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!”
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.
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.
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.