Volunteer funds Ampangorina’s Basketball teams to take part in Diego’s 2017 Basketball Regionals
At the beginning of April a group of 24 young adults from Ampangorina (Ampang); a small village in Nosy Komba, and their coach ventured to Diego Suarez to play in the 2017 Regionals Basketball tournament. These young adults made up two teams: twelve in the girls team and twelve in the boys team. This trip would not have been possible without M.R.C.I.’s ex-volunteer Mika Peterson who funded the trip to Diego and gave these teenagers an opportunity to represent their little home from afar and do their community proud. We must also thank Niamh Flynn, M.R.C.I.’s community development coordinator, who supervised the entire trip and gave five of MRCIs volunteers the opportunity to join herself, Nikki Hargreaves (M.R.C.I.’s community intern) and the Ampang teams in Diego for the final.
Imagine never having left your remote island home before and being told from a young age that you probably never will. Then imagine how you would feel at the shock of later being told you will be part of a trip to the mainland of Madagascar. That you will, despite only for a short amount of time, be saying goodbye to your family and travelling a good ten hours from home for the first time. As Niamh Flynn put it: “It was very exciting and extremely rewarding – giving teenagers and young adults the opportunity to visit a place that the majority of them had never been to before and seeing families reuniting afterwards. Even though it was just a short trip it will be remembered for a very long time.” However, what was even more spectacular was the purpose of the trip. As an M.R.C.I. ex-volunteer, I felt so proud seeing the Ampang teams in their smart uniforms on the court giving it their absolute all; they looked so professional. It was obvious that this opportunity meant a lot to them and they were so motivated. It was wonderful to watch the teens socialise in the stadium with other players their age from across North Madagascar. The Ampang players also spent a fair amount of time watching other teams play, picking up on their tactics and what they did differently.
So did the teams succeed in the Regionals? I would say so! Both the boy’s team and the girl’s team performed incredibly and made it to the semi-final. However, despite their efforts, both teams were knocked out of the competition by defending champions Diego. Although they didn’t win the competition, the Ampang teams did perform exceptionally well; especially considering that their court at home is roughly half the size of the one in Diego’s stadium.
From a volunteer’s perspective, this trip has been the most unique experience I have had whilst travelling so far. On our first night in Diego, we stayed in two classrooms with the teams at a local school. Despite not being at home, the teams treated us as if we were their guests. I vividly remember arriving at the school, having these excited teens run outside and grab my hands, and then being shown to the girl’s classroom where I would be sleeping with them and the other volunteers. It was wonderful being able to sit down and eat with them. Some of the players actually attend M.R.C.I.’s English classes and so during dinner we were able to have some basic conversations and giggle over mispronunciation when we volunteers reciprocated with Malagasy. One of the boys had brought a speaker with him, and so after dinner he would blast music into the room and, although none of us could really master the Malagasy way of dancing, we did our best to join in. Afterwards, the coach brought everyone together for a motivational speech on how they would go about tomorrow’s games. Despite being the only basketball coach on Nosy Komba, there couldn’t be a better suited person for the job. The room was silent afterward and even though I wasn’t part of the team, I felt inspired for sure.
Better still, my favourite memory from our trip was when all the girls and us volunteers laid out our bedding in a circle so that we were all facing each other for the night. It took the girl’s ages to settle down before we went to sleep and there was so much giggling; they had never done anything like this before. Although the school floor was uncomfortable, it added to the experience and it is definitely a story worth telling. Niamh Flynn told us: ‘Sleeping on the floor with all of the giggling girls was a bit tough the first night, but the second night I fell sound asleep. It was an opportunity that I value more than I even know.’
When I asked fellow volunteer about the trip she told me: ‘Diego left me with many unforgettable memories such as seeing lush mainland Madagascar on the cramped yet hilarious journey by taxi brousse; walking through town to the gymnasium and cheering on the Ampang basketball team each day; sitting on the floor around the fire to help peel and chop vegetables at meal times; and having a giant sleepover with all the girls on the concrete floor of a school.’
Over the next couple of days, when the teams weren’t playing basketball; which was most of the time, we would all chill out in the school grounds. Some of the team would be preparing food or cooking, others messing around with the basketball and getting in some extra practice. Niamh Flynn also said: ‘I was honoured to be included in the day to day activities such as going to the bazaar and doing the cooking – not that I was much help, but I tried!’ The volunteers joined in a few games of Bulldog’s Malagasy equivalent which became tiring extremely quickly. It’s remarkable that the teens had endured intense basketball tournaments, as well as an uncomfortable school floor to sleep on, yet still had heaps of energy! They put us sluggish volunteers to shame.
The trip ended on a beautiful note when we all gathered together and congratulated the teams on their successes and the fact that, despite not knowing each other too well and being away from home, they managed incredibly and made the most out of what they had and were provided with whilst in Diego. The M.R.C.I staff and volunteers managed to use the spending money we had left over to buy the teams a brand new basketball which we presented to them after the little speech. That moment was nothing short of happiness and pride; it confirmed that the trip was not just successful, but a once in a lifetime experience for these teenagers which will never be forgotten.
By Arantxa Underwood