A SPORTS PROJECT IN RURAL DESCHAPELLES, HAITI
A collaboration among: Sister Cities Essex Haiti; its partner in Haiti, ODES; the Haitian Tennis Federation; U.S. Tennis Pro, John DeLong; and Hospital Albert Schweitzer
During the last week in December 2011, Sister Cities Essex Haiti and its volunteer partner in Deschapelles, Haiti, Organization Pour Development Economique et Social (“ODES”), will be coordinating the initial three-week phase of a sports project–focusing on tennis.
Sister Cities Essex Haiti and ODES work collaboratively to respond to requests from the community of Deschapelles for projects that can be long lasting and sustainable and provide opportunities for people from Essex and its surrounding communities to establish mutually meaningful relationships.
At the request of the existing Deschapelles Tennis Committee, John DeLong, a U.S.-based tennis pro/coach, and Jenifer Grant will travel to Deschapelles to initiate the program. John will be coaching members of the already skilled members of the Deschapelles Tennis Committee, young men who have learned to play tennis because the court is on the campus of Hospital Albert Schweitzer, and because they, like many young men in Haiti, they do not have steady jobs. They will benefit from tennis coaching to hone their skills. In addition, they have formed a “club de tennis” which consists of young children and teenagers, most of whom do not attend school because of a lack of funds. They are coaching the youth of the “club de tennis” because they identify with their need to find something worthwhile to do to make them feel worthy. John DeLong will coach these youngsters and also model the coaching for the Deschapelles Tennis Committee coaches so that they will be better able to coach youngsters. The Tennis Committee coaches will work collaboratively with John throughout the day to coach others such as the folks in Deschapelles who have racquets and know how to play but who are not yet strong enough to be part of the “club de tennis.” And in the afternoon, John and the coaches will work with total beginners, using the QuckStart Tennis equipment, (a type of mini tennis) and expanding to an existing basketball court and a corner of a soccer field.
Jenifer Grant, daughter of the founders of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer and a founding member of Sister Cities Essex Haiti, will accompany John as translator and facilitator and will take advantage of this opportunity to improve her own tennis skills.
Patrick Blanchet, President of the Haitian Tennis Federation (Federation de Tennis d’Haiti), met with Jenifer Grant and Kathleen Maher in October in Port au Prince. Patrick is very interested in this program. He plans to travel to Deschapelles to visit the HAS facilities, and he has asked that two of his coaches in Port au Prince be able to attend the training sessions. He has also indicated that it might be possible for promising Deschapelles coaches to participate in training at the Federation’s facilities in Port au Prince as well as the possibility of inviting any unusually promising youth from Deschapelles to participate in their residential program just outside of Port au Prince.
Why is there a tennis court in Deschapelles? Good question. It is very unusual to have a tennis court in rural Haiti. Deschapelles is the site of an old Standard Fruit Banana Plantation. In the early 1900’s, the managers of the plantation lived in lovely plantation-style stone houses with beautiful interior mahogany paneling. They had a clubhouse, swimming pool and a tennis court. Sadly, around mid century, they abandoned the site due to a banana blight. In the 1950’s the Government of Haiti made this land available for the use of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, for as long as they continue to run a hospital there. The previous clubhouse is now the Community Health and Community Development office and the pool and several of the old “plantation” houses, used by resident medical staff, are enclosed in a separated area. The tennis court, however, is in an open area and enjoyed by local Haitians as well as the resident staff of Hôpital Albert Schweitzer. It has recently been resurfaced.