Dau Jok knows that if it weren’t for basketball, he probably wouldn’t be at Penn.
With that in mind — that his sport created an opportunity — he strives to give back. Through Penn and his foundation, the Dut Jok Youth Foundation, he can do that.
At the end of May, he’ll have another opportunity to give back. He will travel to Nigeria as a fellow for We Play To Win, a foundation started and run by 1996 Penn graduate Kasia Muoto.
“I can learn a lot from her, from the organization, the business side, and Nigeria in terms of population is the largest country in Africa,” Jok, a Sudan native, said. “What better way to learn a model, practice and just be able to volunteer?”
While Jok and Muoto have a clear connection through Penn, their story is a bit more complex.
In the spring of 2011, Muoto was invited to speak at Wharton professor Kenneth Shropshire’s class. Shropshire’s class focuses on the effects of sports on social impact, and though Jok was not enrolled in that course, Shropshire invited him to attend and learn more about Muoto — who was born in Nigeria and came to the United States to play soccer in college — and her foundation. We Play to Win is meant to inspire and empower women through sports and physical activity.
Though Jok couldn’t make the lecture that day, he found Muoto on Facebook and they soon began texting and talking on the phone. At the time, Jok was in the early stages of planning and launching the Dut Jok Youth Foundation.
During those phone conversations, Muoto encouraged him to go for his goals. “I really think you should do this Sudan thing,” she recalls telling him. “I kept saying ‘Go, go, go.’”
When the Quakers flew out to Los Angeles to play UCLA in December 2011, Jok invited Muoto to attend the game since she lives in the area. She happily attended, not only to put a face to the name and voice she had been in touch with for months, but also to see a former resident from her time as a high-rise RA: Jerome Allen.
“We sat around for an hour after the game, the three of us,” Muoto said.
Through these exchanges and conversations, Jok and Muoto have become very close. They even call each other Sister Kasia and Little Brother Dau.
The two have found their commonalities extend far beyond their African roots and Penn connection. They both want to make an impact on the world and appreciate the vehicle that sports can provide.
“Playing is winning,” Jok said. “It’s the mantra of We Play To Win. If you’re active … it empowers women in terms of how they feel about themselves, in terms of how they handle adversity. A lot of them have handled adversity, but [it’s] how they uplift themselves to thrive.”
Though the foundation focuses on young women aged 11-17, Muoto stressed that females and males of all ages attend the sessions. Bringing accomplished male athletes gives these young women appropriate validation from men, who are the primary decision-makers and leaders in African countries.
“What’s important is when the girls do get validated in the right way by a male,” Muoto said. “When you’re living in a male-dominated society, it’s important to hear from the boys. It’s a powerful message that someone will get on a plane and come [to their country.] It’s the validation, his energy, his passion … Dau is a natural encourager.”
Jok will share his story, teaching not only sports but also the fundamentals of physical fitness like developing core strength. He’ll also help Muoto in terms of planning, execution and even blogging on her website.
“He’s coming as a little brother, as a mentee and as someone that can be a leader,” Muoto said.
His presence both on and off the court will be a benefit to the young women, but the trip will also serve as a learning experience on many different levels for Jok. He’ll learn about different cultures in Africa, as his home of Sudan is much different in terms of development than Nigeria. He’ll learn to be a better leader on the Penn basketball team. He’ll learn to deal with the unpredictable nature of African life and translate those experiences to his own life.
“He’s going to learn flexibility, leadership, different ways of executing,” Muoto said. And of course he’ll learn about a successful foundation and how he can make his better.
“Penn has given us an opportunity, and this is how we’re giving back,” Jok said. “We’re given opportunities and we’d like to give back to our communities … Using sports of all things, because they have helped us.”
Now it’s Jok’s turn to help others through sports.
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