Three years ago, I got the chance to harness the power of sport and help change lives through volunteering for PJB (Promo Jeune Basket) in Goma, DRC.
PJB was founded by Dario Merlo in 2006 to use basketball as a tool to develop youth and communities into the future of this nation. From its humble beginnings, PJB has grown into a full-time basketball academy that serves over 1,000 young people throughout the year.
1. Move out of your comfort zone
Having worked as a physiotherapist with a wheelchair basketball team in Germany, I went to Goma with a focus on coaching the wheelchair basketball team and teaching coaches some basic physiotherapy treatments, first aid and injury prevention exercises.
Working with them made me realize how many things we take for granted and, more importantly, how sport as a universal language breaks down all cultural and sometimes even physical barriers. Volunteering opens your mind in so many ways. You witness new cultures, new ways of thinking, and become more aware of the problems the less fortunate face on a daily basis.
2. Learn to trust
Good leaders never stop learning, and the new learning I took from my volunteering time was to trust your team.
Dario’s dream for Goma went beyond basketball, and in September 2017 KIS (KIVU INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL) opened its doors, providing international standard education to local children. Reflecting on the needs and interest of some of the coaches in physiotherapy and the importance of a good training environment, I started to think about how I could best equip a gym and a medical facility at KIS.
This is where trust came in to play. Knowing that there wouldn’t be enough funding for expensive equipment, I needed to think outside the box. A friend told me about Technogym’s ‘Let’s move for a better world’ initiative and they agreed to run a special adidas ‘Let’s move for KIS’ campaign. It was then down to trusting my HR colleagues back in UK and Italy to organize a challenge that would raise enough funding to secure the equipment. Of course, they didn’t let me down.
3. Network, network, network
There’s an African proverb that PJB lives by: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
That’s what I remembered when the initial plan of shipping the equipment to Goma failed. Some unforeseen roadblocks came up: funding termination together with unforeseen additional costs created a snowball effect of problems, and I became dejected. But I didn’t want to give up on this vision!
I exercised my grit and persisted. I came at it from all angles: emails, phone calls and lots of persuasive conversations to get the container out of Belgium and into Goma. Going that extra mile needed support and by developing a strong network of varied resources I was able to overcome the obstacles that presented themselves.
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