On Jan. 13, I left NYC for an unforgettable journey to the motherland. The SEEDS Foundation invited me to coach clinics in four Senegalese cities over a three-day weekend as part of its GROW THE GAME program to not only help kids learn how to play ball but more importantly to inspire them to choose education as a route to self-empowerment. The academic achievement of the youth there is staggering; something to the tune of 20% go to high school, 5% go to college, and as a result, 40% of the adult population is illiterate. Factor in malnutrition of children under 5, lack of gross national product to export (i.e.: no oil or diamond trade), and you basically have one of the least developed countries in the world. It’s not as poor as Zimbabwe or Somalia, but in comparison, I’ve been to the most down-trodden favelas of Brazil and would definitely say that Senegal was on another level of poverty. About a third of the population lives on less than $1.25 US dollars a day.
In 2003, SEEDS founder Amadou Gallo Fall (currently VP of NBA Africa and a former scout for the Dallas Mavs) took his own money and created the SEEDS Academy, a non-profit center where teenagers with b-ball promise could receive a better education, as well as a chance at life. Its best-known graduate to date has been Mouhamed Sene, who played in the NBA, but the bigger success story is the number of kids who have finished at the school with standardized test scores over the Senegalese national average, having gone on to colleges in the United States, some even on scholarship, both academic and athletic.
Indeed, Senegal’s greatest natural resource is its people. Read More »