TIBU Africa changes lives through sports
Earlier this year, The Long Game host Ibtihaj Muhammad traveled to Morocco to meet with 18 young sports entrepreneurs living and working in North Africa. The program is called My Sport, My Future, and it’s run by an organization called TIBU Africa. TIBU was founded in 2010 by former Morocco national basketball team player Mohamed Amine Zariat. It started as a program that ran a basketball tournament for young people in low-income neighborhoods in Morocco, but it’s grown into an organization that trains young people in leadership and social skills. To date, TIBU has served more than 250,000 people including girls in rural areas, kids with motion disabilities, migrants, refugees, youth and women. Now, Amine is hoping to inspire others to use sport as an agent for change in all of Africa.
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IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD, HOST:
So I actually studied abroad in Morocco when I was in university, like, quite a few years ago now, but I’ve always felt this, like, really strong connection to the country. So when I got an invitation to come to this program in Casablanca, for me, it was just, like, an easy yes.
From Doha Debates and Foreign Policy, this is The Long Game, a podcast about the power of sports to change the world. I’m your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad.
And I’m executive producer Karen Given. Earlier this year, Ibtihaj traveled to Morocco to meet with 18 young sports entrepreneurs living and working in North Africa.
IBTIHAJ: There were people pitching projects from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt. And essentially their ideas that they have, which were all so unique and so different, but really similar in a sense that they were trying to use sport, health, fitness, nutrition as a way to shape and change their communities. We see, in the United States, that there’s been this kind of shift in the way we think about our bodies and our health and our wellness. And I feel like that’s been over the last, like, decade or so. But I would say that the Middle East and North Africa, it’s been a bit slower of a—of a turn, and now we’re seeing it really, like, ramp up and take off. And so these different organizations that are operating out of these different North African countries, like, there was a guy who has a program that operates—I want to say it was out of northern Morocco, in a remote area—but what he does is he takes people on biking tours. So it’s a way for you to see, you know, like, the Atlas Mountains, but it’s also a way to financially give back to that community. There is a woman from Algeria who’s launching all-women’s gyms, which maybe, you know, depending on where you live, you don’t think about. But for me as a Muslim woman, an all-women’s gym sounds amazing. I would love the opportunity to work out, you know, minus hijab, minus, you know, the long-sleeved tops, but really just kind of exist with other women and kind of chase after that goal of being more active, getting stronger, becoming faster. There was one other one that I thought was so cool there. Her name is Azza Besbes. And I know her because she was this African champion fencer. She’s amazing. I don’t—I don’t even remember how many Olympics that Azza has been to, but her program—she’s Tunisian. She takes shipping containers and places them in different rural parts of Tunisia and transforms them into sport facilities. So maybe it’s in, you know, the, the northern part of Tunisia in this really rural area, but they’re fencing strips inside. Maybe there are Peloton bikes or treadmills, but they’re essentially spaces that anyone can come and access sport, you know, fitness, in a way that is not limited to their locale or, like, how much money, you know, you make or anything like that. It really just kind of brings sport to everyone. Even the amount of money, you know, was very nominal. When you think about the cost it takes to open a sports facility, to do it in, you know, this really sustainable way, I thought was really interesting.
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KAREN: The program is called My Sport My Future, and it’s run by an organization called TIBU Africa. TIBU was founded in 2010 by former Morocco national basketball team player Mohamed Amine Zariat.
IBTIHAJ: And it was really cool that Amine and TIBU are giving them, you know, a platform to share their initiatives, but also giving them resources and funds to help elevate their programs in their different countries.
KAREN: It started as a program that used basketball to connect with underprivileged youth, but it’s grown to be much more than that.
IBTIHAJ: I know how easy it is to use sport as a tool for change, especially in a developing country like Morocco. It’s amazing what he’s been able to do in such a short amount of time.
IBTIHAJ: Assalamu alaikum, Amine. How are you?
MOHAMED AMINE ZARIAT:
Salaam alaikum, Ibtihaj. How are you?
IBTIHAJ: I’m good, hamdullah. I’m so excited to have you on today.
AMINE: Thank you. Thank you so much. And I’m happy to be with you today.
IBTIHAJ: For those who have not yet met Amine, can you introduce yourself?
AMINE: Sure. I am from Morocco. I am 31 years old. I am a former international basketball player. I love basketball, and now I am a social entrepreneur focused on socioeconomic integration and education of youth in Africa through the power of sports.
IBTIHAJ: And in a lot of ways, this journey began when you first started playing basketball. Tell me the story of how you first got introduced to the sport.
AMINE: Yeah. When I was in middle school, my P.E. teacher told me, “Yeah, I think you are very good in basketball. Go to a club and start a career with a club in Casablanca.” So I decided to start basketball at 12, 13 years old. And it was, for me, a very good experience, because I had five times Moroccan championship with my team, and I was selected also to represent my country with the national team in the African championship and two times in Arab championship. Yeah, it was for me very good, very good experience, because I learned a lot from my coaches, from my colleagues. And now it’s helped me in my personal life with my family, with my colleagues, with my friends, with my wife. And also it’s helped me a lot in my work, because we are creating something new in Morocco, in Africa, and we are also doing social innovation and social impact through sports. And all the values and all the skills learned during my career helped me a lot today.
IBTIHAJ: Here in the US, Amine, an athlete who starts playing a sport at 13 would have almost no chance of making a national team. But you did. Is that unusual in Morocco?
AMINE: Yeah, I think, you know, we don’t have the same level in sports. My dream—I had a dream to come to the US and to follow a program focused on, you know, sports and studies in the NCAA or other leagues. But it was difficult for me, because my parents can’t pay for me the fees for studies and sports in the US. And when I was, like, 20 or 19, I decided to stop my career because when I was in the university, it was very difficult for me to combine between sports and studies. But it was a good choice for me to start this career as a social entrepreneur in sports, and also to give an opportunity for youth who are coming from imprivileged neighborhoods to learn more about sports, about the values of sports, but also to open for them opportunities to travel to Europe, to Africa, to the US. And we have more than 10 or 15 youth now, who are now in the US, who are following their programs focused and basketball and studies. For me, it’s—it was my dream. And now it’s not only my dream, it’s the dream of thousand of Moroccan youth who are very passionate about sports and basketball.
IBTIHAJ: When did this dream of TIBU come about?
AMINE: I founded TIBU in 2010; started with, like, a tournament, the International Tournament of Basketball in university. We bring international university teams from France, Senegal, Lebanon, Germany, Palestine, Tunisia, and we had a great time playing basketball, and doing contests on three points or dunk, et cetera. And after that, we decided—with my colleagues—to create something sustainable. So I decided, with my colleagues, to create an NGO. And now it’s called TIBU Africa, with more than 125 members who are working every day to serve more than 250,000 beneficiaries. Girls in rural areas, kids with motion disabilities, migrants, refugees, youth, women. And we offer, for them, programs focused on education through sports, girls and women empowerment through sports, socioeconomic integration through sports, and also social entrepreneurship through sports. We are based in Morocco in 23 cities, and also we are based in Tunisia, Ivory Coast and Senegal.
IBTIHAJ: Sometimes you talk about the fundamentals of basketball, like passing, shooting and dribbling, and then you use those concepts to teach life skills. Can you explain that a little bit to me?
AMINE: Yeah, sure. In basketball schools in the US, or in Spain, Palestine, or Morocco, Senegal, when you start, the coaches teach you some fundamentals: shoot, pass and dribble. “Shoot,” in basketball, you take a shot to score. But in the life, we teach our beneficiaries to set or to have a goal in your life. It’s very important to fix an objective and to fix a goal. They can be doctors, they can be basketball players, they can be good citizens. So it’s very important for us to be sure that everyone have an idea about his goal and about, about his personal and professional project. In basketball, you want to take a shot, so maybe you have an obstacle. And it’s the same thing in the life, so you—we can have some difficulties to have a great result. So you need to make a pass in basketball. And for us, “pass” is the capacity to develop teamwork. Kids from Morocco can work with kids from Tunisia. Girls can also work with boys, et cetera, et cetera. And teamwork, for us, is very important. We can’t be the number one only for yourself. You need to collaborate and you need to work together. And sometimes you want to make a pass, so sometimes it’s difficult in basketball. Same thing in the life. So you have to dribble. And a “dribble” for us is the capacity to unlock your potential. It’s the capacity also to develop your leadership. When you dribble, so you can score, it was your first objective when—for the shot. In the same time—and the same thing for the life, when you dribble, so you dribble for your goal. And we teach our youth to have a goal in their life.
IBTIHAJ: You’re listening to The Long Game from Doha Debates and Foreign Policy. I’m your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad.
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IBTIHAJ: So when I visited TIBU’s Casablanca—I’ll call it a campus, because that’s how it felt to me. It was really cool to see how many children are there at any given time. And if you think of, like, a tall—like, these tall buildings—there’s, like, a sport complex that, kind of, is in the middle. You have this green space. There’s kids playing soccer. There’s some type of soccer, I don’t know if it’s a class or, like, a game that’s going on. But on these different levels, there’s classrooms, and there’s children of different ages. Like, there’s primary school children there. They have instructors. And then there’s also young people there who have graduated, maybe from high school, and that’s the School of Second Chance. They’re kids who don’t know exactly what happens next in their lives.
When we think about countries like Morocco, and if you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to graduate from school, there’s this, you know, overarching question of, like, what’s next? And when I went and visited TIBU on the ground, what I thought was so cool about this program is they’re giving opportunity and resources to people who, who honestly don’t know how they’re going to make a living. They don’t know what steps to make. And I think that TIBU is helping them to connect those dots and really setting them up to develop that potential that they have, to develop the leadership that I think you can learn from sport. Amine has, you know, programs for these kids that are, you know, in that in-between age of, you know, 17, 18 into their mid-20s. And they do want to be involved in sport, but they don’t know what, what that avenue looks like. Amine is really helping them understand how sport can continue to shape and change their lives for the better, and also how they can continue to give back to their communities and, you know, encourage and inspire the next generation going forward.
IBTIHAJ: Amine, I was really blown away by the numbers of children, you know, these 250,000 beneficiaries that you and TIBU have been able to influence and help and advocate for. It’s really ballooned into a program that is affecting and changing so many lives.
AMINE: I understand that sports is magic. It can be football, it can be fencing, it can be baseball, it can be swimming. We need only space, a ball or a material and a man or woman to change the life of thousands of kids. So we switch from basketball NGO to sport for development and sport for grassroots NGO.
IBTIHAJ: I love that this has blossomed into more than just basketball, you know, because you understand that the power of sport is so great and that it can really bring about social change. The participants in your programs, not only do they become better athletes, but they become better people. What are your goals for them?
AMINE: We target youth who are very passionate about sports, and we offer, for them, programs focused on School of Second Chance. We give them an opportunity to continue playing sports. They come to our school. They learn what is a sports coaching. They learn French, English, Spanish, Microsoft tools. They learn also leadership, how they can also create start-ups. They learn also how they can create sports enterprise, how they can also create or organize a sports event. And in the same time, we offer, for them, an opportunity to do professional experiences in Nike store, in fitness gym, in sports club, et cetera. And after one year, they become sports coaches. They become, also, sports advisors or sports entrepreneurs like you, Ibtihaj. And this is a kind of program focused on social innovation and social impact through sports. We have also other programs in primary school. In Morocco, we have more than four million kids in primary schools. They don’t do P.E. classes from six to 12. We offer, for them, programs every Wednesday and the weekend for free. They play sports. They learn STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—and also they learn English. We have more than 10,000 beneficiaries in this program. Eighty-eight percent now, they have good marks in the school; zero dropouts. And now we are influencing the ministry and the government to give the opportunity, for four million kids, this kind of program.
IBTIHAJ: And I, you know, was really blessed to meet a group of these recent graduates who are kind of in that in-between, you know, space in their life where they’re trying to figure out what are the next steps. And for a lot of them, they know that they want to be involved in sport. And what I thought was so amazing about TIBU is that you’re helping them understand the avenues that they’re able to pursue, you know, in that next life step that they’re taking. At what point did you realize that you were really onto something? Was there a kid, or a particular group of kids, that made you say, “Wow, this is really working”?
AMINE: Yeah. Thank you for this question. First, we are working with a lot of beneficiaries. Girls in rural areas, youth need their education, implemental training, kids in primary public schools, migrants, refugees, women. But most of them, they are coming from imprivileged neighborhoods. And the power of our NGO—we have, like, personalized programs for everyone, each beneficiary. We are managing more than 32 programs in the same time. Now we are working to—for a project to start a program focused on empowerment of girls in the prison. So it’s very new for us. We are very sure that our program will empower these girls. And yeah, I think we have, like, the recipe—what is our recipe is to train the trainers and develop a good curriculums, but also develop a good approach and also to mobilize all the stakeholders. We work with governments, public and private sectors, researchers, entrepreneurs, schools, media stars, et cetera. But the winner, number one, is the beneficiaries. It’s very important.
IBTIHAJ: And your goal, I mean, is for at least 50 percent of the participants in your program to be girls or women. Why is this so important to you?
AMINE: Yeah. Why? Because when the girl start playing football or basketball or other sports, she developed a lot of skills. But also when she become woman and she become also a mum, she can give the love of sport for their, their children. So—and with this, we can create a nation of sports. So that’s why we are investing on programs focused on women and girls. We have more than 50 percent. We have, like, 64 percent of the participation of the girls in our programs. And we have, also, some programs who are only focused on girls, and some programs we have boys and girls in the same time.
IBTIHAJ: And there are so many ways to work with young people and put them on the path to success. Why sports?
AMINE [CHUCKLING]: Yeah. I think because I am very passionate about sports. I was passionate about basketball. Now I’m passionate about sport for development, how sports can unlock the potential of everyone. My dream and my vision by 2030 is to make TIBU a locomotive of sport for development in Africa, and also to inspire other Moroccan, other African youth to make a change in their countries through the power of sports.
IBTIHAJ: That’s it for this episode of The Long Game. I’m your host, Ibtihaj Muhammad. The Long Game is a co-production of Doha Debates and Foreign Policy. Our executive producer is Karen Given.
KAREN: We had help from Dan Ephron, Rob Sachs, Japhet Weeks, Amjad Atallah and Jigar Mehta. Make sure to follow us on Apple or your favorite podcast app. And please leave us a review.
IBTIHAJ: To learn more, subscribe to Foreign Policy, a global magazine of news and ideas. Or visit Doha Debates, a production of Qatar Foundation. Next week on the podcast…
KAREN: Eric Murangwa Eugène never would have survived Rwanda’s 1994 genocide against the Tutsis if not for the help he received from his teammates and fans of the football club Rayon Sport. Now, nearly 30 years later, Eric uses football to bring boys and girls, Hutus and Tutsis, together for the future of all Rwanda.
ERIC MURANGWA EUGÈNE:
We use football to promote the message of gender equality. We use football to challenge perceptions centered around traditional and cultural beliefs. It’s a way of breaking down all those discrimination barriers.
IBTIHAJ: That’s next week on The Long Game.