Starting the first Friday in June 2022, SOS Congo with support from Canada Bridges started a community-run youth basketball program. The concept for the program came from a young individual by the name of Vince Bahati. Vince started by doing community-based leadership training and capacity building for anti-racism with SOS Congo. After completing the training, he had the idea to start a youth basketball night. We didn’t start by making it a mentorship or leadership program. Our goal was to create a space where youth felt safe and welcomed. We brought in music and sometimes would bring food.
We have been absolutely amazed by the community response. We have averaged 35 to 40 youths every Friday. We started renting one court but quickly had to change locations and move to a space where we could rent multiple courts. The leadership group has also grown, and individuals who attend the basketball regularly take ownership and pride in the program. A core group of six youth meets every Tuesday to discuss how to organize the activities on Fridays. We recently just crowned our first tournament champions. We have also added board games to keep those who are not playing basketball entertained.
What youth are saying:
“This program has been fun and enjoyable for me and everyone I've spoken to. Whenever I think about this program, I can't help but think about its great potential. I see this program growing into a community as we see new faces emerging every time, we do the runs. Which is a phenomenal starting point for this community, however I don't think everyone in the program knows our true goals and intentions for this community. There are a lot of things that we can improve o and I think we should start with letting people know the purpose and our expectations for this program and that it isn't just for basketball so that they can help us help them.."
“Being able to have a spot for youth to come together on a Friday night put differences aside and enjoy some basketball, it was something i always looked forward to throughout the week. It gives youth a place to build connections meet new people and just be themselves, I’d say most of all is keeping them away from all the other things youth could do on a Friday night, having them in a safe environment with friends and people with similar interests, it just allows for such an amazing experience. There isn’t a thing I'd change, we learned a lot on how to be leaders in our community, and the importance of skills we could use thoughout our careers. Learned to use Canva to be able to market ourselves and create posters for the event, even being able to use a schedule/planner to be able to better organize what we had going on like the tournament we organized. Its amazing to have something for our community, as often times we are very divided and just be able to have a space where people can play basketball without having to worry about admission and there was nothing but positivity we received from the community.
Through all of this, we all gained friends and connections that would stay with us for some time. Hopefully we can keep things going, and be able to ride the momentum we’ve already built up so far, it would be amazing to see where we can take this!"