The consequences of poverty are many: some impoverished people go hungry, others become ill and others are forced to take on informal jobs that rob them of dignity or safety. Yet, a widespread effect of poverty is the loss of hope due to a lack of resources, social status and opportunities. Poverty can be difficult to escape; accordingly, those who experience it often feel it will define the rest of their lives.
Basketball programs for children of the Mexican Triqui tribe have made the news in the last year – the chance to play the sport that’s become wildly popular throughout the Oaxaca region of Mexico is giving boys and girls alike hope that they may avoid the poverty and violence that plagues much of their tribe.
Despite the fact that many families are too poor to purchase shoes for their young basketball stars, these children remain committed to honing their skills on the court and many aspire to become local coaches or international athletes. In fact, some of their dreams are already coming true; last fall, a team of Triqui boys traveled to Argentina to compete in an international basketball festival and beat more than 50 other teams (while playing barefoot) to become festival champions.
Basketball isn’t just giving these children hope, it’s giving them opportunities. Triqui basketball players have the chance to travel outside of Oaxaca and learn about options for their futures. League rules require that players maintain certain grades, so the love of the game keeps kids in school as well.
Furthermore, girls participating in basketball programs are changing the ways that women are treated in their traditional communities. Though Triqui girls are often discouraged from pursuing education and are encouraged to marry young, the opportunities that basketball provides them pave the way for gender equality. When girls can hold their own against boys on the court, people – including the girls – see them as equals.
Basketball may not be the most customary method of eliminating poverty, but it’s one that may work in the long run for the Triqui people of Mexico. In the meantime, it’s giving the community hope for the future.
-Elise L. Riley