Sally Bolton talks to us about how her three month trip to Ghana to coach tennis has shaped the last 10 years of her life.
I first swung a tennis racket when I was 9 years, growing up in London and was hooked on the sport since, playing competitively during my adolescent and young adult life. I had always had an incessant need for adventure and to express my curiosity in exploring the world as well as feeling sympathy and frustration towards the wide gap of inequality in economy, materialism, education and opportunity across the world population. I went to the University of Chichester to read Geography which enabled me to partake in field trips which would further affirm my interest in the Third World on a visit to the Gambia, West Africa where I would see first-hand the critical imbalance of opportunity, especially that of young people, which constantly eluded the developing world.
Upon graduating from university, possessing good-hearted pluckiness and unrelenting determination at the age of 24, I wanted to find a way I could use my position and skills to bridge the gap between the underprivileged and make more worthwhile use of my time. With a strong attachment and interest in Africa, I began researching overseas volunteer programs where I felt I could make a valued contribution and came across an overseas volunteer travel agency Sporting Opportunities in the UK which placed willing volunteers in 3 month sports programs in the developing world. I instantly took an interest in their Tennis Coaching in Ghana placement as it would allow me to perfectly combine my adventurous nature, love for tennis and Africa with my desire to make a positive difference in the world.
I compellingly signed up and set to work raising funds for my trip, giving myself one year to reach my target. I relentlessly wrote to various youth grant schemes, sponsors and to the UK tennis sector for assistance with my trip and in addition worked extra jobs, washing cars and packing Christmas shopping for further funds. After 10 months of sheer hard work, I was able to buy a plane ticket to Ghana with extra luggage allowance to bring donations of tennis rackets, balls and clothing to contribute to my voluntary project.
I could not have predicted that the choice I had made to go volunteer in Ghana was undoubtedly one of the best decisions I had followed through with, making the year of hard work to pay for it worthwhile. Not only did I end up spending 5 months in Ghana with a team of other volunteers, I was able to put my knowledge and efforts to make a positive difference to the tennis community as the provisions opened up the opportunity for talent spotting clinics and tournaments to deprived youths. My time abroad also had allowed me to delve into my interest in African culture further, appreciating a different way of life and understanding the struggles and setbacks such talented young people face every day. Upon arriving back home in the UK, my Ghana tennis experience gave me the vision to continue giving direct, practical help to the tennis community I had worked with by forming my own non-profit voluntary campaign called Africa Tennis Aid. For ten years, the campaign appealed for the local collection of rackets and tennis equipment from clubs, individuals and racket brand Wilson to distribute to communities in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Uganda as well as the Caribbean to increase mass participation of tennis in the Third World. The impact of people’s generosity was staggering as more talented children were given the opportunity to play tennis with their new tools, some of which having now been offered college scholarships in the USA, all these years later!
My Ghana tennis experience led me to pursue more opportunities in the tennis and sports sector over the years – enrolling as a weekend coach volunteer for charity ‘Tennis For Free’ in the UK, a two-year working visa to Australia where for a short time I gave tennis lessons near Sydney and getting selected as a volunteer ‘Games Maker’ at the London 2012 Games. Aside from my interest in travel, Ghana planted a seed of wanderlust where I pursued further meaningful overseas voluntary projects doing conservation work in the Amazon Rainforest of Ecuador, building houses for the homeless and assisting Elephant Conservation in Cambodia. These international experiences have been beneficial for my personal growth, confidence and have equipped me with a deeper insight and appreciation of the opportunities in what we can do to impact this world. This wealth of experience has now seen me begin writing my own travel blog, articles and creative travel stories to share my adventures and inspire others that you can never underestimate what a little attention could do for someone.
To read my blog and travel stories visit www.insalsfootsteps.blogspot.co.uk and start planning your life changing career break now.