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PLAYGROUND
Playground training session, Rabat 2013 // Picture by Nganji Laeh

When on a basketball court, you’re neither big or small. Neither boy or girl. Neither migrant or refugee. You’re a member of a team. Individuality makes space for the collective.

Under the motto “all different but all the same” the first Playground project, launched in Rabat, Morocco, in 2012. A group of young migrants and refugees teamed up with local coaches and UNHCR to organise a 3×3 basketball training program and tournament.

The goal? Breaking down barriers between local communities and migrants. And to increase social cohesion beyond cultural differences.

The original formula

The Playground concept is as simple as it is effective. Think 8 weeks of 3×3 basketball training sessions on public courts in 4 popular neighborhoods, completely free of charge. 250 girls and boys from over 10 countries participated. 8 basketball coaches were recruited and trained: four of them women, four of them of Sub-Saharan origin.

Playground is a common name for 3×3 basketball, a simplified version of the game, played on half courts. It’s a more flexible variant, with space for individual creative expression. On court, physical and social barriers disappear, allowing vulnerable migrant kids to practice alongside local peers.

After 8 weeks of training, mixed teams from the 4 areas compete at a tournament. Other cultural and entertainment activities are organised by volunteers. Local communities support their teams to take the trophy home, transforming disadvantaged young migrants into local heroes.

Side activities for kids organised by volunteers at a Playground tournament (2013, Rabat)

From promoting social cohesion to safe migration

Playground became a household name for youth engagement in Morocco. With the latest edition of Morocco Playground in 2020, the UN continue to leverage the power of basketball to break down barriers on and off court.

Sports teaches valuable life skills. And where Playground already proved effective in promoting social cohesion, IOM wanted to further explore its potential in preventing unsafe migration.

The UNHCR Morocco intern who initially pitched the Playground idea became an Awareness Raising Officer at the IOM Regional Office for West and Central Africa. It’s in this region that IOM took SEED Project by the arm for a new Playground adventure.

A pilot phase (April – July 2021) in Ghana and Senegal focused on the refurbishment of youth-friendly basketball courts and surrounding infrastructure, following international (FIBA) standards.

Our presence on the ground allowed us to exchange with communities and better shape future activities. By supporting local partners Essamaye Basketball Club and DUNK Grassroots, Playground strengthened existing social dynamics in the heart of communities.

Participants of the pilot phase in Jamestown (Ghana) / Picture by Francis Kokoroko

The pilot lead the way for PLAYGROUND x RISE, a value-based sports project in Mali and Senegal. The goal is to promote safe migration practices among boys and girls (aged 15 to 19) in communities with high mobility. Through the game of basketball, facilitators teach key values such as respect, resilience, empathy, reliability, open mindedness and unity, linked to self-development and migration.

Alongside individual activities, PLAYGROUND x RISE invests in community building by involving parents and community members, and in returnee migrant reintegration through the active inclusion of returnees in all activities.

Milédou means We Are Together

In the same year, IOM launched a second basketball initiative in partnership with the Milédou (“we are together” in local Mina language) project of LYSD Project.

Milédou campaign for IOM in Togo in 2021 / Picture by Jéromine Chaumard

Can basketball help youth achieve their dreams?

Playground was initially designed to increase social cohesion. By adding value-based programming, the project now also has the potential to equip youth with life skills and self-resilience. These are both important for making educated migration decisions, and creating viable alternatives to irregular migration.

Besides on-court activities, a growing importance is given to activities off court, involving young players’ support networks such as parents, older siblings, teacher or community leaders. Basketball culture traditionally has strong ties with urban culture, education and the hip hop music, fashion and entertainment industry. These aspects allow synergies with IOM projects such as Street Art Together, as well as external artistic collaborations.

What’s next?

IOM will continue to explore adapted ways of using sports to create social change. Our goal is to promote safe migration among young people living in communities with high mobility. This can only be done by providing activities adapted to their needs, and in close collaboration with those community members themselves.

The playground project is managed by the IOM Regional Office for West and Central Africa (Dakar), where a dedicated Awareness Raising Unit oversees social and behavior change programs.

Amadou Gallo Fall, President of the Basketball Africa League (BAL)

For more info on IOM’s sports and youth development projects, email: [email protected].

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