NATE MOULTON FOR THE HOYA Georgetown basketball player Ki-Ke Rafiu (COL '16) had been taking sports clothes home to Nigeria to encourage sports.
NATE MOULTON FOR THE HOYA
Georgetown basketball player Ki-Ke Rafiu (COL ’16) had been taking clothes and shoes home to Nigeria for local children to encourage them to play sports.

At Georgetown, it’s easy to take basic necessities for granted and never think twice about throwing out our old things. Ki-Ke Rafiu (COL ’16), a Georgetown women’s basketball player, is here to change that. Born in Kudana, Nigeria, in a place where even a pair of sneakers was an almost unattainable luxury, Rafiu hasn’t forgotten the work it took for her to make it to America. In light of her own struggles, she has started an effort to bring donated clothing and books back to her homeland . Her goal is to help her community, spreading safe athletic practices and a better education wherever she goes.

How did you end up playing basketball at Georgetown?

It’s a really long story. It started from Nigeria. I followed [a friend]; I didn’t know where he was going, I just knew he was going to play some type of sport. I followed him, and it happened to be basketball. That was how I started playing, and I attended a basketball camp and that was when I met Mike Flynn. He was a scout then in Nigeria. He helped me find a scholarship in Philadelphia, in Neumann and Goretti High School. I did two years of high school there. I got a scholarship to Georgetown, among a couple of schools that recruited me.

The Washington Post recently published an article about the work you’ve been doing in Nigeria. Could you tell me about the work you’ve been doing with the children there?

What really inspired me was looking back to my journey and looking back through at the life experiences of female athletes coming not just from Nigeria. It’s like these are our boundaries, and they try to put you in a box.  I see the same thing happening to female athletes coming up in Nigeria, and I feel like it’s high time somebody needs to stand up and say something, and just help them. You don’t have to give a million dollars to help someone. I don’t see it that way. If it’s just shoes or anything — I started through giving out shoes. That was my first way of reaching the girls. I started giving out shoes. It became a problem because not every girl wears my size 11.

But then I came up with the idea of reaching out to other people here in America. I’ll take your old shoes when I’m going back home. I try to let them know what I’m doing with the shoes, and I have pictures when I go back. I always, always make sure that when I give out the shoes I take pictures with the girls, just to show the people that they are really thankful.

Next year, we’re hoping to be involved with books too, to get more books, because for me, coming to Georgetown, the struggle of writing [was something] I really found difficult. Writing a five-page paper was something I’d never done.

How easy have you found it to get support from people back here to donate that kind of clothing and be part of your project?

It’s a lot of up and downs. Some people say they’ll do this, [and] then you have to constantly keep in touch with them so they don’t forget. Sometimes you feel like maybe you’re a pain and sometimes you’re asking too much. But my high school coach has been a great help with the T-shirts, and my teammates have been a great help, and all of my friends and the people that I know. Sometimes, I don’t get responsive people. I just work with whatever I get, but I wish I could get more.

With specifically giving these kinds of sports clothing and shoes, how do you want that to help especially the girls in Nigeria?

Imagine … playing on a basketball court with potholes. You have to know where every hole is, so you know where to run to so you don’t twist your ankle. A really bad basketball court, and then playing there without shoes. Just think about it.

I played there with really terrible shoes, and this is the same thing with these girls — some of them play with their school sandals, some of them play with running shoes, which are not designed for basketball. Getting transportation to practice is a problem, and buying shoes, which cost like $20 — they can’t afford it. I couldn’t afford it. I had to save for six months to buy one pair of shoes, which I always prayed to God would last for three years, which is a lot. They really need this stuff, because some of them skip practice or don’t come and play because maybe they don’t have shoes or they get injured not having the right gear for basketball. For me personally, I don’t want this situation to discourage them from playing basketball.

Where did your idea for moving to giving books as well?

It was more of a Georgetown transition for me when I realized that I was really finding it difficult writing a five-page paper. I looked around at my classmates, and they’d literally do the paper a day before it’s due. I started two weeks ago and I wouldn’t be done! It’s not good. It made me think about the education system in Nigeria and what I was missing. I never struggled with math or science [classes]. But just looking back, I just thought something is missing.

We don’t read a lot. When you read more, it helps your writing, so that’s when I thought about bringing in the idea of books. You’re not just going home saying “‘happy I got shoes.” No, you have to remember that you have to read a book, too. If you want to be a student-athlete in the near future, having the American dream and being a basketball player in a college, you have to do this — this is how it works. I wish I had someone that told me all of this stuff before I [arrived], but I just somehow figured it out. So that’s what I’m trying to do — to educate them about what it means to be a student-athlete.

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