It wasn’t long to feel welcomed in Juba, South Sudan. As soon as the Giants of Africa crew stepped off the plane, they were greeted by members of the South Sudan Basketball Federation as well as staff from the Luol Deng Foundation, including Luol’s brother, Deng Deng. GOA’s own Sarah Chan, who was born and raised in Juba, was monumental in partnering Giants of Africa with the Luol Deng Foundation. Together, at Juba University, on a double court named after the late Manute Bol, the two foundations began their collective initiative – to provide a few days of high-level instruction (and fun) for 53 deserving, talented kids.
The eye-catching first impression of GOA’s inaugural camp in South Sudan was the dominant combination of height, length, and athleticism of the players but that wasn’t on display right away. Rain had come down the morning of the first day, stalling festivities and forcing Coach Jama to improvise the beginning of the camp. The kids, although forced to learn off the court initially, were happy for the rain, as it is believed in South Sudanese culture that rain means blessings are on the way. Deng Deng let the coaches know that the kids felt that perhaps that blessing was GOA’s presence, and what they were there to provide. The rain stopped shortly thereafter, and one of the nicest outdoor courts on the continent, dried quickly in the hot sun, igniting a furious outpouring of teaching, in an effort to make up for any lost time. The camp went by in a blink, and the improvement was exponential from one day to the next. Sarah Chan gave an emotional address, sparing none to the power of tears and it was clear that GOA and South Sudan were a match. That notion was punctuated by one of the more unique moments the Foundation has had. Whenever one of the coaches said something of value, a cheer was led by one of the kids, and followed by the rest. Now, GOA is known for its cheers, dancing, and overall good times, but this was unscripted, unprompted and a players-only initiative. And it was special.
About half of the coaches embarked on an outreach during the last day in South Sudan. The plan was an all-girls day camp in Mogadishu, Somalia. Things are not easy at the moment in the region, but from the second the coaches stepped out of the car, they were met with smiles, dancing, and an abundant eagerness to learn. You couldn’t help but match the energy. As both the camp and the outreach came to a close, another GOA season went with it. This summer was marked by all new destinations and all new memories. A true blessing to all involved.