“The invention of basketball wasn’t an accident,” explained James Naismith, who founded the sport in 1891. “It was developed to meet a need.” More than a century later, the sport is still meeting needs, thanks to an organization aptly named Hoops Sagrado, Spanish for Sacred Hoops.
Hoops Sagrado is a Washington, D.C.-based youth leadership and development nonprofit supported by The MENTOR Network Charitable Foundation. It creates connections between youth at-risk from the D.C. area and their Mayan indigenous peers in the highlands of Guatemala. For a month each summer, 15 to 20 young people, ranging in age from 14 to 19, travel to Guatemala to learn another language and culture, teach their peers basketball skills, develop their sense of self, and gain a new perspective on life.
Using the game of basketball as the common thread, the D.C. youth volunteers and their Guatemalan counterparts share their love of the game. At the same time, the D.C. youth learn how to communicate with, understand, and appreciate another way of life, which while different, shares many of the same challenges they face at home—discrimination, poverty, broken homes, lack of opportunities and social marginalization.
“The change that an overseas trip means to a child’s life is unparalleled,” explained Bryan Weaver, Founder and Executive Director of Hoops Sagrado. “They see that there is a world outside their own neighborhood.”
The youth volunteers and counselors spend five hours each morning in Spanish immersion lessons. After a noontime meal with their Guatemalan host families, the youth volunteers run basketball clinics in Spanish and English for young children in the villages. During their stay, they also repair and construct local basketball courts and plazas; create murals in area schools; play in basketball tournaments against Guatemalan teams; participate in a book club; visit the home of a local weaver and craftsman where they make their first tortillas and learn about the process of weaving and blanket making; and visit the world-famous ruins left by the ancient Mayan civilization.
In addition to the cultural exchange program, Hoops Sagrado funds nearly 100 scholarships for indigenous Mayan teenagers to pursue their education in Guatemala. The organization contributes tuition fees, uniforms, housing, food, and all other expenses incurred during their time in school.
Many of the D.C.-area youth volunteers help raise money for the scholarships when they return from Guatamala.
“It is a humbling experience for them,” said Weaver of the youth volunteers’ fundraising efforts. “Through cookie and t-shirt sales, by selling bracelets they bring back from Guatamala, they give wings to their personal dreams of making the world a better place.”