Meet the Match
A Champion for Girls in Benin's Underserved Communities
Throughout her childhood, Pamela Akplogan found sport as a source of strength and comfort. Raised in rural Benin, she and her family were met with great sorrow when her father passed away at a young age. With few financial resources at her disposal, Pamela’s mother tried her best to support the young family. Then, shortly after his passing, one of her colleagues coaching basketball in the area invited Pamela to come train with him. It was a moment of discovery for her as a young woman.
“Basketball taught me how to express myself and help others understand me even it is difficult to find words,” Pamela says. “It allowed me to become an actor of change. Through basketball, I’ve become a very strong woman.”
Pamela won her first basketball medal at 14 years old. She continued playing as she began her bachelor’s degree in business law at Université d’Abomey-Calavi and eventually joined Benin’s national team. During her time at the university, another coach saw her playing on the court and thought she might also be a strong fit for judo. He asked if she would train for one month in judo to see whether he was right.
“I told him I didn’t like to fight or watch people fighting,” Pamela says. “I didn’t think I could do it. And he asked me just to try. I was very afraid, but I made my decision and I went.”
Pamela excelled in judo and won a bronze medal at the Benin National Judo Championship in 2015.
Pamela did not initially plan to mix her passion for sports with her profession. While at university, she accepted a journalism internship at a local radio station. After her colleagues learned of her basketball experience, she was invited to join the sports coverage team. She is now a sports journalist for Radio Tokpa, in addition to serving as a leader within the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), for which she was named the chairperson of the Africa Scout Youth Forum through 2018. Pamela leads talks on leadership and entrepreneurship throughout Africa and uses her public role to launch service projects and regularly engage with her community through sports and other activities.
“I have a lot of duties and responsibilities to promote sport and grow its platform in my society,” Pamela says. “People view sport as just a game. They don’t realize you can strengthen the community and spread positive messages—it can be used for development and to help people blossom. This is about human beings, not just boys and girls. This is about human rights.”
Pamela, who also earned a master’s degree in social science and education, sees a need for promoting women’s sports in rural, disadvantaged areas. She is using her platform to create a program where girls from underserved communities can train at sports clubs in Porto-Novo, Benin’s capital city. Pamela follows the girls over the course of six months and then organizes a big competition that is aired on television.
“Since I started basketball, I’ve never seen anyone promoting sports only for girls and young women,” Pamela says. “My program would put a focus on the girls who need it most. I want to go back to places like my hometown, Kouti, and show people there is hope and light in the world. Yes, there are challenges, but as judo taught me, if we stay focused and calm through the challenges then we can find solutions.”
Although Pamela has the support of strong women like her mother in Benin, she has not found career women who can serve as sources of experienced guidance. In an effort to achieve her goals, she hopes to expand her skills as a leader and influencer, as well as add news tools in business and sports marketing. Deborah Stroman, the director of the Center for Sport Business at the University of North Carolina, is a strong fit to guide Pamela on her journey. A former college basketball player and assistant coach, Deborah has more than three decades of business, entrepreneurship, and athletic industry experience. She has a dynamic set of skills and lessons that imparts to Pamela to direct her own goals. Together, these two strong women are finding the solutions needed to bring hope to the girls and women who most need it throughout Benin.