I have to admit, I’m not a huge sports fan. My small Canadian high school offered only volleyball for girls, and I sat on the bench most of the time. To be honest, I was happier sitting in my room strumming my guitar anyway. But my work in the development field is the spark that has ignited my appreciation for and belief in sports as an agent of social change.
Three years ago, Challenging Heights founded the Winneba United Foundation, a football club for youth at-risk for child trafficking. The majority of the children we rescue from modern slavery on Lake Volta are boys between the ages of 6 and 15, originally hailing from Winneba. Traffickers use deceptive tactics, such as promising to provide for a child’s health, education, and general well-being, and offer enticing sums of money to financially struggling caregivers, who often believe they are making the best decision for their child by sending them away. Poverty, naivete, and lack of access to education all contribute to the endemic nature of trafficking in this community, but we have the capacity to address these three interrelated issues through football.
In our community, lack of access to education contributes to child trafficking on multiple levels. When children are not in school, they are more susceptible to trafficking. They are more likely to be involved in petty trading, and they don’t have school commitments tying them to a particular location. Secondly, these children miss out on education about their rights that would make them more resistant to trafficking. An informed child becomes a powerful agent in protecting both themselves and their friends from the deceptive tactics of traffickers. Finally, these uneducated children grow up with fewer employment options and become trapped in the same cycle of poverty that has driven generation after generation of parents to extreme measures to try to take care their children. If we can break this cycle, we can stop the flow of children from source communities to Lake Volta, and the end of child slavery on the Lake will be in sight.
The Winneba United Foundation addresses all of these issues. All of our players are required to be enrolled and active in school, and to that end, we support our players with school fees and supplies when needed so that no one need be excluded for lack of resources. We also take time to educate our players and fans about the reality of life on the Lake, the tactics that traffickers might use, and their rights as children and as human beings. Players and staff look out for one another. If a member of the team were to go to the Lake, he would already have a built-in support system that would notice, know who to call, and be dedicated to bringing him back. The Foundation offers a unique solution to social problems in our context here in Winneba, but sports have the potential to serve as a medium to address all manner of challenges worldwide.
With this hope in mind, we lend our support to the many great organisations participating in the Fare Network’s #FootballPeople action weeks, addressing a broad range of issues including racism, ableism, refugee rights, and diversity in football. Fare partnered with us to put on our own under-13 tournament in July, sparking a broader movement of youth football initiatives in Winneba and the surrounding area. Challenging Heights, the Winneba United Foundation, and the local youth football community are deeply grateful. We will be following #FootballPeople with interest, and we look forward to the stories and the social change that will come out of these activities.
So if you’re like me and you’d rather scroll through Twitter than embarrass yourself on the field, follow Fare (@farenet) and #FootballPeople and get excited about what is possible when we come together around sport for social change.
This post was written by Lauren Thuringer, Grants Officer