Yale Student-Athletes Making an Impact with Underprivileged Youth through ELI Africa

Victoria Perez working for ELI Africa at Ecole Fatima.

Initiative Founded by Former Football Player Vedant Seeam

MAURITIUS, Africa – Former Yale football defensive lineman Vedant Seeam has taken his game to a larger playing field since he last donned a uniform more than two years ago. Seeam, a native of Mauritius, Africa, is the Founder and President of the international non-profit ELI (Experiential Learning Initiative) Africa, which aims to empower underprivileged youth in Africa and to promote sustainable development through educational initiatives. 

Seeam’s unusual road to Yale has everything to do with the creation of ELI Africa. He grew up in the quaint farming village of Plaine des Roches, Mauritius. After performing well in his village’s primary school, he was granted admission to a school two hours away by public transportation, where he became Chairman of the Student Council.  There, he witnessed badminton being played the first time he set foot in a gymnasium. He began playing and soon made the Mauritian National Team. In 2005, Seeam achieved the Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award. After he graduated from high school, he ran for political office and became the youngest-elected politician in Mauritius when he served as the Vice-Chairman of Finance of his district. In his free time he completed training and certifications to work as a policeman, fire-fighter and coast guard personnel. When Seeam arrived at Yale, he tried out for the football team, having never seen the sport played before, and earned a letter in 2007.

 At Yale, Seeam found himself blown away by the opportunities and quality of education he was receiving. While grateful for such a wonderful experience, he was bothered by the fact that many of his friends at home did not have access to such an opportunity. He realized that he got his chance through education, but that a lack of a “proper” education should not define someone nor play such a determining role in someone’s life course.

"I do not believe that education is a ‘one-size fits all’ scripture,” Seeam said. “Some people are brilliant in ways that standardized education cannot account for." 

Seeam set out to do something about it. During his junior year he began to conduct research and fundraise, and soon thereafter, started HOPE Inc. (Helping Orphans Prosper through Education).  HOPE later turned into ELI Africa, and Seeam’s dream of helping disadvantaged African youth through education took a large step towards reality.  ELI Africa is currently running its first summer pilot program in Mauritius, having hired six Yale undergraduates as Summer Fellows to work with four schools from June through August. The 2010 Fellows include several Yale athletes, including rising senior Jordan Forney of the football team, rising senior Victoria Perez of the women’s basketball team, rising senior Emily Standish of the women’s track and field team and women’s hockey captain Caroline Murphy ’10.  Rising senior Sarah Solomon and rising sophomore Michael Rose are also fellows working with ELI Africa this summer.

The fellows work at four different schools in Mauritius, for several hours each week. They have incorporated English language teaching into engaging educational projects, but what has been most rewarding is the work outside and beyond the classroom. Environmental initiatives include the creation of a garden at Etoile de Mer, and ELI Africa has been working with the surrounding community to implement a mangrove resurrection project (mangroves have been disappearing from Mauritius at an alarming rate due to ignorance and neglect, and they are vital to the local ecosystems and fishing communities). Health and sport initiatives include after-school sport programs, including a sport program to empower females through athletics, and health classes. The fellows have also been hard at work teaching a theater class in preparation for a community-wide show at the end of the summer with two of the schools. You can follow their work this summer on the ELI Africa website at www.eli-africa.org.

If you would like more information about ELI-Africa or would like to support the cause, please visit www.eli-africa.org for more information. Donations are welcome. ELI Africa is also currently competing in the Chase Community Giving competition, where charities garner votes for a chance to win grant money. Please take the time to cast your vote for ELI Africa here: http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/264356255-helping-orphans-prosper-through-education-hope-inc?admin_application_submitted=true

 

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