Sergio, basketball and smiles from Italy to Samburu

A former player and his passionate project in Kenya

14-06-2019 by Sergio Mazza continues its presentation of Italians who have chosen to devote part of their time directly to the Kenyan population. Each one according to his inclinations, in the geographical area he prefers or with which he came into contact and above all aware of the peculiarities, problems, difficulties but also of the great satisfaction that this land and its people can give. 
Far from the "logic of candies" and from the goodism tout-court and in a sunny but wise, passionate but programmatic way, with the heart but also with a lot of brain.
This time it is not an interview or a story to tell, because the creator of the project "Samburu Smile", Sergio "Musungu" Mazza, former professional basketball player and teacher of minibasket in Salerno, is as skilled with the pen as with the basketball and his story excited us.
There he is!

An unplanned departure, a flight into the heart of Africa and then life that changes.
It could be the beginning of many stories that end with a return, a sense of fullness, that nostalgia in the mouth that is fading and a gradual return to everyday life. 
But not for everyone it's like that.
At least, it wasn't for me.
Once back from Kenya, I decided that in my own small way I wanted to make a contribution, providing children with what I best knew how to do, namely my experience in the world of basketball. Also because Africa and those children made me smile again, and so I owed them one.
It all started 8 years ago, when, back in 2011, I responded to an invitation. A friend told me that a Colombian missionary needed a hand in a rather remote mission with the children of her community. I, who already had to deal with children in my "Italian" work, accepted immediately without asking too many questions, intrigued by an experience that I knew would be strong, but I could not imagine that it would mark my life. 
I was only there for two weeks, yet it was enough to change my idea of the Black Continent. 
Africa, in the collective imagination, is where the children are sick: when I got there, I met many more smiles and serenity than I thought. 
They are poor, it is true, but it is a condition that is not fully felt, because there is no big difference between the various families. 
They are all on the same level. Except for a few politicians who enjoy advantages, in the various villages there is no concept of poverty and wealth, and one does not die of hunger: they are shepherds, they have the flock at their disposal, yet they do not eat meat except in exceptional cases.
They eat milk or animal blood.
They often bleed the animal's blood and mix it with rice or flour to take on more nutritious substances.
Returning home from this experience, looking at the photos taken there and rereading my travel diary, I noticed that I was more serene, positive and even more smiling! 
So I decided to come back. 
And since 2013, for two months, every year I am an "Italian in Kenya", but also a bit of a Samburu. 
Little by little I tried to structure projects useful for children, in perspective.
I don't like associations that bring candies or chocolate: by doing so you create a need that can no longer be satisfied.
That's how "Samburu Smile" was born.
I, in my suitcase, when I leave, prefer to bring balls to play, uniforms, something that remains over time. With one ball I can get 50 children to play and it lasts even more than a week. 
The uniforms then make them crazy, because they are linked to the concept of team. 
And I must admit that they are more closely linked than we are, because the tribes create this strong concentration of "identity".
Like so many former English colonies, the best known sport is football.
All the children play with it a bit, with balls made of rags joined to the best with string: ugly to see, but that never break.
The little girls, on the other hand, play more with their hands, and are very good at throwing and grabbing these strange rag balls: they play particular games of great skill. 
I brought a different sport and right from the start, boys and girls, they are passionate: I brought the balls and then we equipped fields suitable for this sport. Unfortunately, in the early years it happened that at my departure the activity died, because there was no one able to follow them!
And so I began to devote myself to the training of adults, taken among those without work, perhaps just returned from high school.
I tried to make them trainers for when I was not there. In Italy I do it for the Federation, why not do it in Kenya? Here, moreover, I try to guarantee him a minimum wage. In short, I structured a Sport Academy for him: from September to June they do their activities, which are not as continuous as we do. 
When I come back in the summer, from July to September, I see progress, although it is complex, during the year maintain constant relationships.
In this way, through sport, I try to encourage their education. In Kenya, there are scholarships for sporting achievements, just like in American colleges.
Many high schools, from Nairobi and in different centers of the country, are recruiting.
So why not allow them to build their future with their own legs and hands? Obviously, by putting rules on attendance: those who don't have good school-leaving certificates, can't be part of the Academy. 
And so, for some years now, between small and big setbacks, basketball has been played in three different areas of the Samburu.
Suguta Marmar is the largest center, then there are Tuum and Lodungoqwe, two tiny villages. 
I can't always visit all three places during the same trip.
Usually two a year. The first is a small town, the largest, and is located on the road that leads to the capital of this region, where there are two schools, one public and one private, with about 2000 children. The schools in the other two places are made up of about 700 children.
No one ever goes to Tuum: it is located at the foot of the mountain and the road interrupts the village, it does not continue. The other is in the middle of the savannah in an area not very hospitable, climatically speaking.
With the passing of time I have learned, observing them more and more deeply, to know the Samburu children: they are happy for what you give them. They don't ask for more. At first you have to win a little bit of diffidenza. 
When I arrived, just to say, for all of them I was "Mzungu", the white man: I was studied by adults and children, and sometimes even discriminated against. But little by little I earned the children's role, through play, and as a result that of the grown-ups.
When you start to play, when children ask questions, you feel that you have opened a door that allows you to enter their world, which is different from that of our children. 
The child there lives on duties, not rights.
On their social scale there is the man, the woman, the young man and then, after all, the child, the one who enjoys less rights than others.
For my part, I have always tried to treat them differently.
And with someone I have come to have a certain confidence, which is rather unusual, because for them it is a weakness to open up and maybe give space to their own fragility.
I had to learn to be respected, but also to trust others.
In Tuum I have four young coaches. In Suguta there are three and three in Lodungoqwe. 
When they're not there, they enjoy a lot of freedom.
A South American nun, Sister Alba, gives me a big hand and coordinates the activities a little bit. Then in Nairobi I created a network of coaches, volunteers, who occasionally go up to the Samburu to help and control how things go, and a person who partly manages the economic resources I send, and the "paperwork" bureaucracy.
Thanks to this project, about 2000 people have the chance to play in this way: 500 assiduous ones, who at least 3 times a week train on the fields of Samburu Smile.
Both males and females, divided by 50%.
Now, as every year, the start is approaching, and the anxiety and uncertainty always rises. 
It's always a jump into the dark. 
It is not easy to maintain relations with them. The Internet doesn't always go. 
It's complicated. You never know what you're going to find. 
Usually I arrive in Nairobi and the first three days I spend there organizing the period I will spend there... 
Let's say that the word programming is not in their vocabulary and the long-term project is seen as a utopia.
But despite the difficulties there is also so much joy, and so many lessons I'm learning from themselves.
They are teaching me that difficoltà must never stop us. They must stimulate us to go further. 
You realize, living among them, how much we complain every day about useless things, and so I learned to be even more tolerant.
And to smile more. It comes more spontaneously to me there. 
In Italy every now and then anger grows for what you feel around you, for the indifference.
Thanks to Africa I have learned to rejoice in small things.
Among the many things, there I also found the pleasure of reading, of sitting at the table, talking, comparing, living shared experiences.

Sergio "Musungu" Mazza.

To find out about the project, get to know it and support it, visit the FB page
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TAGS: basket kenyasociale kenyasamburu kenyaprogetto kenya

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