Born in Senegal, one of the poorest countries in Africa, Ramatoulaye (Rama) Sy didn’t have a lot growing up. Living in a place that suppressed women, she didn’t have much hope for a better life either.
“I was supposed to be a follower. Men were first and women second. It’s tough to be successful in Senegal that way.”
However, Rama’s ticket to a brighter future was basketball. Playing in a youth league, officials from the SEED project, a non-profit organization that helps student-athletes in Africa pursue higher education in the United States, saw her raw talent and felt it should be cultivated.
“I remember one day after practice, my teachers called me in and said, we need to talk to you. You might have a chance to go to the United States and play basketball and finish school.”
Rama faced many challenges in her new life and at The Masters School, a private institution in Dobbs Ferry, New York. There was a new culture to learn, a language barrier to overcome, and a devastating knee injury that
she had to rehabilitate.
“I know it’s not right, but I’m so thankful for being injured because it taught me so much about life and that time is precious and you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”
Luckily, Rama had her host family in New York City to lean on during a difficult time. They were there for her in helping her recover from her injury while also making sure to respect her religion, which is extremely important to her. In other parts of the world, it would be hard to imagine such support.
“During Ramadan, my host mother, Meredith, would wake me up in the middle of the night and bring me food and would remind me to pray. Her being Jewish and me being Muslim did not affect me at all because she encouraged me to practice my religion even more.”
Rama slowly but surely returned to form on the basketball court. Hours and hours of practice made a difference for her and it showed in her game. Masters coach Nick Volchok took notice.
“I give Rama a lot of credit for her resiliency. She learned to do her best every time out.”
After graduating from The Masters School, Rama headed to upstate New York to play for Oneonta State. Before her sophomore season was cut short because of the global pandemic, she was able to score in double-digits in five of her last seven games. She is extremely focused on her studies and hopes to go to law school and become a judge back in Senegal one day.
“The biggest thing I want to do when I get home is make sure the voices of women are heard.”
Photo credit: SeedProject.org and Steven Counts