This week my friend Samuel Jalloh is travelling to Sierra Leone with the mission of helping the tennis family in the country where he was born to get more people playing tennis. Working with local coaches, venues and officials, Samuel is giving up his own time to get rackets in the hands of children and adults in a country which has experienced many challenges over the past decades, most notably the Civil War which took place for over ten years between 1991 and 2002.
Sport is very powerful in giving people a sense of purpose and an individual sport like tennis gives people across the world many life lessons, including responsibility, confidence and co-operation. It is these benefits that Samuel Jalloh is looking to promote, with his latest initiative the Anglo-African Sports Education Trust. With equipment donated by tennis players, coaches and venues across Great Britain, Samuel will be supporting tennis coaches and schools across Sierra Leone, in particular in the capital city of Freetown, to promote tennis and education throughout January and February.
Samuel Jalloh coaching tennis in Africa
This isn’t the first time Samuel has travelled to Africa developing tennis opportunities and, along with his family, I was able to volunteer my time to help him in Sierra Leone in 2011 and Ghana in 2013. To have the opportunity to see firsthand the impact that tennis can have on people’s lives in Africa was one of the most enjoyable and powerful experiences of my time in tennis. It certainly puts into perspective the tennis opportunities that exist to us here in Great Britain. The standard of the most talented players in Sierra Leone was extremely high and was more than comparable to junior players in Great Britain, possibly higher given their limited resources. It also made me realise the power that tennis has to unite communities and to give people hope for the future, more so than I have ever seen at home.
There are many aspects to the work of the Anglo-African Sports Education Trust, including training coaches, running tennis competitions and delivering tennis in schools. Whilst this is a huge project and Samuel sacrifices his own time and money to deliver this programme, as I did on my visits to Africa, the real hard work begins when he leaves. The most important people are the local coaches and governing bodies who deliver tennis all year round. The role of any foundation or charity is to inspire, motivate and to provide training and resources. It is then the challenge of the tennis family locally to continue to develop and sustain the sport with the help that has been provided.
I have many personal memories and experiences that I will always treasure from my visits to Sierra Leone and Ghana. I was able to meet some amazing people and to experience the sport that I love in a completely different environment. To see the joy that tennis can bring to people’s lives in these countries was something that I will never forget and it taught me to never take for granted everything that we have. I will go back to Africa one day but it the meantime I would like to wish Samuel Jalloh and everyone in Sierra Leone all the very best for their upcoming tennis programmes.