SUVA – There are not many people who would link Fiji and Japan, yet when Japanese university student Mai Sakaguchi decided to volunteer with Basketball Fiji for 6 months, she was surprised to find many similarities.
Sakaguchi played College Basketball in Japan with the University of Tsukuba. It was there that she started thinking about how basketball was positively affecting people’s lives and personalities.
“The reason people choose to play sport is different for everyone. However, whatever the reason, I believe sport can help people grow.”
It was this interest in how sport could positively affect society that prompted Sakaguchi to major her studies in sports sociology and reach out to FIBA’s Oceania office for an internship. With a keen interest in how FIBA was using basketball as a tool to effect social change, Sakaguchi sought to involve herself in the Basketball for Good program implemented throughout the Pacific Islands.
During this internship, Sakaguchi was afforded an opportunity to see the Basketball for Good program first hand in the form of Fiji’s Hoops for Health program. Immediately she was hooked.
“There were so many people who were keen to play basketball! The people who were making it happen were all volunteers,” she says. “The [Basketball Fiji] guys sacrifice many things to develop basketball because they love this sport. I was really impressed.”
Sakaguchi immediately returned home to Japan, deferred her graduation for six months, and got back on a plane to the Pacific.
“I wanted to go back and volunteer at my own cost. It also allowed me to focus my research on the history of basketball in Fiji and the meaning of basketball for its people.”
The 6 months ahead were daunting for a university student whose first language was not English, moving to a poorer nation where most people frequently lapsed back into their native Fijian tongue without realising. But despite the challenges, Sakaguchi says this experience changed her life.
“For me personally, this working experience in Fiji gave me self-confidence.”
The Hoops for Health program has proved immensely successful in Fiji. Current and former players of the Fiji National Team have signed up as Hoops for Health Coaches to educate school students on the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle through basketball.
“Basketball has the power to engage people and bring people together with a sense of community. I met so many people and made so many friends. And the Hoops for Health program was showing me that every day. Just as Basketball Fiji’s motto states, I really believe that ‘It’s more than just basketball,’” added Sakaguchi.
Basketball Fiji’s Hoops for Health program is supported by FIBA under Basketball for Good and funded by the Australian Government’s Pacific Sports Partnerships.