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MONITORING AND EVALUATION ASCEND TOGETHER is an organization based in the Gambia that utilizes basketball as a platform for education, life skills training, and community service.


INTRODUCTION: ASCEND TOGETHER is an organization founded through the efforts of three former Peace Corps volunteers who wanted to grow the game of basketball in the Gambia. Since 2015, with the guidance of Gambia Basketball Association (GBA) president Papa Mohamadou Njie, ASCEND grew from an idea into a program that combines education, community service, and basketball to promote youth development in the Gambia. “I love playing basketball because it makes

me strong and healthy. I am enjoying my

Beginning in January 2016, ASCEND started programming in education with basketball a lot. At Ascend St. Therese’s Upper Basic School and Kotu Senior Secondary Together we do not only play basketball, but School. With a team of committed coaches, tutors, and we also do English language and administrators, ASCEND implemented an afterschool program mathematics tutoring. Someday, with Ascend for students between the ages of 12 and 16 that provides Together, I want to become the best tutoring sessions and basketball training, focusing on basketball female player throughout the teamwork development and the fundamentals. Regarded as world. I also want to help Ascend team the first afterschool basketball program in the Gambia, during basketball competitions against other ASCEND reached over 120 students in the first semester of teams. But for now, I just want to continue programming. In addition, ASCEND hosted a 3v3 tournament improving with my skills and playing well.” for students in April and a 5v5 tournament in May. These events highlighted the growth of the students, most of whom Nyima Gassama, age 12, St. Thereses Upper Basic had only begun their basketball training in January. School Basketball was not the only area where ASCEND students grew; many students, who had previously been shy, uncommitted to their studies, and even those who had been bullied by their peers emerged as leaders not only in the program, but also in their schools, families, and communities. ASCEND also has been active in the provincial regions. In December and in April, ASCEND hosted two clinics in Bansang, a town in the Central River Region of the Gambia. Additionally, ASCEND partnered with the Bansang Youth Center during an August Olympics event, where ASCEND coaches taught basketball fundamentals to youth during the five-day program. During the summer months, as basketball programming slowed down during the rainy season, ASCEND administrators were still active, developing our organizational structure and producing a comprehensive employee manual. Additionally, ASCEND worked with several Peace Corps volunteers to develop a life skills tutoring curriculum for our Upper Basic students. ASCEND tutors attended three two-day training sessions to prepare them for the upcoming semester, and the Peace Corps has pledged to continue to help our tutors build their teaching repertoire throughout the school year. ASCEND also “I truly admire the team Ascend, therefore I wish hosted open courts throughout the summer which were to train hard with them develop multiple skills in well attended by students both in the program and from basketball, and to also use the knowledge I am other surrounding schools.

acquiring from the tutors they conduct to promote the group’s educational agendas. As far as team Ascend is concerned, I want to continue on being part of them in all their activities because I believe with Ascend I will reach my dreams for basketball.”

Now, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, ASCEND has re-organized the programming structure of our activities, and begun a senior secondary program at Kotu, with a tutoring curriculum based on Smartboard technology. This program allows continuity for our students who have graduated from the Upper Basic schools and still want to continue playing with ASCEND. Ida Sanneh, age 14, St. Thereses Upper Basic School Our Upper Basic programming is now concentrated in St. Therese’s Upper Basic School, and after two orientation events, the numbers for student registration have improved by almost 50 percent. ASCEND is a registered non-profit in the United States and charitable organization in the Gambia.

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CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS: The number of students enrolled in Ascend Together programming increasing from the first registration of 120 students to 179 students at the end of the first semester of programming. Students engaged their classmates and word spread to those interested in basketball training. Despite initial difficulties with registering girls to join the program, Ascend Together concluded the semester with 50 percent more girls engaged in programming than at the beginning (see Figure 2). Figure 2: Total number of boys and girls enrolled in Ascend programming: January to May 2016






January. 2016 Page 2

72 71


88 91





“I am working so hard in my trainings, trying to be very good at basketball. And I want to be the most valuable player in the game of basketball. I also want to encourage young Gambians to take part in the game of basketball because I know it’s very interesting sport with lots of excitement and opportunities.” Ndey Gaye, age 14, Ndows Middle School

Total 189





60 60


Figure 3: Total number of students registered: January 2016 and October 2016


Figure 1: Total number of students engaged in Ascend Together programming: January 2016 to May 2016 143



October. 2016




Registration for the 2016-2017 semester began very differently than that of the 2015-2016 semester. Rather than seeking out interested students in their classrooms, as had been done previously, Ascend staff posted orientation times through the school administration and spread the word through students who had previously participated. The impact on the number of students was impressive, with a 58 percent increase overall in student registration, a 37 percent increase among male students and a 62 percent increase among female students (see Figure 3).



Bintou Dambelly, a 14-year-old from St. Thereses Upper Basic School, comes from a deeply religious, Muslim family, known as an “edabu” household. Bintou is passionate about her faith, and she is also passionate about playing basketball. Bintou was originally reluctant to join the program because she was worried that playing basketball would conflict with the values of her faith. With the emergence of Ascend Together and the RISE Gambia program, she has come to realize that wearing the veil is not an obstacle that would prevent her from becoming a successful student-athlete. Through the mentorship of her tutors and coaches, Bintou has found that it is possible to balance her two passions.

Bintou has become one of the star players in the RISE Gambia program. Her skills have attracted attention from both the President of the Gambia National Basketball Association (GBA), Papa Mohamadou Njie, who awarded her a Most Valuable Player prize at Ascend’s first 3v3 tournament. The GBA then extended Bintou an invitation to a youth training program in Turkey. Bintou’s skills have also attracted the attention of the YMCA team, who competes in the GBA adult league, who invited her to join them for their final game of the GBA season. Despite her young age, Bintou was a clear talent on the court. Bintou’s development has been rapid; in January 2016, she first began to play basketball and by April, she was one of the most improved players of the RISE Gambia program. Bintou is eager to learn and grow. Her attitude and sportsmanship has earned her recognition both in the organization of Ascend Together and in Gambia’s “I wish to promote Ascend to my friends, family, and basketball community. relatives and even possibly nationwide. Finally, the plans I


have for basketball is that; I’m longing to be an international and professional basketball player in the near future. I wish to be a basketball coach in the near future to teach the skills I am currently learning from Ascend to teach my fellow young Gambians.” Kinneh Jallow, age 14, St. Therese’s Upper Basic School

Before joining Ascend Together, Ousman Barry was a very quiet boy. He stayed in his compound after school and took care of his younger sister and didn’t often engage with his peers. His parents often did not have money to pay transport to go to school, so he would sometimes stay home or go the whole day without eating to save money. Ousman struggled in school and had few friends. After joining Ascend Together, Ousman began to engage with his teammates and his classmates. Ascend coaches spoke with Ousman’s parents, learned about his difficulties in school, and found him a private tutor to improve his English grades. Ousman now has many more friends through Ascend, and is much more talkative. His grades have improved and his parents have both expressed how impressed they are with their son’s transformation. Ousman has now emerged as a leader in the Ascend program. He assists new students who join the program, leads warm-ups and energizers, and his basketball skills have improved substantially. Ousman has grown tremendously throughout his first semester with Ascend, and his work ethic, leadership and discipline is a shining example for new students joining the program in the upcoming year.

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Figure 4: Baseline and Endline Survey 2015-2016

8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0

Baseline Endline

Ascend Together assessed students using a survey that presented questions regarding academics, gender equality, community service, leadership, and teamwork. Students selected their answers on a scale of 0 to 9, with 0 indicating that they did not agree at all with the statement, and 9 indicating that they fully agreed with the statement (see Figure 4).

“I like playing basketball because it is my favorite sport. I would also like to tell you about my goals with Ascend Together. I want to be the basketball hero of the Ascend Together because I want the best for the team. I want to be a superstar and play basketball in the NBA.”

Additionally, though Ascend asked parents to complete a similar survey, English proficiency proved to be a barrier to obtaining results. Many of the parents of Ascend students are unable to read, and a majority are not fluent in spoken English. This posed a serious challenge for obtaining Paul Mendy, age 13, St. particularly the endline evaluation Therese’s Upper Basic School from parents. The baseline was given during parent orientation for students, and coaches were able to translate. However, the endline survey was sent home with students, and when the results came back, there were several indications that the parents had not actually seen the survey. To correct this issue for the upcoming semesters, Ascend is developing an oral questionnaire which can be administered by Ascend staff over the phone, or during home visits. Most of our staff is fluent in two or more local languages, and the results will be more accurate. Despite difficulties in obtaining parent survey results, Ascend did have many parents who were involved in the program, and who were impressed by the impact Ascend programming has had on their children.

The father of one young student, Abdoulie, came to the 2016/2017 orientation and described the way his son had changed. Abdoulie has had some issues with his weight and speech impairment, and was sometimes bullied by his peers. Upon becoming a student with Ascend, Abdoulie grew immensely, formed relationships with his peers and his coaches and tutors. The father described how his son had become more of a leader in Abdoulie and Coach Muhammed ‘Jim’ Njie his family and encouraged peace and mediation. Abdoulie showed the family how much they were throwing away after each family meal, and he asked his father to reduce the money that they put into rice and fish. This reduced the waste and saved the family 75 dalasis each day. Abdoulie also saved money given to him for snacks, and then gave it all back to his father at the end of the month. His father states that this change came about through the leadership that Abdoulie learned through Ascend programs and the mentorship Abdoulie received from his coaches.

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Ascend Together Head Coach Muhammed “Jim” Njie first met Ebrima Sorry Jallow during the first basketball clinic in December 2015 in Bansang, a town in the Central River Region of the Gambia. Ebrima was quiet, tall, gangly and serious about his studies. His teachers and principal all spoke highly of his work ethic. Not only was Ebrima a serious student, but his principal described how Ebrima had once taken care of his entire family. Ebrima’s father sells kola nuts, the fruit of the kola tree that holds symbolic importance in communities across West Africa. Ebrima’s father was involved in an automobile accident and was in a coma for months. Ebrima, while still going to school, managed the family business, bringing back all of the earnings from the kola sales to his mother each day, while retaining only 10 dalasis for his lunch. Coach Jim was impressed by the boy’s responsibility and his dedication to his studies. The two stayed in contact throughout the following spring, and Coach Jim urged Ebrima to strive to be a better student, and to continue working hard.

Ascend Together then invited Ebrima to the Greater Banjul region to participate in a program facilitated by the Peace Corps, “Explore Your Country,” which was held at the end of March 2016. Ebrima traveled to many Figure 5: Students Engaged in Bansang Clinics locations in the urban in 2015-2016 area he had not been Boys Girls Total before. He learned about different educational 36 35 71 opportunities, visited the airport, the beach, and the National Museum. During “Explore Your Country,” Ebrima and Coach Malick Ndimballan, who is also from Bansang, worked together to create a session for Ebrima to teach at the next Ascend Together clinic (see Figure 5). When Ascend Together visited Bansang again in April, Ebrima was a leader on the basketball Ebrima Sorry Jallow teaching in Bansang court, and he taught a session for his peers about educational opportunities available for them in the Gambia. Ebrima describes the clinics hosted by Ascend Together; “In those clinics that’s where I learned how to play in a match and teamwork and discipline. And in those clinics, they don’t teach us only how to play basketball but also how to complete our education with the required credits we need. And how to respect each other’s’ opinions.” Ascend Together visited Bansang again during August 2016, to coach basketball during the Peace Corps “Bansang Olympics” program. Once again, Ebrima demonstrated his leadership both on and off the court. Coach Jim visited his family, and arrangements were made for Ebrima to move to the urban region to stay with an uncle and to attend classes at Kotu Senior Secondary School. Under the mentorship and guidance of Coach Jim, Ebrima will be involved in Ascend programming at the school. Coach Jim has become a key mentor in Ebrima’s life and has helped him to pursue new educational options. According to Ebrima; “All of my opportunity is from Ascend Together.”

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“I was a student athlete who was committed to both academics and basketball during my school times. I had always dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. However, my PE teacher, who was also my basketball coach, advised me that to become a professional player, I have to be committed to my academics. His advice pushed me even more to stay on top of my class and also remain MVP on my basketball team throughout my second and third year in high school.

“I believe that Ascend Together is not only creating an impact on young students’ lives, but it is also impacting its staff to become good leaders and mentors.” Malick Ndimballan

In 2010, I attended the University of the Gambia to pursue a BSc in Management and Finance. My interest in basketball was still there, but my focus and goals started to change. I was more focused on my studies and I hardly had time to go for basketball practice. My plan ‘B’ was to become a banker or to be engaged in managerial jobs.

After grabbing my degree in 2014, I searched for jobs but I couldn’t get employed due to the fact that I had no specific experience, and jobs are difficult to find in the Gambia. I finally got employed by the Ascend Together organization as a full-time head coach in 2016. I had a coaches’ training with Ascend before the start of the program, and I learned about coaching techniques and several fundamental skills that we could teach the kids. I am so much in love with my job as a coach because it isn’t all about the game of basketball; it is more about youth development in regards to their academic commitment, teamwork, discipline and sense of responsibility. I believe that Ascend Together is not only creating an impact on young students’ lives, but it is also impacting its staff to become good leaders and mentors. Ascend has turned me into an instrumental person today. It has made me become a leader and a mentor to many young children in our society. My leadership and mentorship skills have improved in a way I could have never imagined before.

Malick Ndimballan Meeting Ascend staff was another great thing in my life. I had a great sense of working in multicultural groups, brainstorming, and solving problems in groups and also learning from each other. I will say that Ascend Together is a better place to be. It’s a stream of opportunities for the youth in The Gambia”.

Malick Ndimballan Coach and M&E Officer Ascend Together

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The median income for youth is increases to per month.

1,500 dalasis per month. With a post-secondary degree, this

3,000 dalasis per month. The international poverty line is 2,500 dalasis

48 percent of the population of the Gambia lives beneath the global poverty line.

46 percent of the population is under the age of 14.

37percent of the population between the ages of 13 and 30. 38 percent of youth under the age of 30 are unemployed

65 out of 100 respondents to a 2015 survey knew two or more friends or relatives who had attempted to illegally migrate to Europe.

Despite a population of only two million, in the past two years the International Organisation for Migration has declared the Gambia

fourth and fifth in the number of migrants attempting to cross

the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy.

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To help youth in the Gambia overcome these obstacles, ASCEND TOGETHER seeks to achieve the following:


Youth development through education and the sport of basketball.


 Create meaningful relationships between students and mentors; coaches and tutors.  Generate employment opportunities by hiring young coaches, tutors, and administrators to implement our programming.  Teach transferable skills such as goal-setting and financial planning to students.  Motivate students to study and contribute to their community through life skills curriculum and discussion groups.  Emphasize the importance of academics and encourage students to seek educational opportunities both within and outside the Gambia.  Instill teamwork, discipline, leadership, punctuality and a sense of community in our students.  Develop in our students a sense of purpose and pride in the Gambian community.

        


Employed 12 young coaches and tutors. Engaged 179 students in regular programming. Worked with 144 students during open courts. Hosted a 3v3 tournament and a 5v5 tournament. Increased enrollment from 120 students to 189 students during our third semester of programming. Held clinics in Bansang on three different dates and engaged 71 students. Developed a comprehensive employee manual. Organized three tutor trainings. Developed a comprehensive life skills curriculum for our Upper Basic students. I take care of MYSELF. I take care of my TEAM. I take care of my COMMUNITY.


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Rise Gambia Report 2015-16  

Rise Gambia Program Year 2015-16 Report. Youth sports and leadership program implemented by Ascend Together and SEED Project.