Good things may come to those who wait, but Gus Chikamba ’03 isn’t taking any chances.Gus and his wife, Madeline, moved to the U.S. from Zimbabwe in 2000. They started taking graduate classes at the University of Indianapolis, he in the MBA program and she in the School of Occupational Therapy. They have two children, and Gus would often take his son to the gym with him in the evening as he shot hoops after class. Gus had developed a passion for the game at age 14, played in high school and college, and even won a gold and silver medal for Zimbabwe in an international tournament. But now, at the age of 30, Gus was finally getting to do something he had never done in his entire life: own his very own basketball.
Sports of all kinds are very popular in Africa, with soccer leading the way. Finding the equipment and space to play these sports, however, can be challenging. As a boy growing up in Zimbabwe, Gus and his friends would kick around plastic balls that didn’t even bounce. It was not uncommon to see a single basketball or soccer ball being shared by two dozen kids or more. When Gus and Madeline began to watch their own children embrace sports and could see them developing a passion for playing, they began to realize that thousands of disadvantaged kids—especially those in Zimbabwe—could also develop a passion for sports if they only had the chance and resources. “Kids are the same wherever you go, and sport is the same wherever you go,” explains Gus.
The Chikambas wanted to make a difference in their home country and saw a window of opportunity to use sport as motivation. They wondered if sport could be used as a behavior modification tool, too, to help keep kids away from drugs and alcohol, fight the gender imbalance often seen in the country, and encourage kids to stay in school. And most importantly, they wanted to use sport as a chance to educate kids about HIV and AIDS, an ongoing problem in Africa.
“The kids so often hear the message that if they get AIDS or HIV, they will die,” explains Gus. “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could tell them a positive message instead?”
Starting with the youngest
Using their own finances, the Chikambas founded Africa Outreach USA Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to using basketball to change lives. They began to feel that they could change society, starting with its youngest citizens.
“It’s hard to change an adult mindset,” Gus says. “But if we can help a kid to develop a passion for sports, then the parents start to support him or her, thereby buying into the change process.”
And in many communities in Africa, boys are valued, while girls are simply counted, says Gus. Madeline agrees. “In order for girls to become part of the leadership in developing countries,” she says, “girls must be given a platform that allows them to develop self esteem that boys enjoy. Sport is a good starting point to correct the social misconceptions depriving girls of equal opportunities like going to school, leadership, and having equal participation.”
The Chikambas began to talk to people in and around the Indianapolis community, including churches, schools, and corporations. They took donations of gently used sports gear, sneakers, and uniforms. Former Indiana Pacers coach Jim O’Brien and his wife, Sharon, gave financial donations to Africa Outreach USA, and the Pacers Foundation, Valley Mills Christian Church, and the University of Indianapolis helped to organize a donation of more than 100 new basketballs.
“This is a unique opportunity for us to make an impact outside of the country,” says Quinn Buckner, vice president of Communications for Pacers Sports & Entertainment. “Basketball can be used to teach life skills, and you learn about discipline, teamwork, and sacrifice as you play.”
In April 2012 the Chikamba family traveled to Zimbabwe to host the first Jack Ramsay Grassroots Basketball Development Clinic, named for the NBA Hall of Fame coach and the 1986–87 Pacers coach. When they first met Dr. Ramsay in 2009, he told them that their foundation was taking the right approach toward sustainable basketball development and game awareness in Africa. So with a shoestring budget of $1,500, Africa Outreach USA partnered with Hoops 4 Hope Zimbabwe and local coaches to host three basketball clinics in two cities, each with an average attendance of about 200 kids. During each six-hour clinic, kids practiced fundamentals, learned basic drills, and scrimmaged. Many of the kids came barefoot, never having owned a pair of sneakers.
“It was heartbreaking to see that during the scrimmages, the kids from ages 9 to 18 had to share one set of uniforms,” says Gus. “They’d take off the shirt dripping with sweat and pass it on to the next kid, who’d throw it on and race onto the court.” At the end of the day, kids were given juice and bread and then split into age groups to take part in a discussion about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and how to stay safe. “AIDS has really taken a toll in the sub-Saharan region,” Gus explains. “Kids are having to raise other kids because their parents have died. It’d be neat if kids can just be kids again and be able to do what they do best—have fun and be able to play sports.”
Ted DeWolf, a missionary from Massachusetts who moved to Zimbabwe in the 1960s, is a member of the steering committee for Africa Outreach USA. He shared his passion for basketball by helping out at the clinics. “If kids are involved in sports, then they get to feel pride and learn about healthy pride,” he says. “It’s crucial to our female athletes to be in a sport where they can be seen as equals. The basketball court becomes a very healthy atmosphere, and I’m passionate about what basketball can do for our country.”
For Madeline, the best part about their foundation is being able to see the children smile and just be kids. “My dream for Africa Outreach USA is to change lives, one kid at a time,” she says. “I want to give kids hope and let them know that the world cares about each and every one of them. I want Africa Outreach USA to provide a platform where kids in Africa can go to and feel safe and escape their life struggles while enjoying the gift of sport. I want them to be loved.”
In addition to hosting basketball clinics, Africa Outreach USA is using an innovative concept developed by DeWolf to construct low-cost, high-impact, multipurpose basketball courts. The concept engages the locals to contribute labor and at least 20,000 “Village Bricks” used as the foundation of the court. Africa Outreach USA steps in to contribute the rest of the materials for the court. “When the community contributes toward building the court,” says Gus, “they develop a sense of pride and ownership needed to care for it. It’s not a handout, but a way for the community to help with the project.”
Africa Outreach USA is already working on plans for a second set of clinics in Zimbabwe in 2013. In the meantime, they are gathering enough new or used sporting equipment to ship a 40-foot container to Zimbabwe next spring. Using Zimbabwe as a model, Africa Outreach USA hopes to one day to be able to ship containers full of sporting goods to every country in Africa and to spur the development of basketball all over the continent.
“The people surrounding us have given us support, ideas, and resources,” says Gus. “When you change someone’s life, it’s priceless. We want to empower kids, enlighten them, give them hope.
“And with God’s help, anything is possible.”
—Jen Huber ’07