July 3, 2008

Shae Fitzpatrick '10 Travels to India with NBA's Basketball Without Borders Program

Shae Fitzpatrick '10 is a member of the women's basketball team and president of the Brown SAAC. She is a recipient of a Royce Fellowship at Brown awarded to advance the study of sport and society. Working with Kerrissa Heffernan at Brown's Swearer Institute, Shae has partnered with the National Basketball Association and its Basketball Without Borders program to travel to New Delhi, India to work and experience first hand the NBA's efforts to promote HIV prevention, promote sportsmanship and fair play and demonstrate basketball fundamentals. While there, Shae will have a very busy schedule of responsibilities supporting her operations team and the NBA players and coaches as they engage in a wide variety of community and educational projects including the launch of the "Literacy India" program for young children. Shae and her NBA team are working in conjunction with the Government of India, the Basketball Federation of India and the International Federation of Basketball (FIBA) to encourage positive social change in education, health and wellness.

Courtesy of Shae Fitzpatrick `10

Namaste!!!

What an absolutely incredible trip it has been thus far and it is only half way through! India is an unbelievable place. It is a virtual all-out assault on each and every one of your senses. Delhi is full of sights, sounds, smells, colors, and textures I have never experienced. There are animals walking everywhere coexisting with the people. India is an amazing place alive with vivid colors and constant sounds in a land occupied by one billion people. Sadly, every day you witness impoverished people living in slums you could not even imagine. Of course all the things you were told before you arrive, the swarming bugs, the searing heat, the potent smells are all so very true, but they all just add a little extra spice to this remarkable adventure.

The fact that I was truly in a very different place did not fully hit me until I emerged from the Indira Gandhi National Airport in Delhi. I quickly stepped into throngs of hundreds and hundreds of people crowded outside of the airport doors. It became immediately apparent that as fascinated as I was with the people and culture I encountered there was a definite focus of curiosity directed back at me. Yes, my hope was we would learn much about each other and now I can't write things down in my journal fast enough.

My first day here we had the opportunity to put on a basketball clinic at the New Delhi YMCA for a group of local girls and boys. It certainly started the trip off on an incredible note because it was truly amazing to be able to share my love of basketball with these young who live on the other side of the world. Most of these kids have had very little access or opportunity to play basketball, but yet they were so eager and excited to learn. The sport of basketball is giving me an opportunity to communicate and interact with these kids, which in turn allows me the chance to learn so much about different lifestyles, their cultures, and their individual stories.

Although it is something I have done a hundred times with my Brown hoop teammates, teaching 40 Indian girls and boys a simple Brown cheer and seeing them do it in unison on a stark outdoor court in South Delhi was to me a special moment. We worked with the children at night because it is so incredibly hot during the day. There are only two outdoor courts in all of Delhi and we were singing and shooting on one of them. Tomorrow 50 kids from 17 different countries throughout Asia and beyond regardless of race, religion, or ethnicity, start arriving for the main Basketball Without Borders camp kicking off on Thursday. This diverse young group will mesh with us to play basketball, learn, and have fun using basketball as a platform to educate them on HIV/ AIDS, healthy living, and the value of teamwork. Once these kids go back to their own countries they can work to promote the game of the basketball and the channel the enormous power of sport.

Two days ago, I had the chance to visit the Sahara Women's and Children Center, which is a rehabilitation center for women who are HIV positive. It is compelling to see the Sahara Center do so much with so few resources. They also run a very small two room school for about 80 kids, but they have no more funding available and all they ask from the families is 30 cents a month. I had a chance to interact with the kids and their mothers and it is such a powerful experience. I have learned that a simple smile is truly the universal mode of communication and that reassuring smile to a little Indian girl literally lights her up. Those moments are powerful and are hard to capture in words, but they are incredible. Luckily, an organization like the NBA has the resources and funds to make an impact, a huge impact, on these efforts to improve the quality of these quiet lives.

There is so much more to share, but these are just some a few of the images and thoughts fresh in mind energizing ideas and hope for the future.

To view photos, click here: GALLERY

July 11, 2008

Namaste,

It has been incredibly busy in India, but of course I cannot complain because I have the opportunity to see so much and I am learning every step of the way. I could never have even imagined that it would be this way, but I am so glad that I had the chance to experience the India culture and lifestyle because it has been so fascinating and eye opening.

I have heard a lot of stories about India and what it would be like, but nothing can really capture it. Driving around Delhi never ceases to amaze me. There are no rules literally. I talked to one of my Indian friends one day about the driving in India and he said that in India there is "no lane driving, insane driving." It clearly became our tagline for the rest of the trip. Of course the cows in the middle of the road, the motorcycles, bicycle rickshaws, scooters, and animals contribute to the insanity of driving. But there is no such thing as yielding, and no one uses blinkers. Instead you just use your horn to signify braking, changing lanes, or really anything so not even NYC can compare with the amount of honking that goes on in India.

The Taj Mahal was so surreal. It was straight out of a movie or a book with the backdrop of the blue sky with clouds and the bright, white marble it is just gorgeous. It absolutely is one of the sevem wonders of the world. The Taj Mahal does not just stand alone instead it is surrounded by a mosque on one side that when it was originally built was completely covered in gold on the inside and then a guest house on the other side. The architecture is unbelievable especially the details all on the outside of the Taj are Hindi writings and tiny flowers in the archways all along the outside of the building. You have to wear these little hospital shoes covering to walk around the Taj because you have to protect the marble. Of course as soon as we enter the Taj area its like a huge fortress we stuck out so we had members of the Indian army or security following us of course machine guns in hand. You soon get used to seeing these men clutching their machine guns because they are literally everywhere.

We flew back to Delhi from Agra out of the India Air Force base in Agra, but the trip continued to be quite the adventure. We finally pulled up to the right gate at the air force but as we pulled over to the side of the road to check and make sure that every name on the list matched the people in the car when blew out our tire. So immediately about five or six men in uniform with their machine guns surrounded our car. Trying to change a tire in India was not an easy task.

The start of the main camp with the 50 boys from 17 different countries was awesome! First of all, getting a chance to meet these kids from all over the world was an unbelievable experience and then trying to communicate with them was another. But in the end we were able to communicate quite well and that made it so much fun. The first day of camp I got to coach one of the teams, which was so cool of course when I first walked over to the bench the looks on their faces were priceless and one of them said "Are you our coach?" I said of course I am now we are going to win some games...and that we did. I think one of the most amazing parts of the trip is the fact that it was sport or the game of basketball gave me the opportunity to communicate with these kids from all over the world and without sport we would have just been two people from very different worlds. This certainly rang true with all of the kids I had the opportunity to talk with and that was one of my favorite parts of this experience. I was able to talk these boys and girls about their lives and experiences and talking about what sport is like in their own lives and then I got a chance to share some of my own experiences with them.

The opening and dedication of the Education to Empowerment Center with Literacy India that was opened in Saket, India was certainly one of the most incredible days in India. We had the opportunity to meet some of the kids that will be using this education center and they took us to see their homes. The term "slums" is probably a generous word to describe these kids' homes. The conditions that these kids and their families live in stop you in your tracks. Literally, as I walked around the pathways between these shacks with the low-hanging live wires everywhere and this little girl holding me by the hand..I just had to stop for a minute. It really is hard to grasp; almost impossible to wrap your mind around especially at that time. I'm just a visitor here, but this little girl and her family live here in this extreme poverty, unsafe, unsanitary, and dangerous surroundings. The little girl brought me to one of the doorways and hanging next to the door was a sign that read, "SWEET HOME." Again, it hit me. These people are very grateful to have a roof over their head regardless of the condition of the piece of scrap that they called a roof. In India, slums like these are everywhere. Every time you walk or drive down the street you find yourself face to face with poverty that you can't turn away from or easily forget about. In fact, the pictures of these homes and families will never leave me that I am certain of because I know that there is always more that can be done to help and that is what I will spend my time thinking about.

It is so amazing because when you interact with these kids you would never think that the homes that they live in are in such terrible conditions. The kids laugh and smile as if they didn't have a care in the world, but perhaps they are too young to be fully aware of their surroundings yet. However I believe that these kids are incredibly strong, smart, young children who are still able to enjoy their childhood despite the suffocating poverty that surrounds them. I was able to meet back up with one of the little girls I had played with at the center a few days earlier. I had no idea that she would remember me, let alone seek me out with such a big group of people around. Yet quickly I saw here smiling face among the group of kids and she shot out of her seat. She ran over gave me a huge hug and didn't let go of my hand for the rest of the day. Although she spoke Hindi and although I did pick up some Hindi during my time in India we had a major language barrier, yet somehow it didn't matter. Her smile and her expressions captured all of her feelings and emotions. The excitement about having this new safe space to learn, play, and have fun with her friends at was very clear to me. We laughed, smiled, and even did some traditional Indian dances together. It was a tremendous experience and I am so thankful that I got a chance to meet a little girl like her.

As always there are more stories to share, but these a just a few!