A chance to help out back home inspired Kara O’Connell to develop the Irish Warriors, a basketball team that has risen to glory
The Irish Warriors can’t be missed on the courts in Manila. The big shamrock on the front of their green jerseys stands out to anyone that sees it. While
Kara O’Connell (née Dumlao) is a remarkable woman with a story that seems straightforward but really isn’t. From the Northwest of Ireland, she’s helping develop a new generation of basketball stars in the Philippines and doing her bit to give back.
It’s ordinary but it’s really not
In life, no matter where in the world you are, we tend to take some extraordinary things for granted. A Filipina ending up in Ireland after travelling around Asia working seems like just another thing. People in the Philippines are used to friends and family trodding that path. Those of us in Europe just figure that’s how it goes.
It’s really not normal when you pause for even a moment to think about it. Originally from a rural village situated to the north of Manila, Kara O’Connell is now long settled in Co. Sligo in Ireland with a family.
Those are two wildly different worlds, albeit both used to heavy wind and rain, and moving you life like that is quite extraordinary for an individual.
“There was no work in the Philippines so I started babysitting around Asia. I was working in Japan one summer and met a lady from Dublin. I got to Ireland in 2000, starting in Killarney, Co. Kerry, but met a boy from Sligo and moved there,” O’Connell said.
Again, it’s a pretty normal story around anyone emigrating when looked at purely as a statistic. Relationship and economic reasons are amongst the main drivers of movement of people worldwide. Kara O’Connell ticks both of those boxes.
Stop for a moment and think about the individual. It’s a life they are living. At a young age, O’Connell took a jaunt into the world and somehow ended up in Sligo. It’s a great place, I had the best steak of my life there, but it’s an enormous change in life.
For all that, what makes the Kara O’Connell story truly extraordinary is something really ordinary. She kept her ties to home and it was from there that the Irish Warriors were born.
The beginnings of the Irish Warriors
As is extremely normal for emigrants around the world, Kara O’Connell likes to visit her family when she can. It was through these visits and the well-known adoration of basketball in the Philippines that the seeds of the project were sewn.
“I go home to the Philippines every year. I like to help children because I know how unfortunate we are, especially in the rural areas. I normally go home with boxes of shoes,” O’Connell said.
“One summer I was there, I saw there was a basketball league in the city. I asked them if they want to go play and they said they didn’t have the money needed. When I heard that, I told them I’d give them the registration fee. From there, I formed a team.”
At the first game, O’Connell recognised a problem. Playing organised basketball costs more than just the registration fee.
“They had no equipment. The substitutes didn’t have shoes. Players were taking turns with pairs of shoes. They didn’t have jerseys, they didn’t have anything,”
“We bought shoes for them and jerseys, it really started there.”
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It’s more than geography
As soon as O’Connell got back to Ireland, she started telling people about what she was doing. The first response from those she spoke with was asking how they could help.
“I’m so lucky that I have friends who wanted me to tell the story. Every three months, I organise raffles to raise funds. I’m so lucky to have support in Sligo. It raises money for jerseys and shoes. The shoes are the main problem,” she said.
“It’s a good journey but it’s hard. I like to give but I don’t have enough. I’m raising to give them food, water, and cover travel. We had a game where one of the best players couldn’t play because he didn’t have any shoes.”
It’s a struggle, no doubt, but one O’Connell is determined to make matter for the youngster she is working with.
“These children are from unfortunate situations. Most of them don’t have anything. I want them to use this to help them get scholarships in university to play basketball. That experience can help them,” she said.
“I want them to see that it’s ok to go out there and do things they thought they couldn’t do because they don’t have anything.”
Making an impact
Wins and losses matter in basketball, make no mistake about that, but getting in the right mindset to do that takes work. O’Connell is working to build that with her players, despite being thousands of miles away.
“They are enjoying themselves. They are out there and see that they can do things. Some children will think that because they are from rural areas that they can’t play basketball like the boys in the city,” she said.
“The highlight for me is that they have motivation. They know that if they persevere and work on it, they might have a future with basketball. The players understand that they can compete too.”
That’s a win as far as O’Connell is concerned. She wants them to open their minds and see that there could be opportunities there.
“I want them to work on their dreams, to know that with a bit of support they can achieve more. It’s not all about basketball, I want to change their lives so they feel empowered to go out and show themselves,” she said.
Check out my wild journey to get to Manila for a basketball game in the video above
They’re also winning
A tale like the Irish Warriors is inspirational purely on the face of it. Kara O’Connell is working with her wits and grit to help build better lives for young people back in the Philippines. That she’s using basketball to do it is heartwarming.
They’re also rather good at basketball as it turns out. Earlier this month, the Irish Warriors were crowned the Ilocos Norte Under 17 champions. O’Connell celebrated back in Sligo, knowing that these young men have found a common cause to work together on.
If you want to help out O’Connell with her work developing the Irish Warriors you can. She’s determined to keep creating opportunities for more young people through basketball in the Philippines.
The Irish Warriors GoFundMe is here. Donate now, tell your friends, and help make the world a better place through basketball.