Darren Ganga: Coaching for cricketing talent

Lisa Allen-Agostini finds out how the Daren Ganga foundation is making a difference, and not just for budding sportsmen

Daren Ganga, at left, and his foundation’s scholarship winners tour the Pointe-à-Pierre Wildfowl Trust in south Trinidad. Photograph by Daren Ganga Foundation

Daren Ganga has his eye on the future. “Cricket is my chosen sport and primary profession,” he says in an email interview. “However, I have always recognised that there are many young people who are talented in many other areas, with massive potential to succeed on the local and international stage, whose progress may be hindered by financial or geographic limitations.”

A child prodigy himself — at age nineteen, he was one of the youngest players ever on the West Indies cricket team — Ganga has channelled his success as a sportsman into the establishment of an eponymous foundation to assist gifted young people in Trinidad and Tobago. The Daren Ganga Foundation was founded in 2007 and publicly launched in 2009. In August 2012, the foundation held its fourth annual football and cricket camp. Eighty boys between ages seven and thirteen spent three weeks developing basic skills in theory and practice sessions — free of charge. The foundation also gives fifteen scholarships annually to children aged nine to twelve, to help them develop their talents. And the scholarships are not limited to cricket — in 2012, the winners also included track and field athletes, volleyball players, dancers, and singers.

Take eleven-year-old Sapna Seepaul, a tiny girl with a huge talent. During a telephone interview, her angelic voice soared through a complicated classical Indian song, and Anisah Hosein, Ganga’s personal assistant, said she was amazed by Sapna’s skill on the harmonium. In 2011, Sapna placed second in the prominent Mastana Bahar competition, which features traditional Indian performance arts in Trinidad and Tobago.

Sapna’s scholarship from the Daren Ganga Foundation was announced in January 2012, while she was still preparing to sit the SEA, her primary-school–leaving exam. She says her school’s principal arranged for her and other students to audition for the foundation, and she was the lucky one picked. “The foundation is paying for my tutor, Rana Mohip, and he’s teaching me to play the harmonium,” Sapna said. The foundation is “always there for me. They gave me the opportunity to become a real singer. I’m more confident when I go to sing now.”

As for her future plans, Sapna says: “I like animals, so I want to be veterinarian. I also want to be an ambassador like Daren Ganga, for music.”

“I believe very strongly that the foundation needs to support the progress of young people who demonstrate above average skill or talent in any area,” says Ganga. “Therefore, the primary purpose is to mentor young people, motivate and inspire them to realise their full potential, and support their development through financial assistance, coaching, and scholarship programmes.”

Mentoring is a big deal to the sports star, who was awarded a Humming Bird Gold Medal by the Trinidad and Tobago government in 2007 for his contribution to cricket, and is a national ambassador for sport. He often tells the following story, and it bears repeating. “On my twentieth birthday, while on tour with the West Indies team in South Africa in 1999, I had the shock of my life when I was told that President Nelson Mandela was on the phone to wish me happy birthday, and had organised a cake to be brought to my room. At first I thought it was a prank, but when I heard the voice of the great man, I felt blessed beyond words.

“He inspired me to become the best cricketer and human being I could become. Without doubt, Nelson Mandela changed my thinking, my self-belief, and my life. In retrospect, the Mandela phone call was probably step one in the story of my foundation.” He adds, “I was extremely fortunate to have an audience with the CEO of the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory recently while in South Africa as a commentator for the Champions League, and we discussed opportunities for establishing linkages between the foundation and the centre.”

Ganga is originally from Barrackpore, a working-class community deep in the sugarcane lands of south Trinidad. He credits his family with supporting his development as a cricketer — which didn’t come cheap, in time or money. It entailed “access to sport facilities, the need for expensive equipment, many hours spent commuting to play and practice, and the need to balance my passion for cricket with my motivation to be equally successful at school,” he says. The foundation, recognising that gifted children often face such challenges, gives its scholarship recipients stipends for school supplies and school uniforms, pays for coaching, and holds four guidance days a year to expose the kids and their parents to information on nutrition, etiquette, and public speaking.

“The success stories are many and extremely rewarding,” Ganga says of the scholarships. Some of them: Gabrielle has sung a solo before the prime minister, Arun and Brittany were national champions in table tennis, Brandon has travelled to Barbados to play cricket with the team from Clarke Road, Penal. “I am so proud of all the winners and their parents,” Ganga says.

The foundation started with a TT$60,000 grant from the Neal and Massy Foundation, and later received a three-year sponsorship worth TT$1.3 million from RBC Royal Bank. It also raises funds through an annual golf tournament. But even with such a high-profile founder, the foundation has noticed the tougher climate for philanthropy since the onset of the global recession. Nonetheless, Ganga says, “I am convinced that corporations see the value in what we do and the results we are achieving, and hopefully this will be the basis for continued support.”

Prospective donors and volunteers can find out more about the work of the foundation on its website and Facebook page. Ganga adds, “Financial contributions are essential to maintaining the operations of the foundation, so we can continue to provide this support to our scholarship winners, and offer the cricket and football camps free of charge. At the same time, we welcome ideas and expertise from those who may have valuable insight and experience as we seek to grow our organisation.

“For the present, I ask that the public keep the foundation in mind and know that, in our own small way, we are trying our best to help as many as we can to start fulfilling their personal dreams in the same way that I did and continue to do.”