On December 21, I went on a 2-week trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to get involved in a community involvement project which adidas supports in Goma, a city which is close to the border of Rwanda and next to Lake Kivu, one of the Great African Lakes. Let me share some insights about this very formative experience.
adidas’ partner is Promo Jeune Basket. In a nutshell, PJB is dedicated to teaching kids from different social levels life skills by giving them the chance to get basketball training and compete in league play. The equally important other objective is to enable kids to go to school and further their education through other extracurricular activities. You can learn more about PJB’s vision here.
Why I decided to travel to Goma
When talking about my trip to Goma, the first question that might probably pop up in your mind is: Why would someone do that? Especially at a time when there’s a presidential election and when you have one of the most active volcanoes in the world just around the corner.
What might sound crazy was, in the end, an easy decision for me.
I had always been a huge basketball fan, be it watching or playing or organising games. And I always wanted to share my passion in a way that helps and motivates others.
Rather randomly, I learned about the project from a previous adidas employee.
I was instantly in love with the project, but needed to think about the risks (see presidential election and volcano, not to mention the phenomenon “Africa”, still a white spot on my world map). But honest information about the area and possible risks, and most of all the dedication of Dario, PJB’s president, only confirmed my wish to get involved with this project.
When I heard that adidas supports amongst other things the construction of a basketball court for PJB, that really speeded up my decision making and, without further ado, I prepared myself for the trip.
Incorporating values into the training sessions
Before I got there, we worked with Dario on a schedule for my time in Goma.
I wanted to make sure I was going to make good use of my time there and that my stay would really add value to the organisation.
There is an open practice for boys and girls every day and then the girls’ and the boys’ pro team practice twice a week. At the weekends the pro teams play in inner city leagues. There are 500 kids in total who are regularly involved in the project.
One of our ideas was to always pair a skill and a value in our practice sessions. For example, “defence” and “hard work”.
So, on my first day, after open practice and before pro practice, I gave a speech on hard work to the kids. I wasn’t sure how to phrase it, but I made sure to use simple words and basketball metaphors.
Our most important and probably hardest lesson was about “team work”. We put this value into practice when we climbed Mt. Nyiragongo, an active volcano about 10 kilometres from Goma’s city centre.
For me, it was probably the toughest hike I’ve done in my life so far. From 1900m above seaSocial and Environmental Affairs (SEA) is a department within the adidas Group responsible for producing and developing sustainability policies and initiatives, promoting social and environmental awareness throughout the company and its supply chain, and responding to the needs of the communities in which we work and operate. level we started as a group of 13. From the start, we made it clear that we would only arrive as a team – and we did. We overcame the lack of strength by carrying some of our teammates’ backpacks and we overcame the lack of willpower by motivating each other. We arrived and we did it together. The view into the crater was rewarding and overwhelming: magma was exploding down in the crater, a beautiful sight in the dark.
A bonfire and food helped us recover for an equally difficult descent the next day.
Another thing we worked on was to have clear values for the kids to follow.
In several coach meetings we drew up a charter with rules and values that we wanted the kids to sign. The three core values we singled out from our list were team spirit, discipline and hard work.
In a film session we showed basketball footage; for most, the first time they had seen the game apart from what they had seen on Goma’s courts.
Between different clips we laid out the charter to them and got their thumbs up.
Creating the right conditions
The film session took place at the Maison de Jeune, a large terrain between different high schools and lycees that holds a house with a studying room, small library and a computer lab. The terrain is also the site for the adidas sponsored basketball court. It is ideal for the court, as the terrain is surrounded by schools and next to a study room, thus the best place for a combination of education and training in the afternoon.
The only court they trained on so far is called “Cercle Sportif” and is rather old. Because of its construction there is no way to drain the court of water.
Rain is rather regular in Congo. Most months you have 20 days of rain; in November it is 26 days. Rain means that in a normal day you will have water pouring down for about 30 minutes around midday and then it will dry up in the afternoon. Most of the time this is bad timing for the practices which start at 4 pm since most players still go to school. Kids have to soak up the water with towels, which takes away from the practice time.
Furthermore, the only existing court there was used by several teams during the day. Since Congo is really near to the equator, the sun sets early, leaving only a window of 2 hours for players to practice.
This meant that the court was shared most of the time by several teams. One team would only have one half of the court, with a third and fourth team warming up at the sidelines for the next practice.
So, one of the main objectives was to create a new court with the necessary gradient for the water to run off. We also chose a special cement that can soak up a small amount of water so the court can dry faster. Another idea that went into the planning was to ensure more flexibility in the court so that when there are minor earthquakes, the structure stays intact. The field was therefore separated into smaller compartments with rubber bands in-between.
A huge chunk of our coach meetings was dedicated to deciding exactly how we would segment the court. Initially it was planned to have one big court and then two half courts with rims for shooting practice.
In the end, we decided on an official-sized court in one direction that can also be played in the other direction on two smaller courts, giving us the possibility to hold tournaments on the site.
The kids couldn’t believe their eyes when they came to see the construction site. They asked: “Is this really for us?”
Dario told us that the kids only started to realise that this was their new court after I had left. Everyone was really grateful to adidas; even the workers at the construction site were really happy for the kids.
Having got to know the laid-back Congolese “hakuna matata” (=no problem) lifestyle, I was really impressed by how fast the work on the court was going. When I arrived, the “court” was just a hole in the ground. When I left, they had already put the upper cement layer onto the court.
Right now the lines and zones are being applied and the rims and boards are being erected. Come February, the court should be able to be played on. PJB will be having a big tournament, and inviting teams from neighbouring cities and villages.
The new court, the set of values and even the new logos which we developed during my stay in Goma, are a huge step for PJB and the kids. What is just a court for us means so much more to them.
It means regular training sessions without being dependent on other teams. It means the chance for more kids to get practice. It means better and more competition. It means a better combination of sport and school.
It means the world to them!