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Ramatoulaye Sy: First SEED Girl in America Reflects on First Year in the States

Founded in 2002, the SEED Project (Sports for Education and Economic Development) is a Senegal-based nonprofit organization that uses basketball as a tool to develop Africa’s next generation of leaders.  Each year, SEED engages more than 2,000 students a week through both boarding school (SEED Academy) and after-school programs (SEED Rise). All of SEED’s programs are designed to increase school retention and graduation rates and to instill a sense of civic responsibility in young people to support the development of their country.  In an environment where just 37% of students attend high school (UNESCO, 2018) and 11% attend college (UNESCO, 2018), SEED Academy graduates have maintained a 90% high school graduation rate and more than 125 students have earned scholarships to attend colleges around the world.

In 2013, SEED launched the SEED Girls Academy (SEED Girls), a boarding school environment, grades 6-12, for aspiring student-athletes in Senegal.  Culturally, young women in Senegal are often not encouraged to play sports like their male counterparts, stunting a potential major outlet for thousands of girls. SEED Girls was created to help fill this void.  Each year, the program provides up to 25 girls with full scholarships to live, train, and study at SEED’s facility in Thies, Senegal. Each girl receives hands-on academic support, dynamic leadership training, and elite basketball skills development.  The primary goal of the program is to foster an environment to allow young women to explore their full potential, on and off the court, and, to ultimately graduate high school and matriculate to college. Today, 11 SEED Girls graduates are attending university in the United States, Europe and Africa, and 88% of SEED Girls students have matriculated to university.

Ramatoulaye Sy was the first SEED Girls student to attend high school in the United States when she enrolled at the Masters Boarding School in Dobbs Ferry, NY as a sophomore in high school in 2015.  After three years at Masters and overcoming extreme adversity, Rama left an indelible mark on the Masters school and her classmates. Despite tearing her ACL her junior year and missing a full year of basketball through an intensive rehab, Rama finished her high school career as a Dean’s List student, the top Senior in Math, French and Science, and helped lead the Girls Varsity Basketball team from last place when she enrolled at Masters to the State Championship game her senior year.  Rama earned a student-athlete scholarship to attend SUNY Oswego as a member of the Class of 2022.

Rama’s Story

I’m writing to tell you how different the world looks to me now, how mature I’ve become, and how strong and confident I am now after my first year in the United States.

When I reflect back on my life and my childhood growing up in Thies, Senegal, I was a shy girl who knew what she wanted but wasn’t courageous and confident enough to do it. I always backed up when it was time to step up. I always got scared when it was my turn to act. The only thing that was clear to me was school.

I started playing basketball in 2012 and became part of the SEED Family in 2014. Before attending SEED Academy, basketball was just a hobby. I played it because it was fun. I never thought that basketball would become a passion that would completely change my life in all aspects.

After a year at SEED Academy, I earned a scholarship to continue my high school studies and play basketball at the Masters School in New York.  My first year in the United States was both amazing and challenging at the same time. It wasn’t easy to live in a country where you’ve never been before. On top of that, my English was not fluent when I arrived, but I learned how to be patient and how to self-motivate. And I was lucky to be part of a welcoming and free community at Masters where everybody is equal no matter what your identity is.

No one wishes to get injured, but sometimes it teaches you more than you expected. Shortly after my basketball season started I tore my ACL.  I obviously did not want this to happen, but it motivated me and made me stronger than ever. I know that life isn’t always full of joy. People don’t realize how lucky and fortunate they are until something bad happens to them. This injury really makes me realize that time is precious.

I’ve become more open-minded. Now, when I return home, it feels great even if I see Senegal in a very different way.  We (in Senegal) must devote more time to find out what’s going on around the world. We can always learn more. The sky is the limit, even if the sky has no limit.