On Promo Jeune Basket’s court in Goma, DRC Amanda Kabantu is a force to be reckoned with. From the bleachers one would never know that at 14 years old, she is one of the youngest players on PJB’s elite girls basketball team. Playing with and against girls sometimes twice her age, she easily dribbles up the court, crosses over, and executes a crisp chest pass to a teammate as if she has been doing this for years.
In fact, she has.
Inspired by her older brothers, Amanda started to play basketball with PJB six years ago. She has grown with the organization – from when it started with five players, to its present state, where, in partnership with ECI, over one thousand of Goma’s youth receive basketball skills, values, and education. Over time, PJB has become not just central to how Amanda spends her after school hours, but it has changed how she engages with the world around her, and how she plans to change it.
For Amanda, PJB is not just about basketball – it is about education and the values that the program teaches. In addition to the core values of Discipline, Team Spirit, and Hard Work that the PJB coaches and staff insist upon, the organization emphasizes the importance of education by providing 150 education scholarships, which defer the school fees for its members. Four of Amanda’s 11 siblings receive PJB scholarships. “You can imagine how much that helps,” she noted.
“Part of discipline is respect – even for ‘time’” she explained. Each day at 7:00 AM sharp, Amanda leaves her home and walks with her sister – also a PJB elite player – to her school, set in the shadow of Nyiragongo, Goma’s nearby active volcano, and just a stone’s throw from PJB’s main courts. In class her friends whisper across the desks and inquire about what has been happening at practice. “Everyone knows I’m with PJB, sometimes they even tell me ‘I wish I could play’. I always tell them that they can!” Because of her enthusiasm, some of her classmates have also jointed PJB.
For Amanda and for her basketball-oriented family, PJB has become a way of life. “Its not a team, it’s a family” she said, quoting the organization’s slogan. But she’s not just parroting rhetoric. She regularly seeks advice from her teammates and coaches and supports them when they struggle. The love of the game has even come into her home. Even her father, a former footballer, has come to love the sport. In the Kabantu household, the kids discuss the practices at night, continue to practice passes at home, and have even taught Amanda’s not-quite two year old nephew basic PJB drills.
Amanda’s consistent positive actions and overwhelming love for the sport and PJB, earned her the title ‘Ambassadrice’ for PJB. She represents PJB when her coaches and captain cannot be there, speaks for the team and encourages behavior based on the values she has learned through the program. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” she said proudly.
She takes that responsibility seriously and applies it beyond just official functions. “There are girls in the neighborhood who spend a lot of time with boys and they start to do drugs,” Amanda explained, “I tell them that’s not the way to go. You have to respect yourself first and foremost.” And then she has to run, because she has practice. “I want to play professionally in the West” she explains, and for that she knows she must work hard – PJB taught her that.