The Gift of a Basketball
Andrew and I arrived in Benin City, Nigeria, for the 2015 Access to Success annual trip. During this trip, our goal for this camp remained the same as the goals of every A2S camp — to empower Nigerian youth with the necessary tools to help them as they build towards a great future.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted at the airport, walked across the street to our hotel to check in and went into our team meeting. During the meeting we had a chance to get to know each other and establish our team roles as had been discussed during the planning stages of this trip. After the meeting, we set up the hall for the coaches meeting and made initial preparations for start of basketball camp. After settling in, we went to visit the A2S After School Academy. This was my first peak of the trip. At the end of each day, A2S team members come together to discuss the highest (peak) and lowest points (pit) of their day.
As the bus pulled up at the A2S After School Academy during their free meal session, all the children left their food and ran out to hug Andrew with the biggest smiles on their faces immediately when they saw him. At first I almost ran away because I did not know why they were screaming and running towards us, then I turned and saw them jumping and hugging him. He embraced them all, even those who had food on their faces and clothes. I was overwhelmed to see how much joy and hope he has given them through A2S. I tried very hard not to cry but came very close. These children could not stop smiling and spent their time just celebrating us, and it is a feeling that I will never forget. We spent some quality time touring the after school academy where we also saw the library for the children. This made me so happy to see because libraries for children in Nigeria are rare or almost non-existent. As we toured the rooms, I saw a little girl. She caught my attention because she was the smallest kid in the room who finished her meal before most could start. We also met with Pastor Ben, the comedic pastor who welcomed us wholeheartedly and blessed us before we went back to the hotel.
Today we started camp with registration and an opening prayer by Pastor Onaiwu. Andrew welcomed everyone and gave a statement of purpose where he reiterated our excitement, drive and desire to love on them during our time together and more importantly, to work with them so that we can grow together and individually, irrespective of what our environment looks like. A powerful addition to camp this year is that campers get to recite a quote by Mother Theresa. Campers recite it at the start and end of camp each day. By reciting that quote these next few days, the seeds of tolerance, forgiveness, kindness, love, and vision will bare good fruit in the life of each person. Watching the youth and coaches recite this quote with enthusiasm and joy filled me with joy because it shows that they are interested and appreciative of what we are bringing to them.
I introduced myself to the campers, explained to them that I used to be like them few years ago, and used my story to encourage them that if I can make it this far in life, that they can also make it even further by being humble, hardworking, respectful driven and God-fearing. I transitioned into stretches and dance aerobics with some Nigerian songs. This created a fun and lively atmosphere around camp, and made everyone feel more relaxed and provided them with the understanding that we are here to make them have fun in whatever they do, both now and for the rest of their lives.
During the dance aerobics, I saw this beautiful, slim, tiny little girl named Imuetiyanosa, which in Bini (Andrews native tongue) loosely translates into “I put my trust in God.” Imo, as we have now come to call her, can really dance. I did not quite remember her since it was a different atmosphere but she was that same girl I saw at the A2S After School Academy the day before. She did not fail to impress me with her dancing skills so I brought her out in front of the camp to dance, and she is one of the best dancers in the camp. Because of her performance, I promised her a gift. After we closed camp for the day, her friends brought her to me to remind me of my promise, and I asked her what she wants. To my greatest surprise, of everything this little girl could have asked for, she told me she wants a basketball. I never expected this reply from her. This showed she really wants to learn, and I am committed to making my new little best friend happy by getting her a basketball. Meeting Imo was my peak of our second day here in Benin. I did not find out that she is the same little damsel that caught my attention at the A2S After School Academy until I shared my peak of the day with the team at the hotel and Ehis (A2S program coordinator) told me it was the same girl I met earlier. Imo stole my heart, and I am so excited for her future and those of the very many campers who came from near and far to share in this amazing experience. It is my hope and prayer that other kids will follow in her footsteps of wanting to learn and striving to get better, all enveloped in humility. And I will continue to do my best to make the best out of my opportunity to sow ever positive seeds in the lives of these youth through our camp.