At first it seemed a kind of utopia, a crazy idea, taking the oval ball to the middle of nowhere, in isolated villages in the tough wilds of Madagascar. But from the first throw on that red soil, while the passionate Terres en Mélées volunteers explained the universally recognised values of rugby, to today, much progress has been made The numbers speak for themselves, they reveal an indisputable success:
537 children, between 7 and 18 years old, have regularly attended classes in schools;; 90 players, both male and female, from 7 to 18 years old have taken part in weekly rugby competitions; the RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE has taken part in 7 regional tournaments and 4 tournaments of the junior national rugby championship.
Tozzi Green has been supporting Terres en Mélées since 2015 to promote and establish solidarity through Rugby in the Ihorombe region. In 2017 the RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE was founded, with the aim of allowing the young people of the region to grow up with the values of rugby and to travel across the country to take part in competitions.
Since 2018 the initiative promoted by Tozzi Green Madagascar and Terres en Mélées has counted on the support of an important partner, the French company MANE.
A solid partnership then, that is committed for the next three years to promoting the sport, the construction of an educational programme aimed at diversity of culture, gender equality, environmental education and protection, and international cooperation.
This project is challenging and full of important milestones, ongoing proof that rugby is the ideal choice for promoting physical and emotional well-being, socialisation and emancipation. The partnership between Tozzi Green Madagascar and Terres en Mélées has achieved these important goals:
The Terres en Mélées educator, Olivia, arrived. She is now based in Satrokala to coordinate the project and lead educational activities with the local young people.
The RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE took part in the first junior national rugby championship.
The RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE qualified for the finals of the junior national rugby championship in Tane and the Satrokala girls’ team was among the finalists.
Twenty French young players were in Madagascar for the RAID FADA cultural, sporting and solidarity exchange program (a project that Terres en Mélées established in 2015) with the support of Mane and Tozzi Green Madagascar.
Inauguration of the Satrokala rugby pitch on the initiative of Tozzi Green Madgascar, an event sponsored by the Minister of Youth and Sports and in the presence of local authorities and journalists. The Satrokala pitch is the first rugby pitch in the province. Thanks to the cutting-edge skills and techniques of Tozzi Green this field has equipped the RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE with a safe space suitable for holding official competitions. Today the pitch is a meeting place, a vital and healthy space for young people to grow and get to know each other.
The RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE won the regional tournament in Tuléar and qualified for the national finals in Tana.
The RUGBY ACADEMY IHOROMBE participated in the finals of the junior national rugby championship in Tana and the Satrokala girls’ team achieved the fourth place.
The young players participated in a World Rugby training.
Tozzi Green has also provided a Mercedes Sprinter mini bus which is very important for easy travelling, and has collaborated in the creation of a vegetable garden that is managed and maintained by the boys and girls.
For Tozzi Green Madagascar, Terres en Mélées and MANE, supporting rugby means action, knowledge. Training young educators in the area and developing educational activities in secondary, primary and nursery schools. Participating in national competitions, and thus allowing young people from different backgrounds to get to know each other, to get together and to discover new landscapes and new ways of living. Educating for peace, collaboration, constructive challenges. Contributing to personal and social advancement.
Pela immediately understood in that oval ball there was a unique opportunity; the educator threw it and she immediately grabbed it, firmly. It began with a game: a journey towards her increasingly defined training for life. Pela is a top player in the Rugby Academy Ihorombe, at fifteen she has a vigorous body, shining eyes and a smile that brings a breath of fresh air as soon as it appears. She looks down when you talk to her, but then she comes alive, she speaks of herself with certainty, she has no doubt that rugby is her dimension, what she says is that it has given her a role, in her family, in the group of her peers, in the whole village.
Her talent became more and more evident, she was noticed in the provincial championships, she contributed to the rise of her team, the Rugby Academy Ihorombe, until she was selected, in the summer of 2018, for training with the junior national women’s team. It is the first time that a player from the “coast” has measured up to the girls of the national team, who typically coming from the elites of the “plateau”.
She has lived alone, away from home, for four months. She showed that she could do it, facing fear as on the field, a challenge of life, a possibility of emancipation. Her swift legs, her strong arms, her shining face took her to Paris, where 1 February 2019 she, together with her companions Marcelia and Sonia, participated in the kickoff of the Six Nations Rugby at the Stade de France.
It was very cold. It was raining. They took lots of photos, asked lots of questions, but she never lost her enthusiasm, her gratitude for being there, for knowing, for learning how humanity collaborates around this ethical and unifying sport, France, Italy and Madagascar that hold each other’s hands, find solutions, offer shared opportunities. At the press conference at the Société Générale they asked her why she was so strong: “I learned to play on a hard red ground, I played against teams of boys, my training was of course more tiring. Since I have been able to play on the pitch created by Tozzi Green everything is more beautiful, we train like professionals”. Pela speaks in France, knowing that she is the spokesperson for all the Malagasy girls. It is very clear to her that being there, in addition to being a holiday for her, has a strong symbolic value. The younger girls look at her, they ask her questions, “I want to play like Pela,” they say. For the first time in the isolated inland villages of Madagascar, where life for women is as hard as the earth, as well as predefined by rigid social patterns, and by a dominant machismo, for the first time girls can think differently, stand as equals on the pitch with the boys, they can say, “I am, I want”. Pela runs onto the green pitch under the Paris rain. She laughs and looks at her companions, they are strong, they are free.
“Look, this is my father”, Pela points with a finger at a blurred figure in the background of a photograph showing her during a training session. Her eyes shine, proud and shy at the same time. Her father told her “if that’s what you want to do, rugby, if it makes you happy, go, do it”. Having the support of parents building a life project for young people, in which the adults also participate, are significant results for creating a change for growing in a climate of genuine involvement of the entire area. To create an opportunity for social redemption that is within everyone’s reach, adults also need to believe in it, they must be able to recognise a different look on their children’s faces, an identity that will form them.
It was more difficult for Pela with her brother; she had to fight, to show her iron will, her daily passion, show that rugby would improve her, to make him give up his resistance and make him an ally. For some kids it was more difficult, dealing with the change in the girls, playing on the same pitch, swapping shirts, questioning roles, letting go. But they did it, they found in rugby a game structure and rules that led them to manage the group, to collaborate, taking into account the specific differences of each individual and not gender differences. To be in a team you have to be different, to give a group a bond, you have to know that you are individuals.