Tennis is not only about big names and big tournaments, but also about coaches and educators who work in the shadows. Martin is one of them; together with his friend Abel, he founded TennisAid, a charity whose purpose is to provide sports equipment and technical assistance to kids living in poor countries. You can find more about Martin and TennisAid’s trips to Uganda here. Thanks Martin for having been kind enough to answer our questions.
We followed your adventures in Uganda last year, are you still in contact with the kids?
Yes, we are in contact with their coaches, they are good friends and we are in constant communication to see how their work progresses and if they have any special needs to be covered.
TennisAid is also involved with another charity, Seneball can you talk a bit about that?
Seneball is a project originated in the Canary Islands by a group of coaches with experience in humanitarian work in India. The idea is to build a tennis court and a classroom in a Senegal village to provide local kids both tennis and education. They asked TennisAid to join in and we gladly accepted.
You also had a project with a refugee camp in Dunkirk
Coach Steve Verkouter from Belgium started visiting the refugee camp in Dunkirk and we contacted him, then we provided him mini-tennis rackets and soft balls and that lead to a short visit to another refugee camp in Athens this past June. A very powerful, sad and learning experience.
What’s next for TennisAid, do you have any new projects?
We just launched our website: www.tennisaid.org and that´s a huge step forward for us. We can show all of our trips, collaborations, special shipments that we send all over the world. We can also receive donations or sell our bracelets. We sold over 5000 of them already. Soon we will have new T´shirts for sale too.
How can we help TennisAid?
The best way to help us is to promote our work, buy our merchandising or make monetary donations. Locally we constantly get a lot of equipment donations and that help us a lot when it comes to travelling or shipping boxes because we don´t have to buy any material.
Three charitable causes were awarded through the Banc Sabadell Aces for Charity program on Saturday. At the VIP Village, president Josep Oliu handed over a check of 24,000 euros. This year’s recipients include the NGO’s Fundación Theodora, Fundación Esclerosis Múltiple and Fundación Aspasim, having received €50 for every ace during the Barcelona Open.
Thanks a lot to Tony for sharing his story and pictures!
Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Pat Cash, Madison Keys, Tracy Austin and others at the McEnroe Challenge for Charity, which kicks off the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, CA. I felt like I died and went to Tennis Paradise
We told you the story of Martin and Abel’s charity trip to Uganda last year, last month Martin went back to Uganda, to provide sports equipment and tennis lessons to children in need. Pictures and words by Martin:
This shirt was signed by the Spanish Davis Cup team (Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco, David Marrero and Conchita Martinez) who defeated Denmark last September, and put up on auction. The proceed of the auction helped fund TennisAid’s trip to Uganda:
Back with the kids in Uganda:
The moment I’ve been waiting for so long: this meeting with my favorite pupil, Siyama. The best way to start this new adventure:
Julius, the owner of the house we stay has a class at 6 am, that’s why he wakes up at 5. I’m listening to his movements and I can’t sleep. Abel is still asleep and I’m lying in bed thinking about all we are experiencing.
At 8.30 we prepare to leave, eat a couple of slices of bread with Nutella, and we go. We stop at one of the many gas station and drink a Sprite for breakfast. Players on the football field greet us on arrival. We are not strangers, they consider visitors a good thing, something very typical of the people in Uganda.
Kids are coming slowly, they’re taking their time but they mark the lines and prepare the court.
We play with them, we don’t understand the rules but manage to have fun. Once again we divide the group, some go with Abel and the others stay with me. The 2 hour tennis less we have today pass really quickly.
Suddenly we realize that the time has come to say goodbye. We start to bid our farewells and things get complicated for us. We take pictures and videos with the kids, both of us look for his favorite students. I give one of the boys, Edward a Boca Juniors shirt that belongs to my son.
I am looking for Siyama, one of the smallest. On Monday during class, he tripped over one of the cables that support the net and hit his knee. For nearly an hour he sit on a rock outside the group with signs of pains. Every now and then I would approach him and ask if he was OK. After a long time, I tried to convince him to join the group, and he did, despite his knee pain. But the more the minutes passed, the more I noticed he was less distant with me and he began to smile at me. I took that as a small personal triumph.
Back to the farewells. Siyami hugs me, and I’m with tears in my eyes and I can hardly talk. I whisper:
“You’re special, never forget it, because I’ll never forget.”
Just a minute later, while the other kids ask us if we’ll return here someday and as we write our phone numbers on a piece of paper found on the ground, Siyami comes and says,
“This is my pencil, for you!”
I swear I’ll keep that little pen as a personal treasure for the rest of my life.
I begin to take note of a couple of names to remember and suddenly I’m surrendered by thirty kids that spell their names. Of course I write down each one of them. The minutes pass and finally we have to leave.[…]
At 3 pm we are at the School for Deaf Children. Ivan, the teacher who helped us during the lesson, is not there, so we have to make our own sign language. To our surprise, the net is already in place. We just have to start. The class goes well, even without Ivan. […] We finish class, and the kids bring a football and invite us to play. It’s amazing how they can run at full speed in flip flops and control the ball so well. Then, we leave for home.
Every time we seek to isolate ourselves, the memories come back to hit us in the face. It is impossible not to be emotional. To make matters worse, thanks to our bad habit to look at our mobile all the time, we see pictures of “our” kids, and it’s another slap in the face.
We are tired and want to go out for dinner. Julius joins us and Abel begins to download videos from the Iphone and GoPro, and explains to Julius how to organize Tennis League between schools. We speak of formats, regulations… It’s getting late and we go home. Tomorrow is our last day in this beautiful city.
#TennisAid Uganda: the story of Martin Rocca
#TennisAid Uganda: the project
#TennisAid Uganda: the funding
#TennisAid: the arrival in Uganda
#TennisAid Uganda: the Ntinda School for the Deaf
#TennisAid: the second day in Uganda – the Shimoni Primary School
#TennisAid third day in Uganda
Up at 9. We must leave quickly to East Kololo, they share the football field with the kids of Shimoni.
Once again the football field is taken when we arrive and that let’s time to visit the school facilities and meet the Director.
We are about to start the class, and we are told that there will be many absences because the school sent home the kids who did not pay the quarterly fee of 20 dollars. Hard decision, nut it is not unusual.
We are starting the class and suddenly we realize 40 kids are there, in fact almost all are there.
They don’t understand English as well as the kids from the previous days, so our friends, the coaches of the Jouvin Child Sports Association give them our instructions. Anyway, we managed to understand each other, and 2 hours passed quickly.
While doing the class, we see the kids of the Shimoni school (both schools are only 100 meters away), they start shouting our names and greet us. Strong emotions to see these kids showing us their love.
Little by little, they’re coming, until they’re almost all there, with Ivan one of the school teacher who collaborates with Jouvin to communicate with the children through sign language. All are dressed in the clothes we gave them. The boys who received girls polos too, I give them boys shirts and the smiles they give me is priceless.
We teach them how to volley (something they had never done before), they enjoy it very much and learn lightning fast. The 90 minutes fly so fast, but they know we’ll be back and say goodbye tenderly.
Suddenly a very young child about 3 years old appears. He is the brother of Leticia, one of the girls from the school for whom I have a particular weakness. Her brother is not deaf, but he’s here with his father because Leticia has finished the school year and can go home but she stayed this week to attend our tennis lessons. I find a size 4 shirt in my backpack and give it to her little bro. I will never forget these moments in my life.
We leave on a motorcycle and the adventure is unforgettable. 3 on the bike, the traffic seems to have no order (there are no traffic lights), total chaos, but we have fun at every intersection.
We go to the Mandela Stadium, built about 10 years ago. A stunning place that is only used when the National Football Team (who happened to be training in an adjacent field) play. There’s a multi-sports complex and two tennis courts Danniel our friend is trying to manage. But like everywhere, the bureaucracy, ignorance of the leaders and disregard for having excellent facilities left to oblivion, this process takes time and money. It would be a real pity that the project would not be approved.
On the way back we passed the campus, where the cricket team trains, and then we go to the High Performance Sports Center which has huge facilities and where many high level athletes train in various disciplines. We also pass by the Lugogo Tennis Complex, one of the most prestigious clubs in Uganda, where they have played Davis Cup and ITF tournaments, with a very nice center court with covered stands, but that is really nothing more than a neighborhood club.