“I have encountered racism in many more ways than I would prefer.”
Ms. Chan, who is now the first African-scouting manager for a NBA team, is encouraging a new generation of players to look for opportunities in the game.
“Basketball helped me get to where I am today. It is everything,” declares Ms Chan.
She lived with her family in Khartoum during Sudanese Civil War 2. Her father was arrested several times. She also recalls being awakened at night by loud noises outside their home.
They fled Kenya, in the hope of finding a safer life and better education.
“It was the first time that we could really enjoy the right of sports because in Sudan, playing [sports] and seeing a girl in shorts was taboo,” Ms Chan explains.
This was where her passion for basketball began. She recalls having a conversation with her sister that led her to playing basketball for the first time.
“I recall being one of the tallest children in Kenyan schools. Our principal approached us and asked us if it was possible to play.
“And at the moment, honestly, I wasn’t there. With all due respect, I stated that I didn’t want to be a part of the team – and he made sports compulsory.
After years spent training, she was awarded a four year undergraduate basketball scholarship at Union University in Jackson Tennessee. Over her 14-year playing career she competed in Europe as well as across Africa.
“Ball basketball can touch so many lives.” She said that basketball changes lives.
Ms. Chan did however encounter racism in the sport, including an incident when she was travelling to Algiers with team mates and was beaten on the face.
“Without my family’s foundation, I wouldn’t be able to endure all that,” she said.
“Right in the middle of my journey, my mum and dad said to me, ‘You are beautiful just the way that you are.’
Ms. Chan saw injustices against women when she went back to South Sudan for the first time in 2012, including forced and early marriages.
“At the age 18 you are expected to start looking at a mate,” she said.
“Or to get financial relief from the father that your family might choose,” she explained.
“I cried for far too long.
It got to the point that I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore and decided to do something to make it right.
Ms. Chan created the Home At Home/Apediet Foundation to mentor children and encourage education and sport.
She recalls when a young girl sat next to her at the bench while she was watching a soccer game.
“She wasn’t a basketball player. She was just an ordinary kid who came to the court and began opening up to me. She told me a horrifying story about how she had been raped that night,” she said.
“It was a very difficult experience for me, as I have had my own horrific experiences with rape. It took a long time for me to heal.
“In the beginning I felt in denial. I thought that such trauma and sexual rape wouldn’t happen to six foot-two girls. Anger, then anger, then grief makes you feel helpless and worthless.
Her healing process has been based on doing “one of these hardest things” and forgiving her perpetrator. She also works with the foundation.
She said, “I came out of poverty and we figured that out.”
These kids are very talented, smart, and able. They just need an opportunity.
“Someone encouraged me to play sports. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I’m today.”
Ms Chan believes that women’s basketball can be a competitive sport on the continent, despite being male-dominated.
“Sports is Africa’s future.” It is the weapon of Africa, especially the girls, she says.
She considers her mentoring work serious, she says, “because people seen things in me that they hadn’t before”.
After being spotted at a Kenyan basketball camp, an NBA executive suggested she coach.
Ms. Chan, who was hired by the team in 1995 as part the NBA’s expansion to Canada, is responsible for spotting emerging talent to support players’ development and create a pipeline of opportunities to play basketball in North America.
She has recently traveled to Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya to find players for a major tournament in Rwanda.
“It is my hope that ‘ball’ gets to the stage where there’s WBAL, or a Women Basketball African League,” she said.
“That is my goal for these girls. That they are not limited by culture and that they don’t have to think in any way.
“They can be free and unrestrained in their minds. They can pursue their dreams and goals as human beings.
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