The sacrifices Super Netball imports make to follow their dreams

Mwai Kumwenda with her mother Costa. Mwai Kumwenda (Instagram)

For Super Netball imports Mwai Kumwenda and Jhaneile Fowler, leaving their family and community to travel half-way around the world was a sacrifice they had to make if they were to play in the biggest netball competition in the world.

From the white sandy beaches of Jamaica to the arid, dust bowls of Malawi, Fowler and Kumwenda left their homes and their families in pursuit of netball greatness. They are just two of the many international imports that have made a similar sacrifice to play in Super Netball and in some cases, provide for their families.

At the age of 15 Kumwenda left her small village and travelled ten hours to Blantyre, the second largest city in Malawi, at the insistence of Malawi Queens coach Griffin Sayenda. It was the first time she'd ever left her mother, but it would also be the first step on a netball journey that would eventually see her lighting up the courts of Australia.

It wasn't an easy transition, she was almost on the other side of the country, hours away from her family and she wanted to go home. Yet, she stayed in Blantyre playing netball and four years later in 2008 she left the country for the first time when she travelled with the Malawi Queens to Durban, South Africa.

"It was hard for me to go to a bigger city," Kumwenda tells ESPN. "The first time I moved to the city I cried and said I needed to go back home. I was used to the village life, I was used to living together and working together.

"But one day I realised that netball might get me the opportunity to leave this life, that I might be able to travel and experience different things, and because I was earning a little bit of money when I was in the city, I was able to help my family back home."

Playing on dirt courts, without shoes, with balls her village had made from melted down plastic bags and strings, Kumwenda had no idea netball was a real sport played by millions around the world, let alone one that could take her to the other side of the world and earn her money.

"I didn't have any ideas of where it could take me. When I was playing in the village, I didn't think it was an actual sport, it was just something we'd play at school. We just played it. But when I travelled to another village where they also played, I saw.

"One of the Malawi Queens coaches saw me and said 'oh she's so tall', she was the one who supported me to move to the city. Then I saw that people got to fly and got to travel, I had no idea about life here in Australia, I didn't know about Australia at all to tell you the truth. I didn't think there was something in this world like here, I didn't know there was a life outside what I lived in the village and our small city," Kumwenda continued.

After making her first appearance with the Malawi Queens in 2009 at the Youth World Cup, it wasn't until 2011 that the Peninsula Waves in the Victoria Netball League (VNL) were able to track her down and convince her to make the move to Melbourne.

It was a different world to anything she'd experienced before. At home in her small village, it would take 15 minutes to walk to the local well to collect water, it was an hour walk to her primary school, while she lived in a small house with her family of eight. It was in total contrast to what she found in Melbourne. But despite the easy lifestyle of Australia, the transition was still so hard.

"The first time I moved to Australia was a hard life because I'm used to living in Malawi so it was very different. Life in Africa is different to life here. Food is different for me, I couldn't eat like normal, I was just eating chips, just hot chips always chips. The weather was so different, I have to wear jumpers and jackets everywhere. Even on the Sunshine Coast I wear jumpers and beanies, it's still too cold!

"And people here they speak so fast! I couldn't understand what they were saying, so my coach was always drawing instructions and directions for me, helping me understand," Kumwenda tells ESPN.

Returning home at the end of each season, she has witnessed how her career in netball has helped not only her family, but her village. Once living in a small house far from town, Kumwenda has since been able to build her mum a new house closer to the village. She has also built her mum a little shop to sell products she sends home from Australia, while she's provided shoes, uniforms and netballs for the villagers. Without netball, Kumwenda knows her life would have been very different.

"Netball gave me opportunities and a chance to see the world, otherwise I think I'd still be in my village," Kumwenda tells ESPN. "I didn't think that netball would have such an impact on my village. Without netball I don't think I would have had the opportunity to travel anywhere, especially around the world like I have. I think I'd be married now, have maybe five kids. A very different life.

"It's hard, I did have to sacrifice living with my family to play netball, but because I'm playing in Australia I'm able to provide for my family, my family are getting a better life because of me. It's bad that I had to leave them, but it's good that I can give them things they wouldn't have had."

Unfortunately Kumwenda ruptured her ACL during the Vixens penultimate round game ahead of finals. The countdown for her return to Malawi and seeing her family has begun. For Fever shooter Fowler her family reunion came early when her mother, brother and daughter arrived in Perth in June after months of visa difficulties.

For Fowler the story is different, but the sacrifice remains the same. Choosing to take up a contract in Perth with the West Coast Fever meant she would be forced to leave her daughter in Jamaica with her mother and brother. It would prove to be the longest the 29-year-old had been away from her eight-year-old daughter.

"It was so surreal, she was away for so long -- for months. To see my whole family again was so awesome," Fowler tells ESPN. "I was so happy when I walked into the airport and I saw them at the carousel collecting their bags. I was overwhelmed."

Fowler readily admits leaving her family behind was difficult, it wasn't something she was forced to do in New Zealand, but it was a sacrifice she had to make to continue living her netball dream and continue providing for her family.

"Most definitely you have to make those sacrifices sometimes. Especially with the culture difference and my daughter having school, so we have to come to a middle point and decide what's going to happen and I just know I'm going to have to tough it out sometimes. It's my job, I'm providing for my family.

"It is what it is and I try my best to cope and they try to help me deal with it."

It's been years since Kumwenda last permanently lived at home with her family in Malawi, and while leaving has become easier, the Vixens star shooter said it's still hard to say good bye. But now, after two years at the Melbourne-based side, she feels at home with the Vixens and has formed an unbreakable bond with her teammates.

"This is my family away from home. I've been with the Vixens for two years now and I don't feel much homesickness anymore because they look after us. I'm so happy to be here and we call each other sisters; we say we're sisters forever."