Terres en Mêlées, promoting education in Africa through rugby

Recognised by World Rugby in 2017, Terres en Mêlées has developed an innovative socio-educational programme that has been rolled out in Burkina Faso, Morocco, Madagascar and Togo. The association is one of the Societe Generale Foundation’s three priority partners in Africa. On 12 September 2018, the association received the Beyond Sport Global Award 2018 and the highest recognition in worldwide sport, the Sport for Equality Award from representatives of the world’s leading sports organisations (NBA, FIFA, CIO, Major League Baseball, among others).

Behind this association is the story of one man, Pierre Gony. This former professional rugby player for the leading French rugby team Stade Toulousain then became an educator in disadvantaged areas. In 2011, he decided to embark on a bike tour of Africa, with a rugby ball in his luggage. “It was an absolute revelation. I had some really intense experiences in African villages with this oval ball, which gave me the opportunity to interact directly with the people and break down the cultural barriers between us.

Serious ambition for youth and women

When he returned to France, he decided to launch the Terres en Mêlées association with a few friends. Pierre Gony’s vision for the project was already crystal clear: “As soon as our community rugby initiative was launched, we wanted it to promote the emancipation of young girls, gender equality, the preservation of the environment and inter-cultural dialogue.” These targets were especially ambitious given that they cover four of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals in its 2030 Agenda.

Without the connection we have forged through rugby, we would never be able to discuss subjects such as forced marriages.

Pierre Gony, Founder, Director Terres en Mêlées

Passing on skills locally

Terres en Mêlées uses a twin-track approach to roll out its initiative: specific training for physical education teachers, and Rugby Academies. “We created a new job, that of a sustainable development coach through rugby, working in close partnership with the ministers for national education, youth and sports in each country. For example, we have trained 350 sports or physical training teachers and youth leaders in Madagascar, the majority of whom are women. As such, our educational teams can attend during class time and work together with the trained teachers at the schools and share common teaching approaches.” Terres en Mêlées has thus developed an innovative approach specific approach: sustainable development rugby education or REDD (Rugby éducation au développement durable) based on several steps. “First, we make the children aware of their relationship with themselves and with others. Once the children have gained confidence in themselves, their group and the educational team around them, we begin to promote awareness of essential topics, which are tailored to the country in question.” In Morocco, for example, the teams wanted to highlight gender equality. In Madagascar, the focus is on preventing early pregnancy. In Burkina Faso, youth from the cities are made aware of the isolation of other young people who live in villages, while those from the villages are taught about the impact of pollution in the cities. “Without the connection built up through rugby, we would never be able to discuss subjects such as forced marriages or the fight against early pregnancy. We stimulate the children’s curiosity by introducing them to these topics but also by meeting each other, discussing their cultures and building the bonds of friendship beyond their differences in culture, religion or social class. With Terres en Mêlées, they have the opportunity to travel to different parts of their country and even abroad. For young female players from Togo, this is a unique opportunity because Togolese girls have very little access to sport.

31 Rugby Academies in four countries

The TEM Academies are places for teaching sport and raising awareness. Terres en Mêlées has four academies in Burkina Faso, 12 in Madagascar, two in Morocco and 13 in Togo. 8,000 youth attend these academies, and the majority of students are girls. “We organise different types of events. They might be local, regional or even international tournaments. It’s a fantastic way to break down cultural barriers between populations. We also offer environmental educational initiatives to raise awareness among the young of the need to preserve the environment. Terres en Mêlées also regularly organises conferences and invites outside speakers, including domestic and foreign academics.” In 2017, the World Rugby federation identified Terres en Mêlées as one the leading five associations in the world using rugby to promote sustainable development objectives. “Thanks to this spotlight being shone on our initiative, we became much more visible to national federations and regulatory authorities within different governments.” Today, several countries are contacting the association to request the setting up of academies and training for educators. However, for the moment the teams want to continue the initiatives they have already started before they launch any others. “We have to find a sustainable business model for each project.” How else is success ensured? A local management team is always put in place. “No Europeans manage any of the Rugby Academies in Africa. This is essential for us in terms of setting an example and ensuring that the locals adopt the project.

Societe Generale, a long-standing partner

Societe Generale holds a special place in the association's history. During the first phase, support came in the form of financing from Societe Generale’s subsidiaries in the countries. “As such, we received a €20,000 subsidy in 2016 for the Madagascar project and then €30,000 in 2017.” Since 2018, everything has accelerated. “We are one of Societe Generale’s priority partners in Africa for 2018-2020. This means we will receive an allocation of €100,000 in 2018 to co-finance our educational projects in Africa. It’s fantastic to have such visibility after some very difficult years.” For Pierre Gony, Africa holds a unique opportunity to forge a new future, but he emphasises, “We have to help. Because, today, daily life for a young African is often extremely hard. Change will only happen through youth!” The partnership will also include skills sponsoring with support for local teams starting in 2019. “We have identified our teams’ training needs across a range of subjects, including forward planning and social media management.” Additionally, the partnership often goes beyond the limits of the company. Several members of staff are getting personally involved in youth projects in their own time. “It’s really interesting to see this phenomenon develop on a continent where the voluntary sector is uncommon. Recently, Societe Generale staff members came to referee and support a youth match in the Madagascar national school championship. It’s the beginning of a wonderful journey, aimed at making as many young people as possible fulfil their potential.

Key facts & figures

  • 2011: company founded

  • 450 educators trained

  • 31 Rugby Academies

  • 8,000 children enrolled

  • 51,500 children have benefited from the association’s curriculum so far

  • 27,000 girls have benefited from the association’s curriculum so far

Marcelia, portrait of a young rugby player

Terres en Mêlées took part in the making of a film about the life of Marcelia, a young, 16-year-old mother, “La jeune fille et le ballon ovale” [The young girl and the oval ball]. She describes how rugby changed her life, revealing an insight into day-to-day life with her team mates during the national school championships in Madagascar. In light of the impact of its initiative, the association has just been selected by Yann Arthus Bertrand to appear in his new film, “Woman”.