North Texas Daily

Tennis coach gives back to children of Nepal

Tennis coach gives back to children of Nepal

Tennis coach gives back to children of Nepal
February 02
23:37 2015

Alex Lessard / Staff Writer

While on a morning jog in Nepal, Sujay Lama passed five orphan children walking five miles through dirt roads to the Nabha Deepti School run by his sister out of their childhood home.

Holding hands and smiling, the kids recognized him in and unison said, “Good morning, sir.”

“That was the defining moment in my life,” Lama said. “It hit me. I’ve got to give back.”

The North Texas tennis coach was raised in Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, before coming to the United States to play college tennis. Before he left, Lama said his mother told him to never forget his motherland.

After that defining moment in Nepal in 2003, Lama was inspired by his mentor Terry Miller to sponsor children in Kathmandu to pay for tuition, books and supplies. With contributions from family members and Lama’s assistant JoAnne Russell, a former Wimbledon champion, they funded 10 $250 sponsorships for orphan children.

“Right there, I realized the power of what we can do if you start small,” Lama said.

Five years later, Lama asked  friend Ed Kellerman to evaluate the Nabha Deepti School’s curriculum. Kellerman is a professor at the University of Florida with a doctorate in educational administration.

Kellerman, now a co-director of Project Nepal, found a vibrant school with a strong philosophy and stimulating curriculum, but with a very large student to teacher ratio. The school was educating a total of 72 struggling orphans, but needed more teachers and funding to continue to stay afloat.

“The parents want the kids to be educated so badly,” Kellerman said. “If the schools are open, the kids will come.”

According to its website, Project Nepal has raised more than $35,000 in total since its formation in 1991. Nearly 95 percent of the project’s funds go directly toward aiding and educating the Nepali children, and officers do not take any salaries.

Lama and Project Nepal are currently focused on starting and funding schools in the remote villages of western Nepal. They are in the process of beginning the reconstruction of a school in the village of Sunnigaun, part of the Karnali district of northwest Nepal.

Each November since 2012, Lama has hosted a charity tennis tournament at the Waranch Tennis Complex to raise money for the Project Nepal, featuring eight team singles and doubles tournaments as well as group tennis lessons from Lama and his staff. The event raised $1,700 in 2012, $2,600 in 2013 and more than $3,000 in 2014.

“At the end of the day, you want to be able to do not just things for yourself, but also leave a footprint,” Lama said. “You want to make a difference in this world. For me, to do it in this way is a complete honor.”

Even with all the time he puts into Project Nepal, Lama has still worked his way up the college coaching ranks. After being a part of two National Championship teams as an assistant coach at the University of Florida from 1995-1998, Lama took over a struggling program at the University of Illinois. In his eight seasons there, the Fighting Illini went from a bottom-of-the-barrel Big Ten program to the No. 16 ranked team in the country.

Lama became the North Texas women’s tennis coach for the 2006-2007 season. In that first season, the team finished with a 2-19 record. But since then, the team has been a contender and won back-to-back Sun Belt Conference championships in 2012 and 2013.

Associate head coach Jeff Hammond said Lama’s success can be credited to his intensity, optimism and positivity.

“Coach Lama brings so many different facets to the table,” Hammond said. “The big picture thinking he has on a day-to-day basis just makes life a pleasure to be able to work with him.”

With Lama’s background and experience overseas comes a recruiting advantage over many C-USA programs. Senior Franziska Sprinkmeyer had already decided not to pursue a collegiate tennis career in the U.S. before meeting coach Lama in Germany. With the coaching of Lama, Sprinkmeyer has become one of the strongest doubles players in C-USA.

“He’s always happy to be on the court and always has the most energy to push everybody,” Sprinkmeyer said. “He always tries to find the best way to tell us to play better, give more intensity or to be more motivated.”

Lama said he is able to live the best of both worlds with his work for Project Nepal and living in the United States.

“I still love a part of that culture,” Lama said. “I’m also blessed to be a part of the greatest country in the world with all of its resources. No other part of the world has this kind of resources. To do what I love to do, and to be paid to do, it’s a dream come true.”

For more information on Project Nepal, go to www.supportprojectnepal.com

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