Bringing Hope to Liberia’s Children Through Soccer

Editor’s Note: In January, we shared with Pitch readers the efforts of North Texas resident Doc Lawson to build a youth sports infrastructure in his native Liberia, which is still emerging from decades of civil war. In this issue, Lawson updates us on his most recent visit, and lays plans for the future.

The most challenging yet rewarding group to organize during the Y of Liberia and DonamiSport’s inaugural football (soccer) program was the 4-8 year olds. This kind of program is unheard of in Liberia, and this is the first time organized play is being coordinated for this age group. For one thing, adults are too busy trying to find ways to feed their household than to plan play activities for children.

Following a civil war 20 years ago that destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, Liberia is now one of the poorest countries in the world. It is not a culture where adults take children to organized sports activities. In order to run a test program for 4-8 year olds, I had to pick the right community and personally facilitate the program. As luck would have it, a small, open field was in front of the compound where I lived. Though it was part bush and part garbage dump, it was just the right size for a small soccer field, and I was able to negotiate with the owner to use it for three months.

A group of 10-14 year-old boys from that community who play in our soccer league volunteered to clean up the space as part of their required community service project for playing in our league. I knew adults would not be available to bring the children to the field and the kids would have to walk on their own, so I focused on coordinating and building trust with families within a 100-yard radius of the field.

To my surprise, over 300 children between the ages of 4-6 lived within my target distance. I walked through the community in the late afternoons for three weeks prior to the organized play, just getting to know the families and children. I hired four 16-year-olds from the community to help round up the children twice a week to play on the field.

Due to the lack of clean, available drinking water and uncertainty if the children would get something to eat prior to coming to the field, I provided both water and a snack for each child for each session. My four helpers’ other responsibility was to help me walk all the 4- and 5-year-olds home after games and practices.

We maxed out with 200 children participating for six weeks. We transformed the community, and by the end of the six weeks, adults, parents and guardians of the kids were actually coming to the field to watch the children play. For the first time, children were playing together in large numbers in a safe space. What a social breakthrough for the children with many lessons learned to try in other communities!

You can see me holding hands with some of my rookies above, taking them home after playtime. Now, I’m making plans to host more than 300 children for our next season.

Thanks to all for helping, giving hope and understanding that all children deserve safe spaces throughout the world. Six thousand children participated in our soccer 2013 spring league!

To make a donation to support Doc Lawson’s community outreach efforts in Liberia, download the donation form linked here or contact Doc Lawson at dlawson@donamisport.org or 214-783-1006. Then, check out Donami’s amazing development plans at www.hidell.com/liberia.html and Google “Doc Lawson Liberia” for more details!

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