The children raised their arms as high as they could reach. At the Embangweni School for the Deaf in Embangweni, Malawi, the sign name for Keyon Carter was “very tall.”
The 6-foot-8 Carter, who finished his Old Dominion basketball career in March, spent 16 days in the African nation last month, distributing toothbrushes, T-shirts and basketball instruction in one of the least-developed countries in the world.
An hour from the nearest paved road, in a village where most people don’t have electricity or running water, Carter was surprised by what he saw and what he took away from the trip, he said.
“To say we don’t have opportunities to do things in this country is blasphemy, when you look at those people who are literally imprisoned by poverty.
“You have to be a genius to get out of Malawi.”
A chance meeting got Carter in. ODU director of athletics Wood Selig ran into the Rev. Robert Davenport, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, an Episcopal parish in Norfolk.
Davenport and his wife, Lizzy Allen, visited Malawi in March 2010, and Davenport worked with the Episcopal Diocese there. Allen is a former teacher and interpreter for the deaf. They got to know the staff and students at the rural school, which serves 180 children.
An avid basketball fan, Davenport checked NCAA tournament scores on his phone while there. He also watched as children played using a dilapidated hoop nailed to a tree and with rolled up plastic bags as a ball.
Davenport arranged for a local welder to fashion some rims. A teacher cut down a pair of tall trees. A carpenter made backboards and children from a nearby fishing village sewed nets. A dirt court was laid out.
The kids lacked a coach, however. When Davenport mentioned this to Selig, he suggested Carter.
Davenport and Allen returned to Embangweni in June with their towering coach. Carter prepared by studying sign language and undergoing a series of immunizations. He came bearing gifts, including 400 toothbrushes donated by a local dentist, Patrick Baker.
“A little bit goes a long way down there,” he said.
Carter had expected to find poverty, but still was not prepared for what he saw. Residents in the agricultural village live in huts made of red clay. They pump water from a well, cook over open fires and go to bed when the sun sets. Their bathrooms are latrines with brick-lined holes in the ground.
Health care and education are spotty, and the deaf rank low in the social order. There is a high incidence of deafness in Malawi, Allen said. It is believed to be the result of childhood illnesses and lack of pre-natal care.
“It’s a very different population than the deaf here,” Allen said. “There seem to be a lot more children at the school there that have that as their only disability.”
Carter said all but a few children in the village knew next to nothing about basketball. None had heard of Michael Jordan.
“That’s a crime,” he said.
They learned quickly. Netball, which is similar to basketball, is a popular sport in Malawi. It’s played primarily by girls, and they picked up Carter’s lessons faster than boys, he said.
Many of the children lacked shoes and played in sandals or barefoot. Carter said he was moved by their appreciation for even the smallest things.
Carter, who plans to play pro ball overseas, said he left with a determination to “re-prioritize my life” and not let any opportunity go to waste.
“I grew up a little bit,” he said.
Before he left, Carter’s students fulfilled a wish Davenport had when he helped put up the court last year. He wanted the Embangweni School students to play a game against a nearby school.
People came from all over to see “the American and his deaf kids,” Carter said. He played with them.
“I would imagine the hearing school would routinely beat up on the deaf kids,” Carter said. “But not that day.”
Ed Miller, (757) 446-2372, firstname.lastname@example.org
Source : By Ed Miller