When badminton brings back dignity
They’re all here, in a circle, under one of the few trees that have leaves large enough to offer some shade from the sun. After over two and a half hours of intense activity in the scorching heat, to the question “Mbola Mazoto ny anohy badminton ve ianao?” (Do you want to play badminton more often?), they all raise their hand, a smile plastered across their face and stars shining in their eyes.
The “Bad’agascar” program was born this week from a bit of a crazy dream. On one hand, a family from Montbeliard (eastern France) who decided to leave everything behind to come settle in the middle of this extremely poor neighborhood of Madagascar. On the other hand, Solibad who, like them, believe in the virtues that sport has to offer even beyond just the physical aspect.
For four days, around forty children were able to take part in the launch of this new Solibad program that happened in partnership with a great NGO named 2400 smiles (after the scary statistic of the number of children living in the streets of Madagascar, the third poorest country on the planet).
Every day from 16 to 18h, sometimes even more at their request, the children from the Ambohidratrimo village have taken up playing badminton, a racket sport they had never heard of. Inevitably, here, football is king, and all the children have already kicked around what is left of the second-hand balls, the leather tanned by the blows of sandals and by the storms. Upon the call of 2400 smiles, the children come running down the slopes of their village made of red brick huts from this ferruginous earth so characteristic of the country, clinks, and bits of makeshift wood. The scene happens every day after school (for the children who get to go to school) and the kids meet on a small field nicknamed for the occasion “the land of freedom” and belonging to a small parish run by Romain’s parents. A pastor and his wife who have given a noble meaning to the word charity by settling in this village 23 years ago and setting up a medical dispensary in addition to a wealth of diverse and varied activities, as well as essential services, to give back dignity to the inhabitants of the village.
The nets are up, the first bursts of laughter ring out in the middle of the rice fields which have taken on their most beautiful green. The balloons are inflated to apprehend the first gestures with the racket. The transition to shuttle cocks goes smoothly, though, and it's a joyful acoustic bazaar made of laughter that soon takes place near the village, under the envious eyes of dozens of other children, seated in a circle around the small area dedicated to this brand-new activity.
Unanimously, the sport, the game, is adopted. Some are already showing good badminton instincts, under the precious advice of a young Malagasy athlete, Miangola Razafinimanana, 22 years old, who was very recently crowned champion of her country in mixed doubles. And who didn't hesitate for a second to join the program on a voluntary basis, even if she has to juggle her university law courses, her own training sessions, and do almost three hours of additional Taxibé every day...
Over there, like in Haiti, in 2010, in Indonesia, in 2014, in Uganda in 2016 or in Rwanda in 2020, the magic happens. Badminton makes sense. At first, within a few minutes, it gives joy. Lightness. The worries seem to fly away – and there are many of them, between constant poverty, and cyclones that hit the capital, including one that wreaked havoc less than a month ago. Among the oldest of the children present, Fiena, 16, saw a whole section of her house collapse, forcing her, her father, and her sister to urgently move in with friends, while a few months prior, she had already been struck by an erratic twist of fate when their mother abandoned the household overnight, without any sign of life since then. One story among many others here, in this village nestled in the blood-red hills where the intolerable, the unacceptable, are part of everyday life. Fiena is there, every day, racquet in hand, always smiling. She lets off steam, hits hard, then uses all her grace when Miangola teaches her the delicacy of backhand serves. She laughs out loud when she misses the shuttle in more and more acrobatic ways.
Sport builds back. It allows you to forget, at first, but it’s so much more than that. Sharing with others, having light moments, learning to focus on a task. It’s many things and it’s also the coordination of gestures, of the body, a way of learning to reclaim one's body, especially for children who have been beaten or traumatized by climatic violence. There is also the psychological dimension of regaining confidence and relearning self-esteem through small successes through encouragement and applause which are small steps towards the rebirth of the soul. Romain, the founder of 2400 smiles knows this all too well, a physical education teacher whose specialty was supporting people with disabilities. Sport heals, that’s an empirical fact. It’s a fact for him, as well as for the educators of our Solibad programs around the world, who have seen how this sport in particular has changed the way all these children see themselves, and then the world around them.
This is also one of the keys to this new program that is emerging, in which this partnership around badminton will fit, here in Madagascar, under the supervision of the 2400 smiles Association. Reforestation is underway, a little further in the valley, before the buildings of a village come out of the ground to accommodate the street children of Tananarive. In addition to a boarding school, a school, the village of smiles will then host a sports entity, with, already, promises of donations of equipment from certain high-level athletes playing in France - football, fencing, climbing, and of course, badminton. With, for each one, particular reasons to help the reconstruction of children. Everything has been meticulously thought out, by Romain, his wife Séverine and their teams of devoted young Malagasy people, to simply give these abandoned children a taste for life.
For badminton, the adventure is only at its very beginning. But the stakeholders – Solibad and the Super GOs of smiles – have already put their “game plan” on paper. By popular demand, the young people of Ambohidratrimo will meet with Miangola twice a week, but perhaps also a few other players from the national team, including Bigjo, who came to lend a hand in one of the sessions. To start learning the basic gestures and become real badminton players. Make badminton a regular activity.
On the other side of the valley, as soon as the village of smiles is built, in a few months, another phase of the "Bad'agascar" program should take shape, around several indoor badminton courts, with a real badminton academy set up in partnership with Solibad. With, for some of these street children, a new opening to the world. New hopes.
5 grams of emotion… they say. There were tons of them this week. With the beginning of a long and beautiful human adventure. And thus, a new program by Solibad in partnership with 2400 smiles. "Bad'agascar
More info on the program HERE More info on 2400sourires HERE
Photos : Raphaël Sachetat / Solibad