difference between the two.


(Health Lesson: Sex vs. Gender)


(Health Lesson: Our Changing Bodies)


(Women review the menstrual cycle, Nyamirama)


(Girls see tampons for the first time, Nyamirama)


(Distribution of stomach worm pill, Nyamirama)


(Preparing for our International Women’s Day Tournament, Rwinkwavu)


(Doctors from the local hospital come to speak to our women, Rwinkwavu)


(Peace out from Chingie, Rwinkwavu)






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