MONROVIA, Liberia — Liberia, a country located in West Africa, lags behind most other African countries in terms of education statistics. According to the CIA World Factbook, the literacy rate is estimated to be at about 47.6 percent. This is an unfortunate statistic for a nation where more than 60 percent of the population is younger than the age of 25. However, LEAD Africa is working in Liberia to improve education through the LEAD-Monrovia Football Academy.
The Education Crisis in Liberia
The education crisis in Liberia can be attributed to two primary factors. First, during the 14-year period of civil unrest between 1989 and 2003, close to 60 percent of school buildings were destroyed or damaged. Consequently, only a few schools remained open during this period, most of them in urban areas. Additionally, many of the trained teachers either took up other forms of employment or fled the country. Second, the Ebola outbreak in 2015 led to school closures.
As a result of these two factors, education in Liberia has experienced a number of challenges such as poor learning outcomes, low student enrollment and poor completion rates. UNICEF estimated that 46 percent of children never complete their primary education. It is also estimated that more than a third of both primary and secondary teachers are unqualified.
In order to deal with this crisis, the Liberian Ministry of Education has partnered with UNICEF and other organizations such as USAID and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) to train teachers and revise the learning curricula. They are also repairing old classrooms or building new ones. In addition, other organizations have emerged to do what they can to improve life for children in Liberia. One such example is LEAD Africa.
LEAD Africa in Liberia
LEAD Africa established its flagship project, LEAD-Monrovia Football Academy (MFA), in Liberia in 2015. The academy was founded by Liberian former professional footballer Sekou Dgeorges Manubah and an American social entrepreneur William Smith. From its 75 selected applicants between the ages of 8 and 14, 20 will be admitted into the program every year. The MFA improves the lives of its student-athletes through sports, education and life-skills training. LEAD-MFA tries to make a conscious effort to recruit a diverse student body in order to increase the student’s exposure and interactions with people from different genders as well as cultural backgrounds. The students are taught positive social inclusion values, including gender equality.
The academy places education at the forefront with both students and faculty from the College of William & Mary and the University of Oxford to help oversee the educational aspects of the program. Students engage in a minimum of two hours of sports training per day. They are also taught about HIV/AIDS prevention, conflict resolution, financial and digital literacy and other life skills. The academy also ensures its students have “balanced, nutrient-rich diets.”
LEAD in Africa Expands
Since its founding, LEAD-MFA has been renting facilities for both education and football training. However, as part of their growth, the academy purchased 10-acres of land on which to build their own facilities. To this end, they have partnered with Orange-Liberia to allow Orange customers to make directions through mobile money. Customers who make donations via Orange Money will then be rewarded with the equivalent of airtime to use for 24-hours.
In September 2019, LEAD opened an academy in Morocco, which currently has 40 students between the ages of 8 and 10. By 2050, LEAD hopes to open 50 academies across Africa and empower 25,000 youth every year. While the first two academies focus on football, LEAD aims to have a diverse array of sports in its future locations.
Local and International Support
LEAD Africa already receives a lot of support both locally and internationally. In Liberia, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of the donors of the organization. Current President George Weah, who is himself a renowned former professional footballer, is also vocal in his support and posted a congratulatory message on his Facebook page to the under 15 girls’ team after they participated in a tournament in the USA. Internationally, they have received support from South African rugby player Tendai Mtawarira and Atlanta United FC midfielder Julian Gressel. Two of the organization’s ambassadors are former United States Women’s National soccer team coach Jill Ellis and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
The work being done by LEAD Africa in Liberia is playing an important role in creating a brighter future for the children as well as solving the education crisis in the country. As the organization continues to grow, its effect will no doubt be felt all across the continent of African and the rest of the world.
– Sophia Wanyonyi