Feb 082009
Authors: Ariel SenaCalvillo

The young girls of the Budaburam Liberian Refugee Camp in Ghana, Africa — barred from going to school, forced to care for sick family members and work in the fields to gather their own food –/had nothing to distract them from the struggles of everyday life before Luci Storelli-Castro arrived.

While attending the University of Ghana in the 2007-2008 academic year on an Academic-Year Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholarship, Storelli-Castro, a now-CSU graduate with degrees in political science and philosophy and former editorial columnist for the Collegian, volunteered at an elementary school and taught English to a class of 52 already bilingual and trilingual seven-year-old children.

Storelli-Castro went through what she described as several “rewarding” and “life-changing” experiences while in Ghana.

As she changed her life, however, she changed others’.

While abroad, Storelli-Castro visited Budaburam, a Liberian Refugee camp along the Ivory Coast. There, she met a multitude of people displaced by the Liberian Crisis, a now decades-old conflict in the West African country.

“One doesn’t fully understand the degree of misery that they live in,” Storelli-Castro said of the child soldiers, rape victims and people tortured during the war — individuals in the camp who “had lost their livelihood and dreams.”

With that in mind, Storelli-Castro took action in the best way she thought possible.

She developed a soccer team, with the help of three other refugees, for the girls of the camp — the ones who had been hit hardest by their displacement, those who Storelli-Castro said appeared “vulnerable” and needed her.

“We started from scratch,” Storelli-Castro said, explaining the challenges faced when starting the team.

The camp had little supplies for soccer and the girls were ill-equipped. Other concerns were whether the girls would hurt themselves playing on the bare ground, littered with rocks and hard dirt and if they ate enough during the day to be able to play.

Together, the band of girls became the team Mapi, a pet name Storelli-Castro called her dad, who is an avid soccer fan. Over time, she worked with the players to get their minds off of their hardships and to “give the girls an outlet to be girls.”

During her time coaching, a fellow foreign German exchange student asked to follow her to the camp. He filmed her work and is currently editing it into a documentary to air on German TV this year.

“People might step up and help the team,” Storelli-Castro said in response to the documentary and the effect she hopes it will have on those who watch it.

Storelli-Castro, who applied for the full-ride scholarship in her senior year, did so because she was drawn to the theme: “To further international understanding and friendly relations among people of different countries and geographical areas” according to http://www.rotary.org.

The process was tedious but she knew she wanted to go to Africa and her family supported her throughout and beyond.

“I think that this was just Luci,” her mother, Liliana Castro, said, summing up her daughter’s choice to go to Africa. Castro knew her daughter was an educated risk taker and wanted her to further her education outside of the classroom.

Liliana Castro and Luci Storelli-Castro’s brother Nikolas Storelli-Castro visited Luci Storelli-Castro in Ghana and brought books and other supplies to the students. Luci Storelli-Castro said it was a “huge deal” when her mother brought a pencil sharpener because the children and teachers had never seen one before.

Nikolas Storelli-Castro, who described himself as Luci Storelli-Castro’s quiet and cautious opposite, said of Luci Storelli-Castro’s decision to work in Africa, “I applauded her for not taking the easy way out.”

For Luci Storelli-Castro, the time she spent in Ghana helped her to live according to her own standards.

“Helping Liberian refugees shouldn’t be charity but a duty,” she said.

When Luci Storelli-Castro returned from Ghana, she wanted to continue her duty. Since she couldn’t find work related to her majors, she found “good jobs during the gap” between her degrees. She currently teaches Spanish at Shepardson Elementary, participates in the OASIS Mentoring Program for “at risk” youth in Fort Collins and is an English as a Second Language teacher at Front Range Community College.

She plans on continuing to work with these programs until she “makes a commitment” to a graduate school with an international conflict resolution program.

Luci Storelli-Castro still plays an active role with her Liberian and Ghanan friends by following current news of the conflict and works to spread the word about the Ambassadorial Rotary Scholarship to those who she believes need to learn more outside the classroom.

Staff writer Ariel Sena-Cavillo can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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