Accra - Carmen is a young Italian woman with two passions, basketball, and volunteering. When she first came to Ghana it was with a contract as driller engineer for an oil company. She started working hard but she was missing something. "I'm from Pozzuoli, a small town in Southern Italy where everybody helps each other" - she tells - while holding a baby whose mom is busy sewing a bag made with a colorful African fabric. The breeze of the ocean is all around the room where a couple of girls are sitting behind crank Singer sewing machines. This is where Carmen, a few years ago, started coming every now and then after work, always rushing to get where she was eager to spend all her spare time in Ghana. This place is called DUNK, where D is for developing, U for Unity, N for Nurturing and K for Knowledge. Dunk is a not for profit, community-based, organization that empowers youth by creating a safe space for them to play, learn and grow, so they may become agents of change in their own communities. It is right in the heart of Jamestown, the oldest part of Accra, in front of the sea and beside the iconic red and white colonial-era lighthouse that was built in the 1930s.
In a one store building, that Carmen contributed by her own revenue to revamp, and in the outside court, kids living in the deprived communities around have the chance to take part in the DUNK sports project, where they can exercise their right to play and leisure. She basically coaches basketball here, exactly the same sports Mohammed Tahir, the other Co-founder of DUNK and today's Program Manager, is totally crazy for. He was born and raised in Accra and graduated from high school in 2008 with high hopes of traveling overseas to pursue education on a basketball scholarship. As it is very common in Ghana, coaches and agents will take young players under their wings, make false promises and take their money. Mohammed was a victim of a story like that. But instead of giving up he started to organize basketball lessons of himself to prevent other kids from the same fate.
Together, Carmen and Mohammed, are now running two branches of Dunk, the other one, the first one in a timeline, is based in Nima, another deprived area in town. In both places, they give after-school support providing 1 on 1 academic help and they bridge the public school gap of 50 children to 1 teacher also providing scholarships for excelling but impoverished children. With the help of many volunteers, mostly expatriates in Ghana for working reasons from Italy, Brazil, Germany, they also put in place a vocational project, Sew-Your-Future. They provide teenage mothers and school drop outs with sewing and handcraft skills and offers business and computer literacy training, in some cases also a capital for their own enterprise.
"When I arrived in Accra - she recalls - a colleague of mine told me about this guy, Mohammed, who was in Nima teaching basketball to kids. I met him and he took me for a trial period. From that moment on, I have never stop to partner with him in this project that is giving back dignity and hope to hundreds of kids in Accra". Carmen has not give up her work, she is now on a sustainability project for an oil company in Iraq, where she works on the basis of a 28/28 day contract. "This allow me to be in Ghana every month and to keep on working hard with what is now Dunk". All communities DUNK works in are identified as deprived and marginalized areas where children lack supervision and opportunities. They are also characterized by violence, illiteracy, teenage pregnancy, child labour etc. The establishment of safe spaces for the youth in such communities keeps them away from the bad influences, dangerous activities and provide them with a healthy environment in which to learn, play and grow. Dunk also involves volunteers and interns. "They are an integral part of DUNK's success - explains Mohammed - With years of experience in hosting and working with international volunteers, our team is ready to deliver a life-changing experience while putting their skills and talents to good use in order to enrich the lives of the women and children of Accra, while exploring the beautiful cultures of Ghana".