Friends of Tibet: Nepal Basketball
Norlha Basketball is teaming up with Tibet’s neighbors to the West, Nepal, with their basketball development endeavors. This program is led by Maya Shyangtan – Nepal National Women’s Team member and a pioneer in basketball development in Nepal. Maya has organized dozens of life-changing youth tournaments, clinics, and camps across Nepal . Your donation will go directly to their development efforts as they recover from the devastating earthquake that struck in 2015.
Read Maya’s story below:
The Great Maya: Nepal Basketball’s Smallest Player Facing Big Challenges
At 4’11”, Maya Shyangtan Tamang might be one of the shortest international basketball players in the world.
Maya’s home country of Nepal, a small nation dwarfed between the giants of China and India, is still many years away from having a professional basketball league, especially a women’s one. “The Great Maya”, a crafty shooting guard with the work ethic of Goliath’s adversary, instead organizes and plays in the few but growing number of women’s tournaments in the region. She also suits up for Nepal’s newly formed women’s national team.
The 24-year-old resides in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, in a neighborhood not far from the UNESCO world heritage site Boudhanath – the world’s largest stupa. This 1,500 year-old holy structure, with the mighty Himalayas in the background, houses on the inside the remains of a sacred Buddha. On the outside, Boudhanath today looks much different than what Maya remembers from just a few months ago. With its grand tower and sacred prayer flags missing, the damage from the earthquake reminds her of the same damage that paralyzed Maya’s family, team, and country.
As the smallest player on the court since she started playing with the school-boys in 6th grade, Maya is used to big challenges. Her small country of Nepal, surrounded on all sides by some of the largest countries in the world, just the same.
The challenges they are faced with now, however, are bigger than ever.
The clanking of hand tools against the concrete floor interrupts the harmony of bouncing basketballs at Prime College, a local high school in the heart of Kathmandu. Workers began their task of repairing the cracks that spread throughout the outdoor basketball court as Maya and her teammates continued their training on the other end, led by volunteer head coach Bikash Shahi. Acting as the temporary home for the national team, the court and its scars serve as a daily reminder of the crippling earthquake that struck the team’s homeland just months earlier. Their main gymnasium, located at Nepal’s one and only sports complex, sits in ruins.
On April 25 2015, Kathmandu and the surrounding region suffered a terrifying 7.8-magnitude earthquake. The deeply religious country, where the average income is around $2 a day, was completely shattered.
Within seconds buildings were reduced to rubble, family members and friends killed, thousands of make-shift tents – no more than tarps over bamboo branches – quickly being called “home”. In an instant, Nepal lost 9,000 of its people, 23,000 injured, endured the destruction of religious temples and world heritage sites, and suffered $10 billion in damages. The powerful Mt. Everest echoed the destruction with a deadly avalanche.
Everyone on Nepal’s women’s national team suffered.
Now, after months of mourning, the team is rebuilding their lives through basketball. After finally coming together and finding a court to play on, however, they faced more challenges ahead.
As if a natural disaster wasn’t enough for Maya and her country, political disaster struck Nepal soon afterwards. With the ratification of a controversial new constitution in September 2015, protests and strikes have plagued the nation. This has lead to a massive blockade of fuel, a messy situation involving neighboring India.
With petrol in extremely short supply for the landlocked country, the limited amount that is available has risen in cost by over 500%, eliminating fuel for cooking food and making transportation virtually impossible.
Finding an intact home court was a challenge for Maya and her team, now simply getting to practices is a major difficulty.
Kathmandu, a densely populated metropolis of nearly three million people, is already no easy city to traverse. Because of the fuel crisis, Maya now waits 45 minutes after trainings in crowded chaotic city streets for the proper bus to arrive; a bus packed to overflowing, forcing dozens to sit on the roof for the bumpy ride across town. Players who live outside the valley have to wait as long as a week before an overnight bus is available to drive them into the capital for training camp; busses bearing the scars of rocks and stones thrown by upset protestors.
The financial damages of this fuel crisis are estimated to match that of the earthquake – another $10 billion – bringing the combined economic impact of these two calamities to the total of Nepal’s annual GDP – the equivalent of a $17 trillion disaster striking the United States.
Heightening the impact of the natural and political catastrophes is a much more entrenched barrier that affects not just Nepal, but every country: the discrimination of women.
The discrimination is seen in employment and education, inside the home, within religious traditions and beliefs, and in athletics. One would think we needn’t be having this discussion, yet the inequity for women is still blatantly prevalent in many parts of the world.
Maya is looking to change that in Nepal. Her goal is to use sports and especially basketball to break down those barriers in her country. You will find her at every local basketball tournament, playing, coaching girls youth teams, and spreading the Gospel of Basketball on her Facebook page: The Great Maya.
With a Masters’ degree in urban development, Maya hopes to pursue a PhD in the United States and play collegiate basketball, bringing what she learns home to better the lives of her people.
But before that, Maya’s and the national team’s minds are set on one thing: The South Asia Games.
South Asia Games
The challenges Maya and her teammates face continue to affect them in every aspect of their daily lives. On the basketball court, however, they leave those challenges behind and focus completely on a different one: their first ever South Asian Games (SAG).
SAG, or the “Olympics of South Asia”, features eight competing countries: India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan, and Nepal. The teams of these nations will meet in February in the cities of Guwahati and Shillong in northeast India.
The tournament favorite is the host and second most populous country in the world. India has a population of 1.3 billion people. Nepal has just over 2% of that number. India’s players are much bigger, stronger, and have had much more funding, training, and experience; the Goliath to Nepal’s David.
This is a big challenge indeed for such a small country, a small team, and their smallest player. Inspired by the enduring strength of the Nepalese people, the women’s national team offer a source of hope for their country. With your help, The Great Maya can lead her country to success on the basketball court, and off it.
Willard “Bill” Johnson is a former basketball player and coach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and overseas. He is currently coaching a team of nomads in the neighboring Tibetan Plateau in China and spent three weeks with Nepal’s women’s national team in Fall 2015. Johnson can be reached at email@example.com