Growing up I played sports and every single year I'd receive new athletic gear, thinking nothing of it I until I traveled to Ghana in 2007 and 2008 and saw children without any shoes engaging in soccer games. One moment in particular I will never forget, I was asked to partake in a futbol game by some school kids, and showed up ready with cleats and shin guards. To my surprise, more than half of the children did not have the proper footwear, or even shoes at all for that matter but still they ran, dribbled, and scored without a complaint. I don't think I would be able to relay to you the disbelief and shock I had as a 16 year old Western world Athlete whom had never even imagined playing my favorite sport barefoot.
Fast forward to 2012, when I was a university student athlete at Mcgill reflecting on that unforgettable memory. As an environmental health major I understood that there are very dangerous health risks that pertain to playing sports without any protective footwear. As an athlete I can only imagine the severe difficulty of playing a sport in these conditions. I am now aware of the vast levels of inequality between North American athletic programs and would-be athletes in countries with less favorable economic standards. It’s unfair that a person’s socio-economic status determines their ability to take part in sports, and I for one have a strong belief that every child has the right to play, and the right to safe play at that. So I decided to do what I could in order to change this situation, and although I cannot change this situation for every child, I can change it for some.
After several emails, meetings and brainstorming sessions with Volunteer MBC and the Brampton Mayor's Youth Team, we came up with a template for a charity soccer game. In May 2012, during the ChangeTheWorld – Ontario Youth Volunteer Challenge, thanks to Volunteer MBC, the Brampton Mayor's Youth Team and One Voice-One Team (another Brampton organization), we held a charity soccer game, a park clean up, and BBQ. High school students came together, had fun volunteering, cleaned up the park and the soccer players even wrote inspirational messages on the ChangeTheWorld T-shirts. They brought hundreds of donations of gently used equipment and sports apparel. The support of the organizations involved was exceptional. The project boded well for the community and the high school students who came together to give their time. It enabled the volunteer students and supporters to see that great things are possible if we come together. Following the event several ideas were relayed to me about future events demonstrating promise for functions like this to continue.
The contents from the charity soccer game were personally delivered to the Kumasi Children’s Home, an orphanage of 90 children and young adults located in Kumasi, Ghana. The children were ecstatic; one child couldn’t believe children his age did this for him. The donations not only enabled the children to play their favorite sport safely but also gave them hope. Knowing that people care about them was greater than any material item the children received and that gift is one I am so thrilled to have brought them. I participated in a game of soccer at the Children's home, this time with each child equipped with the proper equipment finally instilling a positive memory about children and sport in Ghana instead of the one I had had that disturbed me for years.
The charity soccer game taught me that although sports may not solve complex social problems in society, they definitely introduce interpersonal traits such as leadership, teamwork, and determination; these in turn enable individuals to take action in other parts of their lives. Sport is important in the lives of children, regardless of where they are born. I feel my work ethic and leadership comes from my foundation in sports and if I continue to apply this to other world issues like public health in hospitals, and other charity projects to help the underprivileged I will acquire the tools to make a significant difference in the world, even if I am just one person.
In 2013, Abena again stepped up to the plate to assist Volunteer MBC with the centre's ChangeTheWorld launch event "ChangeTheWorld One Community at a Time" which took place in Brampton, her own community. The event was organized to honor the memory of Kesean Williams, a 9 year old boy who was shot at his home while watching TV. The event attracted about 300 children and their families and just over 50 high school volunteers and others who donated their time to show the children in Kesean’s elementary school a fun time. Murals were painted and there was a wide variety of entertainment throughout the day. Abena had just finished her last exam and came out to organize a basketball clinic for the younger children who attended the event (Kesean’s favorite sport). She then organized a basket ball game for everyone to enjoy.
In April 2014, Abena graduated from Mcgill University with a B.Sc in Ecological Determinants of Health. She is the Founder/C.E.O. of Aspire for Higher Elite Basketball (www.a4hbasketball.com).
Written by: Abena Addo