Jonah's Story

Making a better future - by completely changing the direction of a child's life.

" Hi, I'm Jonah Wafula. I'm from Uganda, a beautiful, but dirt poor, third world country in East Africa. My story is not a hard luck saga, it is an ongoing adventure full of challenges and the equivalent of many third set battles.

I am very proud of being ranked 700 in the nation in juniors. I'm not a 4.0 student, and I won't be awarded a scholarship this year to play D1 tennis… but I am THE success story that does not make the headlines.

The gift given to me was opportunity; I no longer live in a two bedroom shack with 9 other family members, on less than $1 a day. I have shoes on my feet, plenty to eat, enough clothes to share with my entire village, a doctor, and the luxury of a dentist. I had my first birthday celebration at age 16. That was also my very first birthday cake, and I blew out my first candles. The mango leaves I used as toilet paper in the filthy latrine behind my shack are a faded memory, and everyday I spend in the US, I experience something which used to be a dream that would never come true.

In 2014, completely by accident, I met a woman in my hometown while she was teaching tennis at an orphanage. We became friends, and that summer, albeit with great difficulty and courage, she somehow managed to get me out of Uganda. I returned with her to Oregon, and she is now my American mum as well as the person to whom I will always be indebted. She tells me one day she will get a return on her investment… who is she kidding, it costs a fortune to raise a kid in the U.S.!

This spring, I will be the first person in my family to graduate from high school and go onto college. I came here at 15 with the equivalent of a fifth grade education, and what I used to call school was not much more than regular beatings, clumsy old text books, and a hole in my belly

at the end of each day when I ran home hungry . Now I am getting a real education with unbelievable resources, with mentoring, and with teachers who are passionate about their subjects and about their students; teachers who never lose their patience when I ask for extra help, and allow me the opportunity to play drums in the band, and to lift weights in a gym. This is truly Disneyland.

Since coming to the States, I have played tennis. I will never forget the first day I walked barefoot into a huge building in Oregon and saw people playing my sport. The tennis pro said, "Dude, go into my office and get some shoes". It took me a while to realize that "dude" referred to me.

Tennis is one of my greatest joys; I love the daily grind, the competition, and I'm learning to love even the losses… yeah right!

My incredible new life in the U.S. would not be possible had it not been for all the support and help I have had along the way. The reason that I am attending Indian Wells for the first time and being inspired by the best tennis players in the world is because I was given a scholarship by Ryan Wolfington, who is the director of the Marty Hennessy Foundation for Inspiring Children in Las Vegas. I have been part of this elite group of kids since last year.

Being a member of this foundation has helped me grow enormously outside the confines of a tennis court. I am learning leadership, community spirit, creativity, team play, and a commitment to someday paying it forward and help others that will benefit just as I did. The foundation continues to help me realize my ambitions, my goals, and my desire to keep fighting for greatness. One day I will work at NASA, which is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and I WILL play professional tennis.

It seems only yesterday that I had never heard of The Bryan Brothers, James Blake Tennis, or Billie Jean King; now I have met them all. Today, immersed in the atmosphere of Indian Wells, I have more dreams. I want to play on these courts, and I want to dance alongside my idol Gael Monfils Tennis. Look out Gael you have competition! I can dance, dude!

That's my story. Thank you all for your encouragement, your kindness, and for your belief in me. Asante Sana. "