In 1984, as part of a Rotary Exchange opportunity, Mark Crandall went to school in Zimbabwe for a year. He had been playing basketball since the 1970s. By 1995 he was able to draw on his experiences at the University of Vermont, the School for International Training in Melbourne, Australia, the American International School in Bangkok and playing basketball for the Celtics, Raiders, and Dolphins in the Zimbabwean and the South African basketball leagues. He thus set up Hoops 4 Hope (H4H).
This non-profit youth support program provides the basic tools for children aged between nine and fourteen to gain the skills needed in everyday life. These skills are best learnt young so the children can take them on their journey to adulthood. Using the team aspect of basketball, H4H helps the children tackle the challenges of growing up in communities plagued with poverty, crime, HIV and Aids. Basketball provides a nurturing environment where the children can learn on the court and transfer the lessons into their own lives.
H4H works with schools and relies on the services of volunteers who are all passionate about basketball and want the opportunity to give something back to their communities. They all play a vital role to help the children become better citizens through a sport they all love.
The main focus of the program is to teach the children the difference between fact and fiction surrounding HIV and Aids. HIV awareness is taught through interactive games to keep the children active and prevent boredom. These games help them identify risks in their lives so that they are able to avoid them and make positive choices instead. The games also deal with the stigma the disease brings. The knowledge learnt helps the children understand the importance of not disconnecting from people who are HIV positive.
Another area of focus is how to get support, where to get themselves tested for HIV and the importance of visiting the clinic. Many are fearful of seeking help. They are concerned how the community will treat them if they have been seen at the HIV/Aids clinic and of course they fear the results of the blood test.
The program also encourages the young people to break the silence about HIV and Aids. By raising their confidence it is hoped the children will start talking about the disease in their families, at school and with their friends. Armed with accurate knowledge their sharing will also dispel the many myths surrounding the disease. By teaching one person, the knowledge reaches many more and this is invaluable. Opening up also encourages the children to speak about other issues around abuse, violence and sex and how to seek the help they need.
H4H allows children in deprived communities the space to understand who they are and start sharing about their experiences. Not in the classroom but out on the basketball field the message through basketball is about sharing.
The volunteers currently involved in H4H feel it is a privilege to be a part of a program that is changing lives and communities. Although winning isnít everything, it is hoped that, through hard work and determination, the will to win is instilled in these young people.