Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 25, 2013 - 11:49 am

Hoops for Hope teaches life skills through sport

“We’re trying to do something sustainable and empowering”

SAMANTHA DAWSON
Phillip Okatsiak, posing with his friend Kevin Mikiyungiak, holds an African bracelet he won as a prize. (PHOTO COURTESY M. CRANDALL)
Phillip Okatsiak, posing with his friend Kevin Mikiyungiak, holds an African bracelet he won as a prize. (PHOTO COURTESY M. CRANDALL)
Kids at a soccer camp in Arviat were enthusiastic about attending the soccer drills every day. During the two-week camp, the youth learned about respect, integrity, sharing and life skills.  (PHOTO COURTESY M. CRANDALL)
Kids at a soccer camp in Arviat were enthusiastic about attending the soccer drills every day. During the two-week camp, the youth learned about respect, integrity, sharing and life skills. (PHOTO COURTESY M. CRANDALL)
Kadin Copland, William Campbell and Isiah Curley wearing their “Soccer for Hope” tee shirts. (PHOTO COURTESY M. CRANDALL)
Kadin Copland, William Campbell and Isiah Curley wearing their “Soccer for Hope” tee shirts. (PHOTO COURTESY M. CRANDALL)

Kids in Arviat are surrounded every day by social dysfunction: teen pregnancy, suicide, alcohol and drug use.

Many people in the community want to change that and Mark Crandall is helping them do so.

Crandall is the founder of the not-for-profit Hoops for Hope, a basketball program that joins life skills with basketball drills and other group exercises.

His program exists in more than 150 schools in South Africa, to help get kids off the street and to motivate them to live better lives.

The model in Nunavut involves soccer, starting with Arviat, a community where there aren’t many after-school programs for kids.

For the past two weeks, 50 Arviat students from Grade 4 to Grade 8 have gathered at the Levi Angmak School gym to learn life skills, and to improve their soccer game as well.

The goal is to teach children about respect, integrity and sharing by providing a safe environment where they can develop strong social and coping skills. 

The students play different games, such as role-playing, and have, “discussions around issues that the young people are facing,” Crandall said. “We’re trying to do something sustainable and empowering that is based in our model that we use in Africa.”

The premise behind the model is to train “youth peer educators” who can take over the program after Crandall and colleague Rick Gill leave. 

Gill has put on soccer camps in Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Kugaruuk in the past.

The youth peer educators are usually high school students or youth who’ve recently left school.

“It’s often just because that kid doesn’t have a friend, doesn’t have anyone to speak to,” Crandall said.

“I’m seeing, believe it or not, different similarities and challenges to Africa,” he said.

The similarity lies in that “there’s no real magic wand that can come and deal with these issues, it really has to come from the inside out.”

Although it’s the first time the organization has tried to start a program in North America, after two weeks in Arviat, “Soccer for Hope,” has been successful, Crandall said.

“We’ve had a great amazing turnout,” he said.

And youth in Arviat are fortunate to have a gymnasium and proper sports equipment.

“The kids in Africa show up without sneakers. They don’t have the facilities that are here in Arviat, where each school has a beautiful gymnasium with soccer balls and basketballs. In Africa, we struggle to get even one team a basketball on a regular basis,” Crandall said.

There, the HIV epidemic is very real, he said.

Kukik Baker, 31, from Arviat plans to continue Soccer for Hope in the community.

She’s a soccer coach and used to play when she was younger.

For her, the program is exactly what Arviat needs.

“We have such a high youth population here that anything that’s positive, that promotes life and life skills, and sports and activities, is exactly what we need here,” she said.

The program is “really helping the kids with their day-to-day lives.”

At the end of the day, when it’s time to wrap up, the kids don’t want to leave, she said.

One exercise involves two coaches: one acting nice and the other acting mean by not explaining the drill to the kids properly.

“We started talking about how that applies to your life, how you could deal with different things,” Baker said.

Baker wants to see the program take place in other Nunavut communities.

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