Peter Kazickas, a Hamilton College junior (and captain of its basketball team) who lives in Amagansett, recently returned from his second visit in three years to Hoops 4 Hope’s center in Harare, Zimbabwe, having brought with him 80 basketballs and money he’d raised to fill the many potholes in that area’s basketball courts, which are the focal point of the nonprofit organization’s work with at-risk children.
The Kazickases are to play host at 5 Hamlin Drive, Amagansett, to Hoops 4 Hope’s summer benefit — its major fund-raiser of the year — on Sunday, Aug. 11, from 5 to 8 p.m. (Tickets can be had online through hoopsafrica.org.)
“The great thing about the Internet is that I’ve been able to stay in touch with all my friends there, the Hoops 4 Hope volunteer coaches and the community workers, since I last was there two years ago — on my phone I can download an application where I can talk to all my friends there for free,” said the personable 6-foot-4-inch Amagansetter who first learned of Hoops 4 Hope’s work some years ago when its founder, and fellow Amagansett resident, Mark Crandall, addressed Kazickas’s sixth-grade class at the Amagansett School.
“The program in Zimbabwe has probably doubled in size since I was there the last time,” in 2011, Kazickas said during a conversation at the The Star the other day. “But the supplies haven’t doubled. There’s a real need for basketballs, sneakers, coaches. . . . Yet, even though there may be 300 or 400 kids on one court — with 5 to 10 balls if we’re lucky —they’re still learning and having fun five days a week as they always have been.”
“We repaired eight courts in Harare when I was there,” Kazickas continued. “Courts with potholes that kids in America probably wouldn’t be allowed to play on. We made the Sunday repair jobs community events so the kids would feel invested in caring for the courts. They’d dig the sand and mix it with cement with water brought from the water hole.”
“I only played in one tournament this time,” Hamilton’s shooting guard said in reply to a question. “I missed the national tournament, which I played in last time, by a week. Our Hoops 4 Hope team was the number-one seed in the tournament I did play in, but it was a six-hour bus drive to Bulawayo, where they played it — in the same Schaefer school bus from here that was sent years ago — and we couldn’t afford to spend two nights in the hotel. Because of that they cut the tournament back to one day, and we had to win all four games we played, a big challenge. We were upset in one of those games, which was a shame because the winner went on to represent Zimbabwe in a regional tournament with Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia, and Botswana.”
Hoops 4 Hope, whose work since 1994 with at-risk children in Zimbabwe and South Africa (and more recently in the Arctic region of Canada) has been widely praised, has yet to receive the financial support that it would seem to merit.
There are encouraging signs, however. For one, a 6-foot-10-inch Hoops 4 Hope alumnus from Zimbabwe, Vitalis Chikoko, who plays professionally in Germany, is to be given a tryout soon with the Houston Rockets. “If Vitalis can make it in the N.B.A., that would be huge for basketball in Zimbabwe,” said Kazickas, who has played against him. “He went through the program, and now he comes back whenever he can. He’s a great example. All the kids look up to him. Half of Hoops 4 Hope’s coaches and volunteers went through its program. . . .”
One of them, Yolanda Matayataya, who played for Zimbabwe’s national women’s basketball team, and who recently attended a U.N.-sponsored youth leadership camp in Switzerland, has said, “My advice to the kids I coach is for them to place themselves in the right hands. Hoops 4 Hope is like a big brother. It gave me great advice, and made me the person I am. For me, the sky is now the limit.”
United States Embassy officials in Zimbabwe reportedly have been impressed by H4H’s work. “I think a representative from the embassy visited after I left,” Kazickas said, “saw the work we were doing, and loved it. It’s too bad Zimbabwe’s government is not involved. It’s a struggle, it really is, but it’s so clear to anyone how valuable the work is. The coaches are tireless even though they barely make enough to pay for transportation.”
Interestingly, the Inuits in Canada’s Arctic region, where Hoops 4 Hope’s Canadian director, Rick Gill, has received funding from the Canadian government, and the kids in southern Africa are being brought closer together through shipments from Canada to Zimbabwe and South Africa of “up-cycled sneakers, uniforms, and sports equipment.”
A Mission Crowdfund effort to raise $10,000 so that the Harare center can have high-speed Internet access and solar-supplied electricity and hot water is under way.
Kazickas, who has been interning at UBS PaineWebber this summer, as well as working at the V&V Auto Service Center in Amagansett, said, in parting, “Definitely, I’d love to go back again. I’ve got a lifelong bond with Hoops 4 Hope.”