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Hoops of change

James Kamau started Beyond Hoops Africa, a sporting and life skills programme in 2010 to address social challenges.  Alongside other partners locally and abroad, the former competitive basketball player with local premiership side, Java Warriors is coaching students around the country and imparting life skills such as teamwork, respect and a positive attitude in life

Barry Silah @obel_barry

Tell us more about yourself and background

I am 38 years old and was born in Dagoretti Corner, Nairobi, Kenya. I am married and a father of three. I am also the first born and only son in a family of five.

I am an alumni of Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute and British Columbia Institute of Technology in Canada where I studied Occupational Health and Safety, Event Planning and Non-Profit Programme Development consulting with a focus on youth empowerment and engagement.

Your love for basketball is evident. How did this journey begin?

I fell in love with the game at a young age and got more involved in high school.  Before, we played on poor surfaces with bad shoes, but I kept going. My coach Mike Mureithi built me as a player at Nyeri Baptist.

I saw basketball as a pathway to change. I played competitive basketball for Java Warriors for years in Kenya. As the captain, Java  has achieved success by getting promoted from the lowest Division Two to Division one, and later to the Premier League.

What exactly is the mission of Beyond Hoops Africa?

Beyond Hoops Africa is entirely a basketball and life-skills programme and we wanted to leverage on sport’s ability to educate and inspire youth from all walks of life. It is our intention to shine light on what youth can do rather than what they cannot do.

Currently, we have done projects with four counties namely Kajiado, Mombasa, Machakos and Nyandarua plus other schools where we train students and teachers on attributes that relate to the sport.

I notice your programme is leaning more towards helping the disadvantaged people in society. Why?

This is largely borrowed from my background. I grew up in an area where drugs and crime were the norm. The youth used to do risky stuff just to keep life going and I figured from a younger age, I had to make a difference in my own little way.

My experiences as a young person led to a desire for social change; I followed this pursuit through joining One Stop Youth Information and Resource Centre in Nairobi as a volunteer.

I later joined hands with a group of friends to start Dagoretti Youth Development Organisation. I moved to Canada in 2006 and by 2008 founded Youth Initiative Canada, a non-profit organisation that empowered youth through sports, education and entrepreneurship.

Looking back, how much of an impact do you think your organisation has made?

I believe we have distinct success stories through our clinics. Our gratitude goes out to Exodus Sports Performance who have helped facilitate trainings led by the team leader, coach Travis Coleman. We have had intensive two-week programme where we have worked with 100 youth from institutions such as Kaya Tiwi, Lukenya School and Laiser Hill Academy.

What has been the biggest challenge in implementation of your programmes?

Most of our camps have been funded out of pocket and this can be expensive. Another big issue is that we only operate fully when schools are on holiday or weekends, given the nature of schools curriculum in Kenya. Things  such as balls are not in ready supply and most centres have no proper courts to train on.

To a large extent, these concerns have hampered proper progress, but we try to work with what is available. Some of our young players still lack confidence to express themselves due to low self-esteem, but we are working on that.

Where do you see Beyond Hoops Africa in future?

Obviously, we want to cement our presence in Kenya and spread the game. It is our mission to partner with other counties so that the country feels our pulse. I would be humbled to see the sport give opportunities for our youth just like it did for me.

Indeed, apart from focusing on like skills such as discipline and teamwork, we will be keen on uplifting and improving conditions. Our aim is to cover the continent and so far Malawi and South Sudan are showing interest given the inquiries that have been coming through.The plan would be to do strategic investments and partnerships so that we make greater social impact.

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