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Between ASSCAN and PLAY International, a shared destiny

17 August 2023 • NEWS

The story of Insa Diagne and Sport Without Borders began in Kosovo in 2002. 21 years later, Insa Diagne returned to Senegal with the conviction that sport is a powerful tool for both learning and social integration, and founded ASSCAN, while Sport Without Borders became PLAY International. Together, they have been running the Ejo project in Saint-Louis, Senegal, for the past 4 years. We spoke to Insa Diagne, founder and president of ASSCAN, to find out more about his organisation and the work it is doing with PLAY International on the ground.

What is ASSCAN? How was it born?

It’s all in the name: it means “the people” in Wolof, but it’s also an acronym, which stands for Association de Solidarité Sportive Culturelle et Artistique Nationale (National Association for Sport, Cultural and Artistic Solidarity). ASSCAN was born out of an understanding of the power of sport as a tool for learning, connecting with other people and integrating socially. As a former top-level sportsman, I’m very sensitive to this idea.

My career path bears witness to a true shared destiny with Sport Without Borders and then PLAY International. Our paths crossed for the first time in Kosovo in 2002, where I discovered my calling and the possibility of a career change through sports activities for children. When I returned to Senegal after 15 years in Europe, my ambition was to develop sports programmes for children. So I set up a number of one-off programmes, and thanks to the contact I had kept with Sport Without Borders, I was able to carry out a mission in Saint-Louis in 2004 with their support. The aim of this mission was to create a team of activity leaders to combine sports activities with educational support, with an incredible impact! Building on this experience, in 2007, when I felt that Sport Without Borders was going to pull out, I founded ASSCAN, which continued to run programmes and develop partnerships… for example with PLAY International in 2019 as part of the Ejo! project.

 

How did you enter the Ejo project? What is it about?

Once again, it was a combination of circumstances: while I was applying for a job for PLAY in Paris, a team on a trip to Senegal suggested a meeting. After three hours of discussion on the last day of their visit, they suggested that ASSCAN should partner the Ejo project to develop it in the northern part of Senegal.

ASSCAN is committed to creating an initial training course, leading to a diploma and accessible to all, with the Université Gaston Berger. A certificate can be obtained without the need for a baccalauréat, after a short course combining theory and practice in supervising children in the field. This is also the philosophy behind the Ejo project, which aims to train teachers and sports leaders in the sports-based teaching methods developed by PLAY.

In practical terms, the project has two components:

  • Non-formal education, for extra-curricular activities, which relies on the leaders and facilities of the local Sports and Cultural Associations and sports clubs; and on leaders and teachers offering children two afternoons of educational sports activities a week.
  • Formal education, which trains teachers and provides social and sporting activities for children in schools.

The training programme developed by PLAY lasts a year and a half. It involves 2 to 3 days’ training, followed by 3 months’ implementation of sessions in the field, before another 2 to 3 days’ training to reinforce what has been learnt or move on to a new module with new games, and so on.

 

What is the project’s impact on children involved?

We have just completed the first phase of the project (2019-2023) and the second has just begun (2023-2026), thanks to the renewed support of the Agence Française de Développement, which is already excellent news and proof of impact in itself. We’re reaching more and more children with this project: by 2022, a total of around 20,000 children will have gone through the programme!

The project is a response to a major challenge in Senegal: physical and sports education in primary schools has not been taught effectively for over 30 years, due to a lack of time, tools and teacher training. The teachers themselves see the impact of Ejo in the schools: it has enabled them to take the pupils out of their classrooms again and discover them in a different way. In addition, the school component of the project is linked to the school curriculum, so the teachers realise how useful it is for lessons on coexistence and education for sustainable development. For the pupils, it’s a release valve that encourages them to express themselves more and makes them want to go to school.

Another unexpected feedback comes from the parents, who are delighted to know where their children are after school, thanks to the extra-curricular activities!

 

What’s next ?

Now that the training courses are up and running, and have proved their worth, the next stage in multiplying the impact is institutional ownership, at both neighbourhood and school level. This is already happening to some extent, as we are keen to involve other local community players: initially the neighbourhood councils, which come from the municipality, and therefore represent a means of linking our programmes to municipal education; and now also the local authorities, first and foremost the town hall.

One of ASSCAN’s plans for the future is to experiment with having someone in the school to teach physical education (PE). I’ve spoken about this with the Saint-Louis Education Department, which is ready to set up a project, and an agreement has also been signed with the neighbourhood council collective. ASSCAN would be responsible for training young people to teach PE in elementary schools and outside, in the neighbourhood, on Wednesdays. If this experiment sees the light of day, demonstrating the impact of such a project, it will be an opportunity for the whole of Senegal, because the problem is a national one! Beyond providing education for the children, it would give young people a new perspective through training and apprenticeships. Another major challenge for Senegal!

 

Many thanks to Insa Diagne for this interview, his commitment and the daily work he does to implement the Ejo project in Senegal!

 

For a closer look at the collaboration between PLAY and ASSCAN :

 

Read more

 

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