Newburyport native Kristen Degou always felt that she’d be doing something related to basketball for a profession. Little did she know that, two years after her graduation from Keene State University, her love for the sport would send her to Durban, South Africa.
“When I was at Keene State, I saw my future in the sport. That’s what made me work so hard,” said Degou, a 2006 Newburyport High alumna who finished her Owl career sixth in all-time scoring with 1,300 points. “In basketball, you can see your hard work pay off every day, and I knew I was responsible for my own success on the court. Now I’m trying to teach kids the same thing.”
Although she enjoyed her two years following graduation serving as junior varsity coach at Georgetown High, Degou wanted something more rewarding. She found that in PeacePlayers International (PPI).
Founded in 2001, PPI is a nonprofit organization that brings children from communities in conflict together to play basketball. Its coaches and mentors work year-round to unite, educate and inspire young people to create a more peaceful world. PeacePlayers has programs in four locations: Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Cyprus and South Africa.
Although she had a few trepidations, Degou was up for the challenge.
“It’s a two-year commitment, so that’s a long time. But that was the only drawback,” she said. “Everything else, I was thrilled about. The opportunity sounded so amazing.”
Degou began her first-year fellowship with the program in February of 2012 and recently returned to Durban to complete her second year.
“Kristen is a very analytical person who dissects everything before she does it, so I thought it was a little bit out of her realm,” said Keene State coach Keith Boucher. “I didn’t know she would branch out that much, but I thought it would be a very positive experience for her.”