Storm Director of Communications and Community Relations Teresa Wippel explains how the Storm connected with the Peace Corps to help out a budding group of female basketball players in the country of Niger.
The letter came to Storm headquarters from Peace Corps volunteer and Oregon native Mariah Cosand: Would the Storm be willing to donate basketballs and practice uniforms or T-shirts to two dozen young women between the ages of 15-24 playing basketball in the town of Maradi, in the West African nation of Niger?
Cosand explained that she was assisting a Peace Corps employee named Ado, who had established a high school girls’ basketball team in Maradi. “Niger is a predominately Muslim country and due to the religious and cultural norms that currently exist in this part of the world, as well as the extreme poverty, girls’ sports are virtually nonexistent,” Cosand wrote. “These girls practice every day after school and raise money to travel every few months to one of the handful of other cities in Niger that also have girls’ basketball teams.”
The Storm put together two large boxes of clothing and basketballs, and sent it to Niger earlier this year. Since Cosand had just ended her Peace Corps service, the project was taken over by another volunteer – Sarah Turner of Kansas City, Mo. A former high school basketball player and an avid WNBA fan, Turner used the Storm donations for a basketball camp that the older players ran for younger girls in Maradi.
“The girls that came were a bit younger (13,14,15) and had never played before, so we did a lot of basic shooting, dribbling, and passing drills,” said Turner, whose volunteer service when she is not coaching basketball focuses on animal husbandry, including work with women’s groups who buy and sell animals as an income-generating activity. “The older girls taught and ran the drills. They spoke to the girls about the importance of continuing education beyond high school and what they expected their role to be as an educated female in the society of a city. They also talked about AIDS prevention.”
The older players have “the skill level of an average high school team,” Turner said. They have finished high school and are in professional school, studying to be nurses and teachers, plus one who is taking the police exam.
“As female Peace Corps volunteers from a country that has an entirely different view of women, we sometimes find that ways to connect with women here are hard to find as our life experiences and expectations are very different,” Turner noted. “I was not expecting, for that reason, for a way to connect with them to occur via sports, but the fact that it happened speaks to worldwide presence and importance of sports for women.
“Women who play basketball in Maradi all see the benefits of the opportunity and have parents who support them,” Turner continued. “They have seen mostly games on television, whether live or taped, and really enjoy them. The only indoor gym, like the ones they see on television, is in the capital city of Niamey and so they always hope to play there rather than on our outdoor court in Maradi.
“Twice a year, there is a country-wide tournament in Niamey that draws about six girls’ teams,” Turner said. “The championship game is played in that indoor area so that is something that they play hard to achieve, besides wanting to get bragging rights.”
“During the past week, we have been trying to teach the girls about the role of sports in women’s lives,” she added. “It is not really applicable to talk to them about considering sports as a career option because they are no professional sports for women here. We can teach and remind them, however, about the physical and mental health benefits as well as the life skills that can be learned and honed such as cooperation, sportsmanship, leadership and self-confidence.”
Turner concluded: “We thank you, Seattle Storm, for your contribution to our young girls of Maradi and for your cooperation with Peace Corps. “We appreciate it very much and good luck in your upcoming season!!”
Members of the team hold up signs thanking the Storm in English, French and native language Hausa. (All photos courtesy Sarah Turner)
Turner poses with members of the team in their new Storm gear.
Coach Ado takes everything in from the sidelines.