Kelenna Azubuike: On A Mission To Tanzania

Warriors swingman Kelenna Azubuike recently accepted a personal invitation from Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete to take part in Leon H. Sullivan Summit VIII, "The Summit of a Lifetime." The five-day convention, which was held Monday, June 2, through Friday, June 6, in Arusha, Tanzania, brought together the world’s political and business leaders, delegates representing national and international civil and multinational organizations, and members of academic institutions in order to focus attention and resources on Africa’s economic and social development.

For more on the Sullivan Summit, click here.

Throughout his journey, Kelenna will checked in with and provided first-hand accounts of his experiences abroad. To tell you all about his African endeavors, Kelenna blogs below ...

Monday, June 16
(3:18 p.m. - Oakland Time)


Kelenna's trip to Tanzania afforded him several opportunities, like meeting former U.S. congressman and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

Well, I must say it is so great to be back home. When we landed in D.C., I had to take a shuttle to the airport in Baltimore and catch a flight to Denver. I had about six hours before my flight, which gave me plenty of time to ponder on my trip. What an amazing experience it was – I still can’t stop thinking about Mama Nora and the orphans. I also think about Felix and his crew all the time.

When I finally got back to Denver, it took me about three days to get back into my regular sleep routine and feel recharged again. It all really took a toll on my body (more than I thought). But before I start complaining, I have to say I really am blessed. I could be in a hut with no power and struggling for food. We take the basics for granted so much in this country. The people in Africa were born into their situations and in most cases, they have no choices. Here we have so many choices and opportunities to make our lives better.

I walked away from Africa knowing I would do my best to never let an opportunity pass me by. I will always make the most of every situation and give back whenever I can. I learned from the people over in Africa that it doesn’t matter how much you have because we can all give back in one way or another.

At the end of the day, I look back on my trip and think how I learned so much from the people I came across in Tanzania. Every one of them enriched my life in a unique way. I have already sent Mama Nora a few boxes of general supplies, and I plan to send more. I want to make sure I keep my word to her and support her like I promised. I hope that one day the friends I made in Africa can come over to the states and have me host them.

Thanks for reading my blog. This trip really opened up my eyes and enriched my life, and hopefully, you all enjoyed reading about it.

Friday, June 6
(2:47 p.m. - Tanzania Time)


Before heading back home, Kelenna made a trip to the marketplace and was once again amazed at how friendly everyone was.

Well it’s our final day here in Africa. We got up and had brunch - our usual chicken, although this time it was garlic and ginger. It may not sound that great, but it was pretty good. We were leaving for the airport at 2:00 p.m. so we had a bit of time before we left.

Prior to lunch we went to do some shopping at the marketplace where all the locals go to shop. It was interesting to me that most of the shoes and clothes they were selling looked used. When we asked, we were told that they in fact were used. The clothes were sent to them from Canada and Japan and were sold from thrift stores. It was another one of those moments when the reality of living in a third world country hit me. Do you know the average person makes between $40-60 dollars per month here? That is almost nothing, even in Africa. It’s such a sad reality.

The people here are so kind and giving. I noticed that even though they don’t make a lot of money and they don’t have a lot, they are still so giving to everyone. This really says a lot about them as people. I wish we were more like that here in the U.S. I bought a few things from the marketplace just because I wanted to support the people.

As we were driving to the airport, I enjoyed looking at the green all around us. Wow, what an experience. I have to say that my favorite parts of the trip were the people and the culture. It also made me realize just how blessed I am to be living in the U.S. Being that my parents are from Nigeria, I’ve really developed a new appreciation for them and their upbringing and culture.

When we got to the airport, they had us wait in a VIP holding room for about two hours. The airport staff couldn’t have been nicer. They gave us shirts, snacks and drinks, and then they even gave us flowers as we boarded the plane. They wanted to make sure we left with a good impression of Africa. And honestly, how could we not when the people were so kind?

I boarded the plane knowing I’d be back one day, whether it be to Tanzania or other parts of Africa.

Thursday, June 5
(11:47 p.m. - Tanzania Time)


Kelenna saw some cultural dance routines during his second trip to Miracle Corners. ( photo)

Today we went back to the Miracle Corners of the World to watch a dance performance put on by the folks from the Miracle Corners of the World that we visited yesterday. As you can see by the picture, it was pretty cool. They have a culture that is so passionate about music and dancing. They performed about six different dances for us and each one seemed to be more creative than the last, complete with costume change and everything. And in case you were wondering where the music came from, they had steel drums that they made and it sounded better than any cd they could have played.

After the dance, we went to the English class and they practiced their English on us. They asked a lot of questions, and they were really interested in why I wanted to be in the NBA instead of being a doctor. I found that so interesting because back home, being a professional athlete is viewed so differently.

Kelenna presented his jersey to Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete at the President's Dinner. ( photo)

After saying goodbye to Felix and the crew, we headed back to our hotel where we prepared for the President’s Dinner. Tonight’s dinner was a black tie affair and I presented Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete with my jersey. In addition, there were several other African presidents in attendance. I found it interesting that they didn’t have a lot of secret service or armed officers in a room so filled with political leaders. That would have never been the case back home.

The event was held outdoors and the weather was beautiful. There were three African delegates at our table, but their English was very limited so I couldn’t really talk to them. All they knew was “you welcome,” so every time I looked or smiled at them they said “you welcome” and smiled.

I wound up meeting with President Kilwete for a few moments, and he’s a very nice man and a huge basketball fan. In fact, he said that anytime I come to Tanzania, he will proudly welcome me as his guest. It was a pretty special moment for me, but that shouldn’t be a surprise, as this whole trip has been quite special to say the least.

Wednesday, June 4
(10:35 p.m. - Tanzania Time)


Visiting with children has proved to be the highlight of Kelenna's trip to Tanzania. ( photo)

My trip has been absolutely amazing so far, but I would have to say that today was by far my favorite day here in Africa. We started it off by meeting this guy named Felix, who was with an organization called Miracle Corners of the World. They do outstanding work throughout Africa and create community centers for kids. Our contact with the NBA had put us in touch with Felix, and he came to our hotel to meet us and take us to their facility. When we got there, we walked through a number of villages and passed out candy to the kids.

We then saw a group of women outside cooking rice, bananas and meat over these little bonfires. The pots they were using were so big they could feed three football teams. They wanted me to taste the food but I had to pass. Felix said that the women turn the weekly cooking into a social event, kind of like a barbecue back home.

Next we walked into the Miracle Corners facility. They had three classrooms, which included a computer lab, an English class and an art and dance center. The staff was so organized and very passionate about helping the kids. Even though everyone there was African, the majority of them still spoke English. We purchased a number of fabric art paintings there to support their art program. We spent a good two hours there and are planning on going back tomorrow because the dance class is going to perform traditional African dancing for us.

On Wednesday, Kelenna spent some time with a group from the Miracle Corners of the World. ( photo)

After leaving the Miracle Corners facility, we went to an orphanage. We had no idea what was in store for us. When we arrived at Mama Nora’s orphanage, right away we knew it would be an emotional journey. Twenty-five kids between the ages of 2 and 8 greeted us and we brought candy for each and every one of them.

The orphanage was run by Mama Nora (the Director), two teachers, a cook and a groundskeeper who tended to the goats and the plants. Mama Nora pays her staff $20 a month and she receives zero dollars for the children. It is very different from the child welfare services back home in the U.S.

The kids were really happy to see us. They sang a song to us and welcomed us into their home. Although they were well groomed and clean, it was very clear they had very little. We toured the two bedrooms – one room for all the girls and one room for all the boys – which consisted of a bunch of bunk beds. The top bunks were fitted with malaria nets to prevent the kids from getting bit by infectious insects, but the orphanage didn’t have enough money to equip the bottom bunks with the nets. As a side note, three children were in the hospital with malaria and one was battling the sickness at the facility. The nets cost $6 apiece, and we immediately offered to purchase new nets for everyone and gave Mama Nora the money to do so. She also showed us her medicine cabinet, which was empty. When we asked her why she was doing this, she said because God had told her to do so and he would take care of her needs. Talk about a leap of faith!!!

Long after he returns home, Kelenna will continue to give back to the kids of Mama Nora's orphanage. ( photo)

From there we went back in the classroom, where Mama Nora told us the story of every child that was there. It was heartbreaking. These children have no choice about the situation they are in. They have no family and no belongings. All they have is each other and Mama Nora. Despite their circumstances, they were in good spirits and were well behaved. It was poverty like I had never seen before. I think living in America we can all say we’ve seen some sort of poverty, but not all of us can say we’ve seen poverty without hope. That is a sad thing.

While being there we felt it in our hearts to tell Mama Nora that we would adopt her orphanage and send her things when we got back home. We gave her money in the meantime, but we also committed to sending basic needs. Mama Nora is an angel and there is no doubt about that. She gave up everything and shared everything in an effort to provide for these kids. The least we could do was lend her a helping hand along the way. Mama Nora and those kids will always be in my heart and I am committed to helping them in some way. I know that I am blessed and because of that it is my responsibility to give back.

Tuesday, June 3
(11:50 p.m. - Tanzania Time)


Yes, Kelenna is standing alongside the Rev. Jesse Jackson. ( photo)

So my stay in Tanzania is coming to a close pretty soon, but the longer I stay here the more rewarding this trip becomes. I’ve spent the last few days at the Leon H. Sullivan Summit VIII, "The Summit of a Lifetime," and it certainly lives up to its name. “The Summit of a Lifetime” – that’s almost an understatement. Looking around at what basically is a Who’s Who list of influential people worldwide, it’s humbling to know that we are all here for the same cause – and that is to focus attention and resources on Africa’s economic and social development.

The summit afforded me the opportunity to meet with several members of the Tanzania Basketball Federation. They made a nine-hour road trip just to meet me, so I felt very honored, and I was happy to provide them with some basketball shoes. Among those I met was UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, and I have a feeling I’ll be seeing him in the NBA in the next few years. He was the Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year this past season and at 7-foot-3, I’m pretty sure he would garner the interest of just about every NBA team.

This probably won't be the only meeting between Kelenna and Tanzania native and UConn center Hasheem Thabeet. ( photo)

After meeting with the basketball players, I ran into more members of the Maasai tribe. Just like the other day, they were extremely friendly and very gracious. In fact, they even brought me a tribal gift and posed for a few pictures with me.

After that, I was on a panel for a special forum that focused on the role of youth in Africa’s future. There were a few hundred kids between the ages of 15 and 24 in attendance, and joining me on the panel were Frank Ski, an Atlanta morning radio show host, and CNN’s TJ Holmes. We answered various questions for the youth and allowed them to speak about various things they wanted to address. Our objective was to give these children hope and motivate them to keep going and believing in their dreams. I found it interesting that there were so many teens that wanted to be doctors. It seemed like the profession to be.

Luckily for me, there was no language barrier. The kids here learn both English and Swahili in school, so we had no trouble understanding one another. The forum may have lasted three and half hours, but I swear the time absolutely flew by.

Following the forum we went out to dinner. The food here has been pretty good. They cook with a lot chicken and a lot of rice, which is fine by me. They also have a lot of soups that are very tasty, but I must say the banana soup was the best! As far as beverages go, Coke is everywhere, and all sodas are served in a glass bottle.

We had dinner at a great restaurant called Pepe’s tonight. The restaurant made great wood oven pizzas. The pizza was a little bit different than ours in the U.S., but I have to say we loved it.

That’s it for today …

Monday, June 2
(12:37 p.m. - Tanzania Time)


Meeting members of the Maasai tribe has been Kelenna's favorite part of the trip so far.

Greetings Warriors fans. I can’t begin to describe how amazing this trip has been so far. I’ve seen some things that have blown my mind – I still can’t believe how close I got to those lions the other day – but I must say that the highlight of the trip so far was visiting the Maasai tribe. Seeing and meeting these people from another walk of life is truly an eye-opening experience, and one that I am very thankful for.

To give you a little background on the Maasai, they are a semi-nomadic group that has lived off the land in southern Kenya and northern and central Tanzania for about the last 200 years. Cattle play an extremely important role to the Maasai, but donkeys, sheep and goats are also central in their way of life.

What makes the Maasai particularly fascinating is that they allow visitors to enter the village and see their way of life. When we entered the village, a nice young man named Daniel showed us the way. He took us into their living huts that are made of cow manure and house the mothers and the children.

The Maasai huts are not designed to house tall NBA players like Kelenna.

I could barely fit in there because of my height. The huts, which were filled with flies, basically had two areas to lie down in and contained a 4-by-6 open box for sunlight to shine through.

The tour of the Maasai village was very informative. Among the most fascinating things that we learned were that the Maasai men have multiple wives and when they hunt an animal, they put its blood on their skin to scare away other animals.

I don’t plan on that rubbing off on me when I get back home, but I must say that this look into another culture was a very enriching and positive experience. We saw them do their cultural dance and they were extremely friendly to us outsiders.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon with another report about the Sullivan Summit, which I am on my way to right about now.

Sunday, June 1
(11:48 p.m. - Tanzania Time)


Mambo Jambo (Hello)

Kelenna enjoyed his time interacting with some young vendors on the way to the Ngorongoro Crater. ( photo)

Well what a day this has been. I nearly had my camera taken from me and for a while I thought could be attacked by a lion, but I’ll start from the beginning.

Our day began at 6 a.m. when we met in the lobby to go on a safari and visit the Ngorongoro Crater. It was about a two-hour drive from our hotel, and I can honestly say that trip was well worth the time. The Ngorongoro Crater is said to be one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles, and I would have to agree with that. It’s one thing to watch a Discovery Channel special about it on television, but seeing it in person was simply indescribable. Jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring or however you want to put it.

We all had a great time on this trip, and our driver should take some of the responsibility for that. He was great. He was essentially our tour guide, as he pointed out different things as we headed toward the Crater. After driving through several corn and cotton fields, we passed a military base and I decided to get my camera ready to take a photo. But the driver interrupted me … “No! Put the camera away,” he said. “You are not allowed to take photos of the military!” I thought he was joking, but he went on to explain that if they saw me take a photo, they would stop the car and take my camera. Needless to say, I didn’t take the photo.

During the drive, we passed a few small towns that were very village like. It was clear there was a lot of poverty in the area. There were also wild dogs everywhere – they travel in packs. Throughout the town, young kids were walking around carrying baskets and selling different kinds of fruits or veggies. Apparently, bananas are big here.

Right before we got to the Crater, we stopped to check the tire pressure of our car. As we sat there waiting for our driver to get back in the car, a mommy Baboon and her baby walked right past us. It was pretty amazing. Not exactly something you see every day back home, that’s for sure.

We then headed to the Crater, which was formed by an eruption of the Serengeti more than 3 million years ago. Tourism provides most of the money for the area and wildlife is the main attraction here. We had our first encounter with the abundant wildlife as we headed into the crater, as two big buffalo walked in front of our car. They didn’t even seem to acknowledge us or react in any way, so they must be used to all of the cars by now.

The wildlife viewing opportunities have certainly ranked among the top highlights on this trip for Kelenna. ( photo)

As we went down into the Crater, we saw tons of animals. Zebras, wildebeest, flamingos, elephants, hippos, warthogs … you name it. It’s not like we were looking way out in the distance either – some of these animals were about 10 feet from our car. It was pretty cool. We next headed toward Lake Magadi, which we learned is alkaline as a result of deposits of volcanic ash. Near the lake’s shore we saw several jackals and hyenas. Next we saw black rhinoceros. I felt pretty lucky about that because the Crater is one of the few places in East Africa where they can be seen. One thing I couldn’t get over was the size of the rhinos. People say that basketball players are tall, but these things were HUGE!

Anyway, we stopped to have some lunch, and then we went to check out the lions. But as we drove toward them, our driver stopped the car and told us we had a flat tire. At first, I thought he was joking, but unfortunately, he wasn’t. Keep in mind that we were in the middle of the wild, about 200 yards from the lions. We were totally separated from the other cars in our group so we were totally on our own. Can you imagine how fast my heart was beating?!! It was pretty crazy.

With the help of a few people in our group, we managed to change our tire and at last, we headed toward the lions. There were five female lions and one male. They were pretty cool. Actually, they were really cool. My favorite part about them was that they kept their distance from us, just as we did from them. There are also cheetahs and leopards in the area, but we didn’t see any. Despite that, this was still an amazing experience. Sometimes, I still can’t believe that I’m actually here.

It’s getting late here, so I’m going to call it a night. Tomorrow, we’ll visit with the Maasai tribe, and I look forward to telling you all about it.

Saturday, May 31
(12:35 p.m. - Tanzania Time)

Members of the Massai tribe, dressed in similar attire to that of the people in this photo, greeted Kelenna upon his arrival.

Well, it's Saturday and after countless hours in the air, we have finally arrived in Africa. Upon our arrival, we instantly got a taste of Africa. In addition to the receiving line with people handing out drinks and flowers to everyone, members from the Maasai tribe were there to greet us with their dance and music. A semi-nomadic group of people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania, they are among the most well-known African ethnic groups internationally.

Once we got our luggage, we headed to our hotel where we would get a bit of rest before the welcome reception. Tanzania is a beautiful country and it is very evident that we are not in the United States any more. The country is very poor overall, and the car ride to our Naura Springs Hotel was an adventure to say the least. The steering wheel is on the right side of the cars, there are no stop lights on the roads and pretty much everyone drives to the beat of their own drum. The interesting thing is that the streets are very clean. You don't see garbage and trash all over the place.

Tonight's reception was pretty much a meet and greet to kick off the summit. Tomorrow, the plan is to go on a safari, and I’m really excited about that.

Be back soon with another update. Until next time …

Friday, May 30
(9:54 a.m. - Washington, D.C. Time)

Kelenna is on his way to a five-day goodwill trip to Tanzania. ( photo)

It’s Friday morning and we are aboard an Ethiopian Airlines flight that will eventually take me to Tanzania, Africa. I am headed to Tanzania for the Leon H. Sullivan Summit, which is committed to the economic and social development of Africa through global partnerships. I’m expecting this to be a particularly special experience, as I was invited here by Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete, who I hear is a big basketball fan. And considering my parents are from Nigeria and this being my first trip to Africa, I am truly humbled and excited to experience Africa and all it has to offer.

But before I encounter my first African experience, I have a long day of travel in front of me. My current flight originated at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C, and it will take another 20 hours to reach Tanzania. But before we get there, we are first stopping in Rome to re-fuel the plane and then we’ll change flight crews in Ethiopia. We are scheduled to get into Tanzania at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

I have never been on a flight for this long, but luckily for me, I am sitting alongside some distinguished company. Among those joining me on this venture are the Reverend Jessie Jackson, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young and actor Chris Tucker. Right after the flight took off, Reverend Jackson got on the mic and prayed for everyone. We just finished eating and as for now, I think I’m going to take a nap. Hopefully when I wake up, we will be a little closer to Africa.

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