By Harry Lawrie |
West Africa is an area of the world which possess such talented, hardworking, intelligent and incredible people, however the potential of West Africa (and Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole) is only relatively recently being nourished and aided to create success.
One such organization that is aiding this process is Right to Dream. Based in Ghana, this football academy is much more complex than a couple of pitches and coaches. The academy doubles as a high achieving school and board for over 90 students, and after twenty years of immensely hard work, it is really becoming not only a national, but global success, in helping talented young Africans reach their potential as footballers or students in America, the UK and Denmark to name but a few of the countries that some of the students now reside in, living their dream.
I was recently lucky enough to have an interview with King Osei Gyan, an ex-student of the academy, who after his football career, returned to the academy where he now works as an executive member, helping inspire students to fulfill their potential. I met King in Denmark a few years ago, and his warm welcome and kindness is something I will always remember. I would certainly say he is someone who i look up to and have a lot of respect for, and so I was very exited when he offered his time for an interview.
One of the things you will notice when meeting anyone who has come through the Right to Dream system, is their character. Not only their politeness and warmth but also their ambition and drive for success. I wanted to ask King what it is that instills this sort of character and mindset in the students.
It was clear from what he said that the character development program run at the academy is the answer. This unique program is essential in forming not only good people, but also leaders. If a student can learn to lead and apply that to football, it is one of the most transferable skills that can be put into practice in every job a student could end up having.
Furthermore, another aspect of the character program is giving back. I asked King why so many students, such as David Accam and King himself, travel back to Ghana and give back to local communities. The idea of coming back to Ghana, from a country such as America, where a number of students end up, and where everything you could want is at your disposal, is a real obstacle, but King told me that schemes and small projects are the key to helping get role models to return to Ghana and help other generations. For example David Accam is an ex-student who is now thriving in the MLS and who competed for Ghana in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. However, the fame and comfort he now enjoys in the USA did not stop him returning in 2016 to open a community pitch in the city of Kumasi, and this is down to his humility and character, that was grown as a student of the academy.
The academy has thrived in Ghana, and every student who enters the academy comes already with a pre-installed work ethic and desire to achieve and better their own life and the life of their families and those around them. Personally, I believe this is somewhat down to the lack of opportunities present in Ghana at the moment to help children improve their livelihood. Taking this into account I asked King if such a rigorous system of education, football, homework, community work and tours, would work in a developed country like the US or UK, where children do not need to work as hard to achieve a comfortable standard of living. King certainly though it could. Once again he said that it was about instilling a mindset of hard work and ambition. King himself has worked extremely hard and now lives pleasantly, however still wakes up at 5:30 for, “20 minutes of Yoga, 20 minutes of learning and 20 minutes of goal setting.” That sort of determination to better oneself is not only down to his own natural character, but down to what he has been taught in character development, and if the same program could be taught and implemented to sportsmen and women in the UK and USA we would see vast benefits on and off the pitch. I was skeptical at first, but hearing King talk with such confidence that it could be achieved has somewhat changed my mindset and I myself am much more optimistic that the RtD program could be put in place worldwide, something King also said he hopes will happen in the future at an even greater level than just now.
An additional aspect of the academy that I was interested in besides the character program was the education. I was keen to find out if over time, the academy has become more academically focused, and uses football more as a vessel to get into higher education in the states and the UK. King recognized that academics had become increasingly important at the academy and that it was essential in the formation of well rounded role models and was also vital for students after they leave the game, allowing them to move into other industries if wanted, with a degree and good education behind them to support their ambitions once the playing days are over.
However it certainly hasn’t over taken football in terms of its importance. For example, to get into the academy football ability is the most important aspect of a trialist, and their intelligence/education is based of a reasoning test, not off of a syllabus. King felt like the football and education at the academy are at a good balance. This year for example, there will not only be football tours, but a robotics team will be representing RtD and Ghana, at the world robofest championships in Michigan, displaying the immense talent in both the classroom and on the pitch.
The academy is growing continuously and the talent it is harnessing in one of the most under-provided areas of the planet is essential in improving the lives of Ghanaians and West Africans for years to come. The academy is not simply a factory of good footballers and good grades though. The academy grows incredible individuals and incredible people who I am very fortunate to have met, and that is how they are changing the future of West Africa, through the beautiful game.
Harry Lawrie is a student in London, England, and a writer on the blog platform Medium.