Call it a working vacation.
South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley spent part of her summer working with former President Bill Clinton in Africa instead of going to the beach or relaxing by the pool.
“I got full off of Africa,” Staley said this week. “It was much more empowering than a vacation could have ever been. I think when you’re able to see and get your hands dirty with the works of what President Clinton was doing, it was fulfilling for me.”
Rubbing shoulders with a president isn’t that unfamiliar to Staley – she has met the past three. But working alongside Clinton as he traveled in Africa to continue the goals of his Clinton Foundation was more than a random meet-and-greet.
Staley saw firsthand how his foundation is working to strengthen health care and teach farming and development across the world. She traveled with the president and about 25 other people, including Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, and NBA star Brook Lopez, to five African countries.
After receiving such a tremendous response to her “Innersole” initiative, which places new sneakers on the feet of needy children, Staley continued her charitable contributions with the Clinton Foundation. Invited to go on the trip by a WNBA representative in July, Staley packed and headed to Africa.
“I had no idea that he’s been doing it as long as he’s been doing it,” Staley said of Clinton. “Ever since he left his presidency, up until now. It’s incredible work. I only think a former president can do the type of things he’s done in Africa.”
Traveling from Malawi to Zanzibar to Tanzania to Rwanda to South Africa, Staley and the Clinton delegation visited the clinics that the foundation had constructed. American doctors were volunteering at the clinics, trying to curb the epidemic of HIV and AIDS, and helping those already afflicted with the proper medicine.
Staley also saw how the foundation is teaching farming and business practices to the natives, instructing them on everything from cultivating the land to managing their money. There’s also a program in place that allows locals to borrow money if they wish to start their own business.
“One of the more touching things that I experienced, in two of the countries we went to, they probably had over 500 people at each site, they were fitted for custom hearing aids,” Staley said. “We got a chance to witness deaf people hear for the first time in their lives. Basically, just empowering people to create better opportunities for themselves and their families, and changing generations in the process.”
Staley got some possible help with “Innersole,” which has already rounded up over 1,000 pairs of sneakers and distributed half of them.
She said Clinton likes to interact with people, telling story after story and walking up and down the aisle of the airplane to talk with the passengers.
“I kind of watch and see if he lets his guard down or tires of conversing with people. I never saw him tire of it,” Staley said. “We were at the President of Rwanda’s house having dinner, and he was walking around and he actually came up to me and said, ‘There’s some 6-5 girls walking around here. You might want to go take a look.’”
Staley didn’t bite, but appreciated the gesture.
Back in town after a family visit to Philadelphia, Staley is developing her USC women’s basketball team that has won 50 games over two seasons.
She also continues to accept donations for Innersole. Former Baylor star Brittney Griner donated a pair of shoes, but now the challenge is to find a child who wears size 18.
And she is trying to wrap her head around her experience in Africa.
“To see all that President Clinton has done and all that the Clinton Foundation has accomplished was amazing,” Staley said. “I’m very glad I got to be a part of it.”