MSFS Student Sadibou Sylla Speaks at World Sports Values Summit

by Sadibou Sylla

High-level governmental and sports officials, prominent athletes and young leaders gathered in Cape Town last November 2nd for the fourth World Sports Values Summit for Peace and Development.  After successful events in London (2012), Tokyo (2013), and New York City (2014), Cape Town was the ideal choice for this year’s summit. South Africa’s most prominent figure, Nelson Mandela, was an ardent fan of sport and believed in its fundamental power to be one of the principle instruments which will help unite post-apartheid South Africa.

The World Sports Values Summit for Peace and Development forms part of a series of annual international symposia aimed at highlighting the positive role that sport can play in furthering the cause of peace and human development. Dr. Haruhisa Handa - founding chairman of Worldwide Support for Development, International Sports Promotion Society, Lord Colin Moynihan - UK minister of sport in Margaret Thatcher’s Government and chairman for the British Olympic Association for London 2012, and Katherine Marshall - Executive Director of World Faiths Development Dialogue, are the three founding members of this great yearly conference.

The goal of the Summit is to facilitate a visionary and rigorous conversation among young athletes, leaders, academics, and experts about the values that the world of sports can advance, such as diversity, inclusion, peace-building and development throughout the world. In addition to the dialogue, fellowships were awarded to young leaders under the mentorship of senior leaders to fund sports and human development projects associated with the goal of the summit.

In my fourth year as one of the young leaders, I had the privilege to share my experience as a youth sports activist in two panels. The first one was on Sport and Development: The Transformative Power of Sport. We discussed sports initiatives in poor communities (public sponsored and grassroots initiatives). The inspiring examples of local and broad initiatives, many created by young people, show how much can be accomplished with energy and creativity. The session focused on what leaders have learned and their ideas looking ahead. The second panel was on Sport, Education, and Community. Schools and universities offer remarkable potential to model and enhance the power of sport and build on positive values that sport exemplifies. We discussed best examples that model such initiatives. We also examined how educational institutions can engage with communities. I was very inspired by Olympic Gold Medalist Ian Thorpe, one of the participants at the conference, who shared his insightful perspective on the difference between dreams and goals.

In both panels, I shared my experience exhibiting how powerful and useful of a tool sport is in promoting education in Africa. Through my organization AKSA (meaning “with Sadibou”), which I founded in 2008, sixteen students were granted admission and financial assistance to attend American universities such as the University of Connecticut, the University of Washington and Dartmouth University. Grants awarded to AKSA fellows to this date are well over three million dollars. As one of the young leaders chosen to give closing remarks at the end of the conference, I reiterated the importance of voluntarism, creativity and innovation in promoting peace and development through sport. In 2016, I will be launching AKSA Sports & Robotics Summer Camps in Dakar, Senegal.

One of the goals of AKSA Partners is to promote education and, in particular, science and engineering education in Africa for sustainable development. I believe that one of the most effective ways to reach our objectives is engaging the youth through sports programs where we will introduce and teach robotics and have engineering design competitions with the assistance of our established partners in the field of robotics. AKSA Partners has developed a series of Sports & Robotics summer educational programs, catering to students from middle school through college. Robotics programs have proven to be effective STEM educational tools as they embody all STEM disciplines. Having understood young Africans communal love for sports, football in particular, our program will use that adulation as a hook. When they show up to the camp with the desire to learn and play soccer, we will teach soccer and also introduce robotics. This summer camp is designed for students between the ages of 9 and 15 and is the first of a series of educational programs offered by AKSA. The summer camp’s primary objective is to spark curiosity and inspire young Africans to be future engineers and scientists of the continent through robotics design and project presentation. At the same time, we hope to teach the kids the importance of teamwork, commitment and discipline through the sports camps. After all, the power of sport is in its simplicity to naturally bring out and develop perseverance, resiliency and resourcefulness. If Africa is to join the developed world in the 21st century, its youth must embody these qualities.