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Providing hope through Tennis

Wednesday, 5th December, 2018 10:28am
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Providing hope through Tennis

Wesley O'Brien

Providing hope through Tennis

Wesley O'Brien

Years from now, when the vessels crossing the Mediterranean are full of smiling tourists and not desolate refugees, an old man or woman will be asked the question “when did you first start playing tennis?”

It will open up a window into their past which most would rather have kept closed, but happy memories will exist in there too, and learning tennis with Wesley O’Brien will surely be one of them.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, a total of 109,073 asylum seekers have arrived in Europe so far this year, fleeing conflict and oppression in Africa and the Middle East. 95% of these individuals have endured a treacherous sea voyage to get there, travelling from countries which most westerners associate almost exclusively with war, forgetting that to many, those places are also home.

Killaloe man Wesley O’Brien has spent over a decade educating kids on the skills of tennis, both within his home club Killaloe/Ballina Lawn Tennis Club, to places as far-flung as the United States.

Also a qualified photographer, he has travelled extensively, but his journey to Ritsona Refugee Camp in Greece was travel of a different kind. Located 50km north of Athens near a gulf of the Aegean Sea, Ritsona is now a temporary residence to almost 1,000 asylum seekers, most of whom now face the challenge of rebuilding their lives from scratch, utilising whatever few resources are available. That task of making something from nothing was one which Wesley himself experienced upon arrival in Ritsona, and though the context was entirely different, he found that it can be done.

Facilities were very basic, I had a small part of what effectively was a big concrete open space, and the majority of that was taking up by people playing soccer. But when I got there, I built the net. They had an old volleyball net, and I managed to get two builders’ blocks, put a bit of wood on top, tied the net around them and then stuck them in a pile of sand. It was very make-shift, thrown together, but it served its purpose,” he said.


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