A few months ago, I was approached by the WNBA and the State Department about taking a trip to Luanda, Angola. The purpose was to share my story and inspire the Angolan youth to believe in their dreams, with the hope that maybe one day their dreams would become true, just like mine.
Angola is a former colony of Portugal, so Portuguese is the official language. It's also my native language, which made it easy for me to communicate with the local people, especially the adorable kids, when I was there during the first week of August.
As soon as I landed, I was amazed by this country, both the good and the bad. Luanda is the most expensive city in the world (recently surpassing Moscow). The contrast between the rich and the poor is painful to witness. You look to the right and see the latest models of luxury cars; look to the left, and you see women carrying heavy-duty weight on their head (from gas tanks to peanuts to clothes to pots and pans) with their children tied to their backs, often with no shoes on.
The NBA's Cedric Ceballos traveled with me, and although we were both labeled as "sports ambassadors," I see myself more as a "life ambassador." Coming from a small city in Portugal, a small country where basketball is not very popular, my hard work, perseverance, determination and desire to succeed took me to America, and then my dreams became a reality. So my message is very simple: if I did it, anybody can do it.
We ran basketball clinics for underprivileged kids and shared our passion for the game. We know sports can be an avenue for a greater future and can develop self-esteem, confidence, leadership skills and appreciation for teamwork. These are all necessary ingredients to be successful in this thing we call life.
The highlights of my trip were our visit to an orphanage, where we played games of "knockout" and had the kids sing and dance for us. Before we left, a baby was brought to the orphanage who had been found abandoned in the streets. Since he was a baby boy, they named him Cedric, after Cedric Ceballos, in honor of our visit ... too bad it wasn't a baby girl or we would have a little "Ticha" in Angola! :)
Speaking of names, we also went to a school called Cazenga. I saw a 13-year-old girl named Tchinha (how ironic!), and when I watched her play, it was like she took me on a time machine and I was watching myself at that age: super skinny, long arms, playing with the older girls, impressive ballhandling skills, awesome passer, made the crowd say, "Wow" and never even looked at the basket!
This was definitely a trip of a lifetime, and I hope to return to Africa one day -- there are so many more countries to see and more kids to inspire. These kids inspired me, too, and I leave here thinking, We don't need more to be thankful for, we just need to be more thankful!