July 18, 2012

Bulldogs Continue Educational Efforts via ELI Africa

Program Founded by Former Yale Football Player Vedant Seeam ‘11

MAURITIUS - Every summer since 2010, a contingent of Yale students -- many of them varsity athletes -- has traveled to Mauritius, a small island of the coast of Africa with a population of about 1.3 million people. The Bulldogs are drawn there to spend two months working on experiential learning projects, helping the country’s underprivileged children “learn by doing”. The program, Experiential Learning Initiative (ELI) Africa, was started by a former Yale football player.

The man behind ELI Africa is Vedant Seeam ’11, a native of Mauritius who was a defensive lineman for the Bulldogs. The organization has had more than a dozen Yale varsity student-athletes work for it in the past three years, helping Seeam realize his vision of developing free, locally relevant educational programs that aid personal development and nurture creativity and self-expression.

Seeam grew up in the farming village of Plaine des Roches. After graduating from high school, he was elected Vice-Chairman of Finance of his district -- becoming the youngest-elected politician in the country. Seeam was also a member of the Mauritian National Team in badminton, but after arriving at Yale in 2006 he saw another sport for the first time: football. He took to it quickly, earning a letter as a sophomore in 2007. His connection to that sport would eventually help bring three other Yale football players to Mauritius to work for ELI Africa.

Grateful for the opportunities and quality of education that he experienced at Yale, Seeam sought ways to bring those elements back to people in his home country. During his junior year he began conducting research and fundraising. He then took a year off from school to work on the organization. Initially known as HOPE Inc. (Helping Orphans Prosper through Education), ELI Africa became registered as a 501c3 non-profit organization in the United States.

In the summer of 2010 the organization launched its “ELI Fellows Summer Program”, bringing six Yale undergraduates (four of them varsity student-athletes) to Mauritius. The program has continued each summer since. In 2011, ELI Africa built on the success of the previous year by opening the first ELI Africa Education Center in the village of Pamplemousses.

For eight weeks, the ELI Fellows work with Mauritian schoolchildren for several hours each week. In addition to teaching classes such as “Creative Writing” and “Applied Theater”, the fellows’ work extends beyond the classroom. That has included projects to counteract the deforestation of Mauritius’ mangrove trees, raise awareness of the country’s burgeoning Type II diabetes epidemic and improve educational programs for special needs students. There are also sport programs and health classes.

Former Yale women’s ice hockey player Lauren Davis ’12 described one recent educational exercise, “The Great Egg Drop”, on the ELI Africa blog:

I gave [the students] toilet paper rolls, sponges, paper and tape and told them they had to create a package for an egg that we would then drop off of the roof.  I gave them 5 minutes to create a plan and then handed out the supplies.  I was nervous that none of the eggs would break from the look of the packages, and let’s be honest, it’s really no fun if all the eggs survive.  I had every group name their package, one was even named Paul, and then we proceeded outside to drop some eggs!!  The first one broke, egg juice was running through the newspaper. The second one broke too.  I got nervous that no eggs would survive! That would be no fun either.  Finally we had a survivor.  Another casualty later and then another survivor!  It was really great to see how excited the students got about the surviving eggs and I told them at the end of class if there were any activities they wanted to do again to let me know.  I suspect this might make a repeat appearance.

In addition to the fellows program, ELI Africa now also includes the ELI Scholars program, in which members of Yale’s graduate and professional schools work with the ELI Fellows on development of new projects. Another program, the ELI Corps, enables students and graduates from Mauritian universities to instruct and mentor secondary school students.

Seeam is CEO of ELI Africa, and the managing board also includes another Yale varsity student-athlete in Chief Program Officer Lexy Adams. A rising senior on the Yale field hockey team, Adams is working on expanding and improving the fellows program while also kicking off the new yearlong program.

More information about ELI-Africa is available on the web at http://www.eli-africa.org, on Twitter by following @ELI_Africa, or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ELIAfrica.  

Yale Varsity Student-Athletes and ELI Africa

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity