Curry spent 2½ days in a refugee camp in northwest Tanzania, home to 66,000 Congolese refugees. It was Curry’s first time in Africa. “It’s really, really heartbreaking. It’s tough to see but I’m really glad I went and could bring that story home,” he said. “I wanted to see the faces of the people we were helping and hear their stories. and it drove home the point of why I’ve been involved for so long. So many people need those nets.”
Curry looks at them. Shakes his head. “They don’t know how hard that was for me,” he shrugs. These refugees don’t know dunks, nor do they know why a 25-year-old NBA star, coming off his breakout season, would fly more than 8,000 miles and 24 hours, risk malaria, typhoid and yellow fever, just to hang bed nets in their mud huts for the anti-malaria program Nothing But Nets. On his vacation. “Man, for a huge American sports star,” said Nothing But Nets director Chris Helfrich, “he sure doesn’t act like it.”
He’d meet a woman named Nabwamima, who’s had four miscarriages due to malaria. “God bless you, Coory,” she said. He’d meet a 25-year-old woman named Machozi, whose name means “tear” and who’s had malaria 20 times already. Her 6-month-old boy on her back is bloated and rust-colored from having it three times in the last three months. He’d meet albino kids who had to flee their villages when chopping off albino limbs and grinding the bones into a “magic” dust suddenly became witch-doctor-approved good luck in 2009. “This is exhausting,” he said during one break. “Emotionally. You know?”
There’s a popular bumper sticker on the streets of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, that reads, “This car is protected by the blood of Jesus.” But there’s one teacher at the International School of Tanganyika who needs one that reads, “This car is protected by Hasheem Thabeet.” On one occasion when that teacher was stopped at a red light, a group of children ran up and started cleaning her windows — a common occurrence in the streets of the country’s largest city. But as she tried to tell them she didn’t need that assistance, the light turned green and they ran from the car, leaving the windshield wipers up. She quickly pulled off to the side of the road to fix the wipers and talk to the kids. That’s when a luxury car pulled over behind her and Thabeet unfolded all 7 feet, 3 inches of himself from it, asking if everything was all right, if she needed any help. They spoke to the kids and got her car’s wipers sorted out and then Thabeet was off.
“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Every time I get a chance, I go back home. Try to motivate kids. When I was growing up, your parents, if they were lawyers, everybody in that family would be lawyers. My dad was in architecture but he didn’t push me to be an architect. “When I go back, I tell kids, ‘Don’t be pushed to do stuff by your family.’ There’s a lot of opportunities and a lot of chances to do special things. But you’ve got to want it, you’ve got to show that you want it.”