Killaloe tennis coach fundraising mission for refugee camp in Greece
A tennis coach from Killaloe has garnered great support in his ongoing campaign to raise funds for a refugee camp in Greece. Wesley O'Brien set up a tennis programme for young people at the Ritsona camp in 2018.
He's been back three times since, using donations and goodwill from home to bring tennis rackets, balls, nets and other equipment to strengthen what has been become a very successful outlet for the young refugees.
Now Wesley is fundraising for a defibrillator for the Ritsona camp. He said the support thus far has been astonishing, with some of the biggest names in world sport donating signed jerseys after they heard about his tennis programme. These include Spanish tennis supremo Rafael Nadal, with whom Wesley came in contact through a good friend living in Spain, leading to Nadal Foundation interest in the Killaloe man's cause.
With the help of another friend, who tried to bring the Ritsona tennis camp to the attention of further sports personalities and clubs, Wesley received donations of shirts signed by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and German soccer legend Franz Beckenbaur. He also received a flag signed by golf ace Rory McIlroy, while a Munster jersey signed by key players of the current team is on its way.
Wesley is offering these items to interested parties in exchange for a donation towards a defibrillator for the Greek camp, to where he hopes to journey again in the not too distant future. Located approximately 50km north of Athens and comprised mostly of Syrian refugees, the Ritsona camp is the only one of its kind in Greece.
There are currently around 4,000 people temporarily based there with hopes of moving on to new and better lives. Having coached kids at his local Killaloe/Ballina Lawn Tennis Club and in the United States over the years, well-travelled Wesley had long wanted to help others with humanitarian work overseas. He volunteered to work in the Greek camp with the Lighthouse Relief NGO, which provides psychological support and safe development opportunities for children and young adults. Wesley found tennis a perfect means of using his skills to help kids express themselves creatively.
Over the course of his return visits, he has grown the Ritsona tennis programme from strength to strength, thanks in no small part to his local club and Nenagh Lawn Tennis Club, which have between them donated dozens of rackets, hundreds of balls and three nets. The camp is also growing, exponentially. When Wesley first visited in late 2018 there were around 800 refugees accommodated at Ritsona. With the numbers rising so quickly, a defibrillator is badly needed, and the Killaloe coach hopes he will have the wherewithal to provide one soon.
Looking further down the line, he would also like to set up tennis programmes at other refugee camps in Greece and hopes that word of his work will spread to coaches of basketball, volleyball and other sports.
"It's an amazing experience," Wesley enthused. "Consider getting some equipment together - basketballs - whatever sport you coach, and go and do it; it'll change and have a huge impact on your life."
Taking the opportunity to thank everyone who has supported his efforts so far, Wesley invited anyone interested in acquiring the signed gear or supporting his tennis programme in any other way to email him at email@example.com.