Thabo and Bertille Sefolosha have roots in five countries on three continents; today, they work to make life better for a group of 150 children in South Africa.
At home in Oklahoma City, they juggle schedules that involve young children, OKC Thunder basketball — Thabo is a key player — college classes and community work. And the artwork hanging on the walls reflects their interests near and far. It includes art from a South African market, pictures created by Thabo Sefolosha's mother and photos of their children.
The Sefoloshas are in the middle of organizing a fundraiser for about 300 people, A Night for Africa, to raise money for an after-school program in the township of Mamelodi, South Africa, where Thabo Sefolosha's father grew up.
They hope to raise $100,000 to benefit 150 children from six schools currently in the program and expand it to about 200. The first fundraiser in Oklahoma City netted about $50,000 nearly two years ago.
Thabo, whose mother is from Switzerland, is working with the Swiss foundation IMBEWU to put these youth sports and mentoring programs together in South Africa. He is IMBEWU's international spokesman, having succeeded tennis star Roger Federer in the role a couple of years ago.
More than sports
“It's about sports, but mostly it's about learning life skills and also keeping them in a safe place because the streets of Mamelodi, South Africa, are really not safe,” he said.
Both Sefoloshas have visited the program in Mamelodi and taken an active interest in making it better. They plan to return in September.
“It was great to be there and everything turned out great. The fields where the kids go after school and play were very, very great. It was pretty impressive the way they changed from the first time we saw it,” Thabo Sefolosha said.
The couple also credit their roots with their passion for wanting to help people.
Bertille, who was born in Cameroon and raised in France, is earning her master's degree in international relations at the University of Central Oklahoma. She noted her studies are a natural progression for her passion for international nonprofit work that started with an organization her mother runs.
“It just made sense that we use the basketball platform to do something positive for where he's (Thabo's) from,” she said. “We didn't want to do just a basketball camp. We really wanted to do an after-school program that is more beneficial in the future and in the lives of the children.”
Thabo said he has a lot of family still in Mamelodi and has wanted to do something to help since he first visited at age 17.
“That opportunity came when we started working with IMBEWU,” he said.
On a recent weekday afternoon, they welcomed home their two young preschool-age daughters from school and smiled as they explain their latest art project, a painting of the recent dreary weather. The couple switched easily between French and English as they communicated and coordinated schedules.
They have enjoyed sharing their international work with Oklahomans.
“It's been nothing but a great experience sharing those roots for me with people from Oklahoma, and the response has been just great,” Thabo said.
Bertille said she had never heard of Oklahoma before her husband was traded to the OKC Thunder, but she has been thrilled with the community's support for their cause — from the generous sponsors who are helping put together the event to the people who donated to it the last time.
“I was very surprised how generous everybody was and how they connected to the cause even though it's so far,” she said.