The Republic of Congo is a country of sharp contrast. A mosaic of street music, charm and tropical beauty.
But the breathtaking landscape only masks the brutality of pollution and poverty. You’ll find affluent residential and commercial development along side sprawling slums.
Most of Brazzleville’s 1-million people live on barely a dollar a day. Thunder player, Serge Ibaka said, “It was not easy. Not easy.”
Serge Ibaka grew up on the outskirts of the capitol in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
From the Congo to the court, Serge is the hometown hero. He can’t go anywhere without being swarmed by hundreds of adoring fans. One fan showed us a photo. “Me and Serge as you can see you excited to have your picture taken? Of course. Of course. Really happy.”
He grew up here under very humble circumstances. He was actually born inside a two room house, one of 18 children. Ibaka said, “More than 20 people there. It’s no house. It’s a couple different doors.”
There is only one bed inside, covered by a mosquito net to protect the family from malaria.
Pros For Africa Co-founder, Bill Horn said, “He is a walking miracle. To see where he came from is nothing short of miraculous to see where he is today.”
A tin roof protects the concrete hut from a violent 6 month rainy season. The kitchen is barely big enough to accommodate three pots and one person. There is no indoor plumbing and chickens mingle with the residents.
The NBA star told us. “I know how hard it is for them because I grew up like them on the streets. Difficult moments. No food, no clothes, Christmas. I didn’t have nothing. I remember one day at Christmas I didn’t have nothing, no clothes and I was just crying all day.”
But Serge Ibaka’s steely determination and unhuman-like athleticism would be a lifeline. His mother who died when he was 7, and father both played basketball. It was clear, the game was in his genes too.
He learned to play on one of the only public courts in Brazzaville. The rims are bent. The backboards have no glass.
Despite the circumstances, scouts saw Serge’s potential. He was no longer Africa’s best kept secret.
Serge Ibaka has since become one of the NBA’s best defenders and an Oklahoma City crowd favorite.
Back at home, Serge has not forgotten the promise he made to the children, his country and God almost a decade ago.
Ibaka said, “My promise is to go back home and to help those kids, you know? So, this is the promise I made to God. And I feel like I need to do it because .. You’ve been blessed? Exactly.”
Serge Ibaka has inspired children in his homeland to hope again. “Dreams are free. Everyone can afford to have them.”