31 Oct 2014
In just three short months, the Sport for Hope Centre in Haiti is already demonstrating how sport can change the lives of young people in the most humbling and inspiring ways.
Officially opened by IOC President Thomas Bach in July, the Centre in Port-au-Prince held a sports camp this summer which, on a weekly basis for five weeks, provided up to 100 young Haitians with an array of sporting, cultural, educational and social development activities, in addition to a healthy breakfast and lunch.
One of those youngsters was Patrick Pierre Chéry.
Patrick’s story is not one of Olympic records or fantastic feats in the history of sport. Rather, it is about the power of sport to inspire people to become champions outside the sporting arena, in their daily lives and local communities.
A Centre that generates more than hope
It was during these weekly sports camps that Patrick got his first taste of table tennis. Demonstrating a natural aptitude for the game and great hand-eye coordination, he excelled in the table tennis training sessions, which were held under the watchful gaze of coach Vladimyr Mathieu, who recently completed Olympic Solidarity’s “Olympic Scholarship for Coaches” programme in Lausanne, Switzerland. The young man went on to finish first in his group in a table tennis competition held on the final day of the camp.
Patrick’s new-found passion for table tennis, however, did not end along with the summer sports camp. On the contrary, it blossomed. Eager to continue playing, but with no equipment of his own and no money with which to purchase any, Patrick got creative, going to admirable lengths to continue practising his new-found passion at home.
Having conjured up an image of his own table, rackets and ball, the young boy set about building his own –albeit scaled down – table out of a small plank of wood and an empty container as support. He strung his own net across the table using a couple of nails. For paddles, Patrick improvised using the lids from old paint cans. Recycled roller balls from used deodorant bottles proved to be the perfect substitution for the real thing. Once all the ‘equipment’ was constructed and ready, Patrick rallied his friends to play, teaching them the basic rules and techniques he learnt during his sessions a few weeks prior at the Sport for Hope Centre.
And thus the “Patrick Pierre Chéry Table Tennis Club” was born in Port-au-Prince.
An inspiration beyond borders
Patrick’s extraordinary resourcefulness caught the attention not only of his coach and the local community, but also of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF).
Recently in Haiti to attend a junior tournament for Haitians aged 11 to 17 and to meet with the Fédération Haïtienne de Tennis de Table, Glenn Tepper, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the ITTF, decided to make a pit stop at the Patrick Pierre Chéry Table Tennis Club to evaluate for himself the skills and enthusiasm of this young man.
Joined by representatives of the IOC Sport for Hope Centre and the National Federation, Tepper met Patrick and challenged him to a game of ‘mini’ table tennis. After the match, the ITTF Deputy CEO rewarded the young man with proper rackets, balls and clothing. The ITTF has also confirmed that a new, larger table will soon be sent to Patrick so that he and his friends can better hone their skills and perhaps one day represent their country at national or international level.
Patrick may not be an Olympic champion in the truest sense of the term, but he is clearly an Olympic champion in spirit and determination. We applaud him for his efforts, and wish this young sportsman and his friends all the best going forward.
About the Sport for Hope Centre in Haiti
The Sport for Hope Centre provides elite athletes in Haiti and the entire region with state-of-the-art training conditions, and the country’s national sports federations with office space and facilities to improve the level of elite sport in the country. The principal beneficiaries, however, are the young people, families and schools in the surrounding communities.
The opening of the Centre would not have been possible without the generous support of the Government of Haiti, the International Sports Federations and the wider Olympic Movement, which provided expertise, sports equipment and gear, and the playing surfaces.