Before returning home for winter break last semester, a fellow international student and aspiring filmmaker from Germany, Michael Schmitt, approached me with an idea: How about filming a documentary on Mapi-Topsa, the Liberian refugee girls soccer team I helped initiate?
I welcomed the proposal, hoping it might bring recognition and a sense of motivation to the team.
It wasn’t long until February rolled around and Michael, along with a fellow colleague from his university in Nuremberg, Loraine Blumenthal, arrived in Ghana with their film equipment and an infectious enthusiasm to get the project underway.
Michael and Loraine would spend the next month getting to know the Mapi-Topsa players and coaches in depth. This not only included attending practices and games, but also visiting them in their homes and schools, learning their personal stories of how they survived the successive civil wars in their native Liberia and came to cope as refugees now in Ghana.
Needless to say, everyone on the team has gone through some degree of personal tragedy.
Our midfielder’s father survived the Liberian Civil War only to get killed while a refugee in the Ivory Coast during the political turmoil that engulfed that country in the early 1990s.
Our sweeper was separated from her husband and eldest daughter during the war. Although it has been over 10 years, she still maintains hope that her family is alive and that she will one day reunite with them in Liberia.
The head coach remembers vividly when the rebels rampaged through his village. He was at a market with his family when the rebels came and divided market-goers into two groups. His younger brother and he were placed together in one group, his parents in another. It was the last time he would see his parents.
Some arrived in Ghana without anything or anyone. Our best utility player, for example, learned to fend for herself at an early age, sleeping in a nearby school during the nights. It was not until she became involved in soccer that she found a family.
Amid the trials and tribulations that have defined these refugees’ lives, they have come together to form a stalwart soccer team. There is much one can learn from their perseverance against all odds.
As a grand finale for the documentary, a friendly match against the Ghana International School girls’ soccer team was scheduled. This game would be our most challenging yet.
GIS is one of the more prestigious private schools in Ghana. Its students are provided a rigorous curriculum modeled after the British grammar school. A majority of these students will go on to study abroad and, most likely, form the new generation of professional and business elite in Ghana.
The soccer team itself is a formidable rival. To begin with, it is sponsored by Nike, its head coach used to play for a professional league in Germany and one of its players is currently a member of the under-17 Ghanaian girls’ national team.
Indeed, we were at a slight disadvantage. However, in the field of soccer everyone is on equal footing — money can’t outshine natural skill.
The game turned out to be a heart-pounding event. By the end of the first half, Mapi-Topsa was winning 1-0. Starting the second half, however, GIS punctured Mapi-Topsa’s lead early on by scoring two goals. Mapi-Topsa would bounce back, though, to equalize the game, 2-2. The game would continue to go back and forth until the final whistle saw the game end at three goals apiece.
The coaches wanted the game decided on penalties, but players on both teams protested. In the end, it wasn’t about winning or losing, but about bringing two different worlds (that of the private school student and refugee) together and having fun. Yet again, we adults learned a valuable lesson.
Luci Storelli-Castro is a senior political science and philosophy major. Her column appears every Tuesday in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.