Sportspersons turn into heroes and children and adolescents look up to their favourite sports personalities.
But there’s a downside to sports heroes as role models because being a star does not guarantee that the athlete will develop admirable character, moral values or strategies to deal with life, including peer pressure.
Sports organisations and clubs normally focus on skill building at the expense of moral character. Hoops 4 Hope is an organisation that has a completely different approach to this. Its thrust is to build morally upright, responsible and patriotic citizens through sport.
The primary target beneficiaries of Hoops 4 Hope are children and youths in communities. Basketball is their major conduit for mobilising the youths.
“Kids like to have fun and basketball provides the excitement that goes with the fun. It is not easy to mobilise, say 600 children and youths in a community but through sporting fun this is easily achievable,” said Ngoni Mukukula, Hoops 4 Hope director and founding partner.
“Our aim is to shape the kids and youths to be responsible, tolerant and patriotic citizens. This country is ours and we need to teach the children to co-exist with others in a responsible manner so that they grow up as upright citizens for the development of the country,” said Mukukula.
This was echoed by Norest Shenje, operations manager with the organisation.
“We want to see children benefit through behavioural change. As leaders, coaches and organisers, we should be role models for the kids. We teach the children life skills so that they do not succumb to negative peer pressure,” Shenje said.
The organisation, according to Mukukula, reaches out to between 5 000 and 7 000 children and youths per year.
“Our model is simple because it is community-based. Respective communities run the programme in their areas. We train point people whom we call ‘All-Stars’.
Their role is to teach life skills to the children and basketball is the conduit for mobilisation. We ensure that in each community, our point person deals with at least 8 schools so that they form local leagues to minimise travelling expenses.
“We have trained 600 teachers countrywide to assist the children. A single teacher can handle at least 46 children per day,” said the founding director.
Apart from teaching children life skills, the organisation also organises scholarships for beneficiaries.
“We have a running scholarship established five years ago where we assist kids with tuition fees for primary, secondary and tertiary education,” Mukukula explained.
“Currently we have a new funder, the David Anderson Foundation, that is providing scholarships for higher education. We are going to announce those who will receive the scholarships at the ABC basketball skills development camp to be held December 13-16 at Prince Edward High School. We are going to issue out 5 scholarships,” said Mukukula.
The beneficiaries of the scholarship should be basketball players interested in studying at local colleges and universities with relevant qualifications.
“We will obviously limit these to kids whom we have worked with over the years. We have worked with some of these children since they were in primary school and it is our way of saying ‘thank you’ because of their perseverance. They have shown remarkable resistance to negative peer pressure,” Mukukula added.
Hoops 4 Hope is also a haven for talent development.
Their protégés have become cogs in both the junior and senior national basketball teams.
“We have nurtured talent for the nation through our programme. We have players such as Nathan Warikanda, Ignatius Makanda and Tafadzwa Mutandwa who have played for the under-18 national team. The under-20 national team has our products, the likes of Simba Chitsungwe, Evans Gasva and Yolanda Matayaya, among others. In the senior national team we have the likes of Sharon Chamwarura,” said Webster Matayataya, Hoops 4 Hope All-Star responsible for Glen Norah area.
Besides human development, Hoops 4 Hope develops basketball infrastructure in communities.
“We also assist in developing infrastructure for basketball. We have developed infrastructure in many areas, including Glen View Primary School, Budiriro 3 Community, Kuwadzana Holland Community Court and Stodart Hall Sports Complex among others. We work closely with city councils. Harare City Council has been very helpful because they have allowed us either to renovate infrastructure that was already there or they have given us new space for development. I also like to thank Bulawayo City Council, Gweru City Council and Mutare City Council for allowing us to use their infrastructure,” said a grateful Mukukula.
The organisation also gives out kits to the local communities they serve. They also work closely with the disadvantaged, especially those in children’s homes.
“We have done charity work with Harare Children’s Home and Chiedza Children’s Home. Our donations help disadvantaged kids, schools and centres. We have also donated football kits and equipment in Mbare, Dzivaresekwa and Mabvuku.” he said.
How was this phenomenal organisation formed?
Mukukula explained: “Hoops 4 Hope was formed in 1997 and became fully-fledged in 2007.
The idea was started by an American guy, Mark Crandall, who first came to Zimbabwe as an exchange student at Prince Edward High School.
He fell in love with the country and came back three years later looking for someone involved in grassroots sports. At that time I was with the Sports and Recreation Commission under the Sports For All Programme.
I took him to Zengeza 1 High and he assisted me to run a clinic for teachers on basketball coaching. We then teamed up from that day in 1998 and started Hoops 4 Hope and the rest is history.”
For their noble cause, the organisation and its members have earned international recognition.
Mukukula recounted: “We were honoured with an International Olympic Committee award that recognises people in community using sport to inspire the youth. I was invited to attend the Aman Jordan Generations for Peace Camp first as a delegate then in 2009 I was invited to the same camp as a facilitator and coach.
We are now members of the National Basketball Association’s nba Cares Family and we also participate in the Basketball Without Borders initiative.”
Like any organisation that operates at such a magnitude, they meet various challenges: “We are not growing as much as we would like to. The demand for equipment and infrastructure is overwhelming and our resources cannot cope,” Mukukula said.
Despite the challenges, he said they were hoping to increase their geographical and numerical coverage nationwide.