children in Mayotte reached
educators trained on Perfume Island since 2018
children benefited from PLAY in France in 2018
As France’s youngest department, with more than half its population under the age of 18, Mayotte naturally focuses on many education-related issues. It is an ideal playing field for the entertaining and educational activities of PLAY International, an NGO that uses sports to combat exclusion based on disabilities and gender inequality, among other factors. A report with Paralympic champion Arnaud Assoumani.

The first thing that a visitor arriving in Mayotte for the first time notices is its youth. Children tear through the streets, which echo with their joyful shouts; thousands of school children climb on and off of buses.

More than one third of France’s 101th department goes to school—approximately 37% of the population—and it boasts a fertility rate of five children per woman. This represents an incredible wealth for the island, as long as its youth receives support. The NGO PLAY International moved toward this goal by recognizing the importance of educational challenges in the region where it has been active since 2016.

Supported by Agence Française de Développement, this NGO, which uses sports as a lever for social change, has implemented a variety of projects in Mayotte, mainly focused on peaceful coexistence. It trains extracurricular activity leaders and educators as well as teachers from National Education on “playdagogy,” a method that allows children to learn and express themselves on subjects such as secularism and exclusion through play. 

In May 2019, for example, the organization ran playdagogy workshops in Mayotte with Paralympic athlete Arnaud Assoumani focusing on gender inequality, in partnership with local stakeholders. After all, as the NGO’s director David Blough put it, “Education is a team sport!”

Mayotte, Play international, game
Mayotte, Play international, girls
Four faces of tomorrow’s women
They worked hard last Tuesday morning and learned a lot, too. Along with their 5th grade class, Manon, Mélie, Inès and Loane experienced a playdagogy session. After an opening game based solely on physical effort to break the ice with their team, the children, ages 10-12, tried a PLAY-designed sequence to help them reflect on the concept of a stereotype.

The children had to quickly sort boxes displaying words that often have gendered connotations—“doll,” “dishes,” “strength,” “blue”. Unsurprisingly, “blue” ended up with the boys and “household” with the girls. Local PLAY coordinator PLAY and athlete Arnaud Assoumani moderated the third sequence, a thought-provoking discussion with the children.

Very quickly, despite the initial sorting, dissenting voices could be heard and timid hands were raised: “Strength isn’t just for boys. There are girls who box and play rugby,” rebelled one student. “And physical strength isn’t the only kind,” added Assoumani. “Do you know how much moral strength it takes to be a mom? Taking care of everything, all the time?”The kids listened attentively, looking thoughtful. Ideas came thick and fast, the children had plenty to say, mixed groups and differences were championed. “In Madagascar, there are lots of boys who wear pink,” explained little Loane. “You can choose whatever colors you like,” the child wisely declared. Manon, Mélie and Inès silently nodded their agreement. PLAY was created to support them down this path, toward a more open, more inclusive society.
Mayotte, Play international, Malika
Malika, Moving Society Forward
“I wanted to take on societal norms, but I ran head-on into all the difficulties you face in Mayotte, related to parents as well as a lack of financial and material resources.” Returning to her native country in 2015 after a series of early professional experiences in mainland France, Malika, a trained activity leader, has no intention of giving up in the face of challenges. She seizes every opportunity to improve day-to-day life for her community. When the town hall of Chirongui, in southern Mayotte, where she works as an extracurricular coordinator, was contacted by PLAY International, she “clicked right away” with the NGO’s values.

At the three recreation centers that each host some 50 students outside school hours, playdagogy loosened tongues. The children of Mayotte don’t always speak up at school and at home, and this is a special opportunity for them to make their voices heard. During games based on educational kits devised by PLAY on the topic of gender inequality, “the girls have a lot to say about what they do at home—cooking, dishes,” says Malika. And even though they live in matrilineal society where women play an important role, “boys are very stereotyped, very macho, from an extremely young age,” observes the coordinator.

As a result, these discussions are critical opportunities to “break away from all these norms,” adds a determined Malika. The pre-teens then bring these new values home, “so parents feel involved as well.” Each year, the town hall of Chirongui is supposed to sign a convention with PLAY International covering training for local activity leaders, playdagogy kits, and follow-up on the initiatives carried out under the partnership.
Mayotte, Play international, Arnaud Assoumani
Gender equality: a team effort
To fight gender inequality in Mayotte, Play International is partnering with AFD to launch an educational program that uses sports games to raise awareness and spread messages of prevention to children. The project, designed for and with locals, has brought together many of the island’s stakeholders: educators, institutions, and local government.

While people’s mindsets are changing quickly on the island, employment remains much higher among women than men (45% versus 29%), and one fifth of Mayotte’s women say they have been physically assaulted at some point in their life. In response to this, beginning in 2016, Play International developed an educational method within the department that uses sports games to promote prevention and awareness raising about gender equality. The program received €50,000 in AFD funding in both 2018 and 2019.

The method, designed for and with locals, is based on a hiving off principle: since 2018, 200 of the department’s professional educators and activity leaders have been trained in “playdagogy,” including teachers at the Foundi Adé school in Mamoudzou (chief town), all of the activity leaders in two towns in Petite-Terre, and many other local players. Each of these professionals can now spread the method further. “We trained 11 teaching advisers in each district of the vice-rectorate, and they in turn will go train the teachers,” explains Claire Chauvet, local coordinator of Play International.

“You don’t see this teaching method anywhere else,” attests a physical education and athletics teacher, who praised the teamwork of everyone involved within the region. “Everyone works together here”—the teachers, activity leaders, vice-rectorate, division for youth, athletics, and social cohesion, non-profits, and also local governments. “We’re very lucky!” enthuses the teacher.

“Developing sports through local support” in Mayotte is one of AFD’s priorities, as deputy local director Kévin Cariou explains. “Working with the towns like this is what we’re known for here,” he continues, referring to AFD’s involvement alongside local governments in Mayotte, which are undergoing an organization process and need financial support for their projects.

Four towns on the island (Bandraboua in the north, Chirongui in the south, Labattoir and Pamandzi on Petite-Terre) are partners of Play International, for example, running “playdagogy” sessions to promote civic education and awareness-raising about gender equality among children. Across France’s 101st department, these sessions have reached nearly 3,000 children. The program shows “good social performance indicators thanks to its teams (...) and a partner-based educational policy,” enthuses Laurent Maillet, EPS departmental teaching adviser for the primary level.

The children who go through these programs will spread the messages of prevention to their family and friends, moving toward a more egalitarian world alongside Play International and its partners.
Mayotte, Play international, Arnaud Assoumani
Arnaud, Taking Flight for Equality
Olympic trials have not been the only kind in the life of high-level athlete Arnaud Assoumani, who was born with no left arm. At the age of five, he dreamed of being an athlete “who can fly.”Eighteen years later, he was reaching for the skies himself, winning gold in long jump at the Summer Paralympics in 2008 and setting a new world record in his category, at 7.82 meters, in 2010. While he has certainly experienced his fair share of difficulties, he ultimately realized his childhood dream. Bringing hope as an ambassador for PLAY, he is committed to working alongside the international solidarity organization to make a positive change in the lives of children. The collaboration, which has been ongoing for four years, “happened naturally, because I also stand up for the values of difference, diversity, and equality,” explains the champion.

“The solutions offered by the association may mean that tomorrow’s adults are more open-minded, respectful, and understanding,” he adds. For Assoumani, sports are an incredible lever for personal development, as his own story shows. “In sports, we all have the same rules, we all play the same way, we all have fun the same way, no matter our skin color, gender, etc. We share the same experience—that’s what’s so important,” he believes.

In May 2018, Arnaud Assoumani flew to Mayotte to run a playdagogy workshop on gender inequality, with children between the ages of 10 and 12. He also had a chance to tell his story, giving the children something to aspire to. Assoumani, who is French by way of his father and grew up on Anjouan (one of the three islands that make up the Union of the Comoros), liked that the project extends beyond the borders of Mayotte, bringing it closer to the neighboring Comoros by setting up a playdagogy project on those islands as well.
Mayotte, Play international, Arnaud Assoumani
Improving Support for Disabilities

Officially certified in November 2012, “Mayotte’s social medicine sector is relatively young,” notes Agence Régionale de Santé Océan Indien.For example, support for people with disabilities in Mayotte (10,440 people according to the region’s Maison Départementale des Personnes Handicapées, of whom 3,042 under the age of 20) remains insufficient, although it is improving. 

In 2016, the island’s Regional Plan for the Integration of Disabled Workers (PRITH) counted more than 1,700 young people under the age of 20 with a disability; 800 of these had a personal education plan in place. In terms of employment, the entity noted that while 650 adults were recognized disabled workers, another 1,200 had a disability that had not been formally recognized. In total, the medico-social sector offers 571 spaces (508 for people with disabilities and 63 for in-home nursing services). 

However, under the Action Plan for Mayotte’s Future adopted by Minister of Overseas France Annick Girardin in May 2018, a Social Development Fund was implemented for the region in April 2019, with €10 million in seed funding co-financed by the Ministry of Overseas France and the Departmental Council. Part of this budget will go toward developing facilities to support people with disabilities.

Playdagogy Made in Mayotte

PLAY International, in partnership with local stakeholders, is currently developing the first made-in-Mayotte playdagogy kit. The selected topic is the environment, specifically preserving water, a vulnerable resource on the island. In May 2019, athlete Arnaud Assoumani, along with representatives of the Departmental Council, the regional health agency, and National Education began jointly designing four games targeting a nationwide audience and two specific to Mayotte. 

Infrastructure and Games? 
For the first time, Mayotte has applied to host the Indian Ocean Island Games in 2027. This is an incredible opportunity to develop the island’s athletic infrastructures with an eye to hosting the regional event, and also to provide the population with facilities that meet international standards. 
In Mayotte, quality sports facilities are lacking
In Mayotte, quality sports facilities are lacking. © Ornella Lamberti / AFD

For years, France’s 101th department has participated in the Indian Ocean Island Games (IOIG), which are played every four years between athletes representing seven countries: Mauritius, the Seychelles, the Comoros, Madagascar, Mayotte, Reunion Island and the Maldives. But Mayotte has high hopes of hosting them in 2027, and has already submitted an application to the IOIG International Committee. Hosting the Games would bring considerable funds to the island, which could be used to develop and renovate its athletic infrastructures, none of which are currently in line with international standards. 

The cost of building a pool (there are currently none on the island), a track and field stadium, and a dojo has been estimated at slightly under €100 million. The total funding required to also renovate existing facilities and to improve health care, road networks, and tourist accommodations comes to €150 million, according to the Regional Olympic Sports Committee (CROS). The project is already supported by the French government and the Departmental Council. The CROS also plans to ask for additional European structural funds, including the FEDER, as part of the next multi-year programme. 

The aim is not only to host one round of the Games, but to provide the people of Mayotte with “worthy,” durable facilities, according to CROS president Madi Vita. The island is on the starting blocks to access this shortcut to development for the region, which severely lacks facilities, especially for youth. In fact, Mayotte representative Mansour Kamardine pointed out in May 2019 that on the island, the rate of athletic facilities is 20 times less than the national average for young people under the age of 20. 

Still, talent is not lacking, and athletes from the Perfume Island excel particularly in team sports, soccer, handball, and basketball. Women are getting into the game as well, even though it is still “seen quite negatively” for them to play sports, as Vita laments. Luckily, social customs are evolving rapidly; he adds that “it’s crazy to see how fast things go, from one generation to the next.” 

The potential is there; a little support is all it will take to achieve victory. And the French Government has already contributed, committing nearly €4 million in 2018 to fund two soccer stadiums, one in the south and one in the west of the island, as well as a multipurpose center in the north and renovation work on athletic facilities throughout the department.