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Summer 2022 newsletter

 

Steve and Loyce Veryser, Tanzania

Students playing volleyball at the Bwiru Boys court where Joseph Mafuru first played volleyball.

Last year I began teaching math to deaf students at Bwiru Boys Technical School in Mwanza. When I arrived at the school, I was pleasantly surprised to meet my old neighbor’s smiling face at the gate again. Mafuru, who lived next-door to me when I taught at the school in Peace Corps back in 2004, was still the guard at the school.

When I had lived next-door to them, his son, Joseph, was about 7 years old and daughter, Ginger, 4. Joseph, he told me, had gone on to play professional volleyball at the national level and lived in Dar es Salaam. It was the first I had heard of anyone I knew playing professional volleyball!

I called Joseph the other day to find out all about it.


Joseph serving for the Tanzania Jeshi Stars

How did you get started playing volleyball?

At the sand court at Bwiru Boys actually. I used to play football [soccer] but got injured once. While I was recovering, I started watching other kids play volleyball and got interested. Then I started to play volleyball instead of football. Later I joined a team at the Bank of Tanzania site in Bwiru.

When I went to the College of Business Education, I played for the volleyball team there. We traveled to play against other colleges. When we were playing a match in Tanga in 2014, a coach from the Tanzania Prisons club team saw me play and invited me to Dar to play for their professional team. It was at that time I made the difficult decision to leave college and play volleyball professionally. After four years there, I took an offer to play with a club called Faru. A year later I moved to the Tanzania Jeshi Stars [military] team, where I have been playing now since 2019.

What do you like about the sport?

For me volleyball started as fun and good exercise. I am lucky that it has also become a source of livelihood for me — it’s my full time job — and an opportunity to travel to different countries, meet many people and have different experiences. It’s changed my life in so many ways, especially considering the way I grew up.

How do you stay fit?

We practice as a team every day. We practice as a team in the mornings, and I go to the gym to work out in the evenings.

What countries have you travelled to for volleyball?

I’ve been to countries in East Africa — Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. I’ve also been to Zambia and Tunisia. Most of our travel has been with the club team, but I’ve also represented Tanzania on our national team. I’ll be travelling to Germany next in July for a beach volleyball tournament.

Joseph takes flight for a spike.

Does Tanzania send a volleyball team to the Olympics?

We haven’t competed in the Olympics yet. Tanzania’s national team wasn’t active for many years but has recently gotten back together and we competed in the 2021 Men’s African Nations Volleyball Championship in Rwanda.

Knowing your parents, I’m curious how they influenced your journey to play professional volleyball.

Actually, they really wanted me to focus on my studies and weren’t very supportive of me getting so involved in sports. Even before volleyball, my dad didn’t like me playing football a lot either. Pursuing volleyball was something I did on my own and mostly out of love of the game. After I started travelling with a team, my parents started to be more supportive because I was able to save a bit of money from the travel and would help them out with some expenses when I got back from the trips.

What advice do you have to share with young people, especially young athletes in Tanzania?

Follow your passion and put in the effort. Sports are a real part of life and another opportunity for success in life. Everyone tends to only focus on football in Tanzania, but there are lots of sports opportunities out there. Jeshi, for example, has professional club teams in basketball, boxing, handball, golf and netball. For Tanzanian athletes to represent the country in many sports is another way to contribute to the development of our nation.

Where do you hope to be in life after the next three to four years?

It’s been my dream to play with an international professional team. Actually, in 2018 I was in discussions with a pro team outside the country. Unfortunately, I got injured and I wasn’t able to join them. By the time I had fully recovered, the COVID pandemic had started, so it still didn’t work out. I’m also hoping to have started a family of my own by then!

If people want to watch one of your matches, how can they find it?

The schedule and locations are posted online. We usually have friends and family, other players, former players, and other people interested in the sport. There’s no entry fee to come watch our matches. Sometimes they feature highlights and interviews from the matches on television, but they haven’t started showing them live.

How tall are you anyways?

I bet you wouldn’t recognize me from the kid you knew that lived next-door since I’m probably taller than you now! I’m 6 foot 2.

Left: Steve Veryser In 2004 with his neighbors; Joseph’s dad is to his left. Right: Joseph in Lake Victoria at age 8.

 


Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!

Steve Veryser Steve Veryser
Based in Mwanza, Tanzania, Steve Veryser is Maryknoll Lay Missioners' regional director for Kenya, South Sudan and Tanzania.