Trip to San Salvador inspires Hoops of Hope campaign
February 10, 2011 By Leigh Cocanougher
Williams ’11 learned that many Bahamian children only own one
pair of shoes, which are reserved for organized games. This
knowledge led to his creating the Hoops for Hope campaign,
sponsored by the campus organization XXV, during which the
members will be collecting shoes of all sizes to send to the people
of San Salvador Island. Photo by Janet Lauroesch
The Centre students who traveled to the Bahamas to study
marine field biology showed their school spirit during a trip to
Matt Williams ’11 knew that spending his senior-year CentreTerm in the Bahamas would be extraordinary—but even he wasn’t prepared to be as transformed by the experience as he has been. Now, only days after returning to the States, he has organized a campaign to help transform the lives of several children on San Salvador Island, the very children who opened his eyes to a wider world.
In the Bahamas, where he studied marine field biology with Dr. Brian Storz, assistant professor of biology, Williams and his fellow Centre students enjoyed spending their free time with the Bahamian natives. It was during a pick-up basketball game with the children of San Salvador Island that Williams came to fully understand the differences in the lives of the children and those he knows in the United States.
“For the most part, the majority of the adults with whom we interacted were wearing shoes,” Williams says, “but the youth, those ages six to 15, weren’t wearing any on several occasions when we saw them—most notably, when we played basketball with them one day during our free time.”
Williams says that upon first seeing that the children were wearing only socks, he asked them for clarity.
“I thought there might have been a misunderstanding on my part,” he says. “But they repeated that they only possessed one pair of athletic shoes that they saved for their organized games. It was at this moment that I had a sickening feeling in my stomach and felt a heavy sense of guilt. Here in America, the majority of society is concerned with who can purchase the newest pair of Jordan’s, or Kobe’s, or LeBron’s. I own approximately 20 pairs of shoes myself, and probably a third of them are some type of tennis shoes that sit and collect dust. It was quite humbling and disheartening to know that while my shoes were not being put to use, these children were playing shoeless daily on the harsh concrete of outdoor courts.”
Along with this “sickening feeling” came astonishment, Williams says.
“For people to nearly live on the bare necessities of life and remain completely content astounded me. I feel as though most of the time in life, we center too much of our attention on what we don’t have as opposed to the Bahamian perspective of being content and making the most of what you do have. I’d attribute this to living here in the United States, where we are often blinded of the privileges we have.”
And though he heard no complaints from the children who played basketball without shoes, Williams was inspired to create the Hoops of Hope fundraiser, an effort to provide the people he met with extra pairs of athletic shoes.
For the entire month of February, Williams and fellow members of the campus organization XXV (a non-Greek alternative organization that functions like a fraternity and of which Williams is president) will be collecting children- and adult-sized shoes, which will be sent to the Bahamians in the beginning of March. (Collection bins are located in Sutcliffe Hall, Crounse Hall and Cowan Dining Commons.)
“Our ultimate goal for the project is to not only provide the Bahamian youth with a safer means of recreational activity, but for us to also gain a greater sense of appreciation for our own lives that we have here in the United States,” Williams says. “I can name several aspects of life that I often take for granted on a daily basis—food, shelter, clothing, relationships with family and friends, technology and, last but not least, the opportunity to not only further my education but to also be able to do so while attending one of the most prestigious institutions in this country. This is why I’m forever grateful for those who have supported me throughout my journey that I may be in this position to give back to those less fortunate and hopefully have a positive impact on their lives. I hope that the members of our organization are not the only ones to reach this realization but also other members of the Centre College community.”