Zeta Kromah is an 11-year-old girl from the Bye Pass Community in Monrovia, capital of Liberia. She dreams of becoming a professional football player while still focussing on her education, an opportunity only few children – particularly girls – can afford in Liberia.
Thanks to the Monrovia Football Academy (MFA), founded by William H. Smith and Sekou Manubah, Zeta can now accomplish both dreams.
Opened in October 2015, MFA is contributing to creating a better education system in Liberia, where lack of opportunities hinder youths' empowerment.
In 2013, Liberia's President Johnson Sirleaf defined the education system in her country as "a mess". The leader made the comment after 25,000 high school graduates had failed to pass the University of Liberia's entrance examination.
Three years later, the West African nation – still coping with the devastating effects of an Ebola epidemic that killed more than 4,000 people in the African nation alone – is still struggling to provide an education system that can match the capabilities of Liberian youths.
The country recently announced a plan to privatise primary schools, in a bid to revive the schooling system, which Minister of Education George Werner said "has been in a state of decay for the last three decades."
Liberia (Africa's oldest independent republic) at a glance
- Capital Monrovia (most populous city)
- Population 4.5m ( as per 2015 census)
- Official language: English
- President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
- Biggest cities Monrovia, Gbarnga, Kakata
- Majour religions Christianity, Islam, indigenous beliefs
- Total youth literacy rate (2015) 54.47%, of which male: 64.66%, female: 43.97%
- Life expectancy (2015) 60 (men), 63 (women)
"Zeta provides a great example of the impact MFA can have on Liberia's youth," Smith, MFA president and co-founder told IBTimesUK.
"Before joining MFA, Zeta attended a school with large class sizes, unqualified teachers, and ill-equipped classrooms. Most of her learning occurred after school, when her older brother would take her through her lessons. Now, she is receiving a quality education that encourages her to explore new ideas and challenge herself."
Football can bring about social changes
MFA aims to use football to incentive children to improve their academic performances.
"There's never been a football academy that combines education and football, which are probably the two most attractive things to youths in Liberia, where there are very few opportunities," Smith said.
The academy, founded on a 50/50 gender equity principle, aims to provide Liberian boys and girls with "a life-altering experience" by offering an affordable quality education, professional football coaching, nutrition, and life skills.
MFA, visited by Sirleaf in June 2016, is also trying to bring about social changes and promote gender equality in Liberia, where the consequences of a 14-year civil war still haunts women and girls.
The country is fighting to tackle gender inequality and child labour, with the minister of gender, children and social protection warning the number of child street vendors is on the rise, particularly in urban cities.
"We started with 27 students, 16 boys and 11 girls. We started small because we wanted to test our popularity and make sure that our approach was contextually appropriate," explained Smith.
"We really wanted to avoid the classic mistake where a young American comes and says: 'I have all the answers, you guys just listen to me.' We have now expanded to 51 students, 30 boys and 21 girls."
"When President Sirleaf came to visit the Academy she called it a 'wonderful, great initiative that everyone should support'. We are trying to create new opportunities for our students, and to that end we have started building partnerships with top academic and football institutions both in Liberia and abroad, including the African Leadership Academy, prep schools and universities in the US, and two English football clubs (Tottenham and Watford). Ultimately, our mission is to prepare talented boys and girls to lead positive change in Liberia," he concluded.
For more information on MFA and to contact its board members, you can visit its website here.