April 23, 2013 | Health and Well-Being

How to Focus, Get Unstuck and Appreciate Every Day

WNBA star Ruth Riley shares 5 life lessons from her work in Africa.

How to Focus, Get Unstuck and Appreciate Every Day

"At first glance, my height, skin color, and even my accent screams that a foreigner has come to South Africa near the Swaziland border—yet I am embraced as a coach, sister and friend." As her recent blog post shows, Ruth Riley, the 6'5" pro basketball star who plays for the Chicago Sky, is no stranger to the Nkomazi region of South Africa, nor to using her sports skills and outgoing personality to reach others. On her frequent travels she works with Nothing But Nets, which distributes anti-malaria mosquito nets in Nigeria, Angola and Mali, and Nkomazi Sports which uses sports to educate and empower youth in South Africa. Here, she offers lessons from her journeys.

Ruth Riley on a recent trip to South Africa, teaching defense to a young girl.

When you're overwhelmed, just focus—and commit.
My first trip to South Africa was a humbling, eye-opening experience. My family did not have a lot of money growing up, but I was not prepared for the level of poverty, disease and lack of education that I witnessed.  At first I was overwhelmed—and then I realized that I just needed to be committed to being a consistent part of the solution. 

An utter lack of hope can co-exist with unspeakable joy.
When we walked through a clinic in Angola, we saw children dying from malaria in their mothers' arms and those women's faces were completely devoid of emotional response because they were so accustomed to losing their children from this completely preventable disease. On the other hand we'd visit a net distribution clinic and mothers would radiate pure joy amidst some of the most impoverished conditions, simply because we were giving them a life-saving net!

The three words that will get you unstuck every time
My favorite saying is: Control the controllables . . . no need wasting energy stressing about something you don't have power to change. Instead, channel that energy and focus toward what you can control!

The best attitude is gratitude.
These trips taught me three things: to remain humble and be grateful for what I have; that though cultures and appearance may outwardly differentiate us, we are all global citizen of a large, yet very small world; and lastly about the power of love and how to live out my faith and values in a very authentic way.

The one thing that would make the biggest difference in the world
If I could change one thing for the girls I met along the way it would be to secure their education! Knowledge is power, and it is something that young girls are robbed of at a very young age.  If girls were given the opportunity to learn, they would be able to change the entire dynamic of their communities!!

To learn more about Nothing But Nets, go to www.nothingbutnets.com

To learn more about Nkomazi Sports, go to www.nkomazisportsclub.org