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Two Worlds — Sofie Junge Pedersen visits WhizzKids United and Play Soccer Ghana

For many girls in Ghana playing football is nothing more than a dream. Deeply rooted inequalities from traditional gender roles mean that rather than go out and play after school, girls are expected to come straight home to do household chores and look after their younger siblings. What’s more, in cases where families are struggling to make ends meet, the girls are forced to miss classes and sell fruit, water or even chewing gum out on the street. The net result is that many of them are unable to take advantage of the opportunities education can create. But two organisations in particular seek to change that.

WhizzKids United (WKU) runs several programmes in Ghana and South Africa to empower girls and give them a voice they never knew they had. Originally founded to provide HIV /AIDS prevention, treatment and support for young people through the medium of football, the organisation has expanded to provide a number of programmes aimed at encouraging more young people, and girls in particular, to attend training sessions and play together in mixed and single-sex teams. In the last year, WKU has reached over 1000 youths in Ghana with a 50/50 split of boys and girls. Not only does the team provide a second home and an invaluable support network to the girls, it educates them about their sexual and reproductive rights — something many girls here are completely unaware they have.

Having supported Youth Opportunity Partnership Programme (YOPP) in northern Ghana for a number of years, Sofie was keen to visit the country and team up with more Ghana-based organisations when she joined Common Goal in March. She desperately wanted to see more girls being empowered and given the chance to play. The chance to discover the voice inside them and understand that they can be whatever they want to be, no matter what their parents say. WhizzKids United was the perfect match.

But the Common Goal movement is much more than a fundraising platform. It creates a lasting connection between the world of professional football and grassroots sport for change organisations. To achieve this members of the Common Goal team are encouraged to get to know the organisations and the people behind them in person. When the chance arose for Sofie, she couldn’t wait to follow in the footsteps of her Common Goal teammates Alexander Esswein, Pauline Bremer and Juan Mata and visit the organisation she supports.

After meeting the staff and being given a tour of the WKU academy and clinic, it was time for her to meet some of the girls in the “on the ball” programme and put her coaching skills to the test. Far from being intimidated by a professional player, the girls were all keen to ask her questions and find out more about her, displaying a real confidence which impressed Sofie. 22 girls were then put through their paces as she laid on a training session giving them the opportunity to benefit from her expertise. Having not only a professional footballer there but a female too made the coaching that much more special and motivating for the girls.

At the end of the day, there was a small surprise in store for Sofie from her players. As a thank you for her visit and coaching, the girls presented Sofie with earrings, a necklace and beaded flip flops — all of which they make as part of the programme. Some souvenirs to mark the start of a lasting friendship between the WhizzKids girls and their coach for the day.

After the coaching session, WKU CEO and Founder Marcus McGilvray accompanied Sofie to visit YOPP in a village outside of Tamale. Having founded Whizzkids back in 2006, Marcus was happy to share some of the experience and expertise gained from managing the organisation for the last twelve years. He offered some advice to YOPP about sustainable ways to grow the organisation and scale their impact. It is this teamwork that is at the heart of the Common Goal cause and it is only through teamwork that we will truly be able to achieve the UN Sustainable Goals.

Marcus from WKU was personally delighted with Sofie’s visit: “it’s really fantastic for our youth and for WKU when not only does someone donate to our programmes, but actually takes the time to come all the way to northern Ghana to spend time seeing our programmes and getting to know us. That really shows why she’s with Common Goal.”

Sofie’s itinerary did not just include one football for good organisation, however, but two. Play Soccer Ghana’s work focuses on maximising lifetime learning and educating young people on health issues and nutrition. Their “Play for Fun, Learn for Life” programme provides young people, no matter their background or gender, with access to education and vocational training. It also helps the kids and young adults acquire social skills positive values like friendship and teamwork which they can then take back into their homes and communities, thus becoming agents of change.

At Play Soccer Ghana

On her first day at Play Soccer she visited the Cape Coast School of Deaf and Blind to play football with some of the kids there, before playing a second match with children at the Oguaa Football for Hope Center later that afternoon. During the games Sofie was keen to stress the importance of education and the doors it can open up.

The next day she travelled to the Amamoma Imam Khomeini Islamic Basic School but didn’t stay long as she had something extra special planned for 60 lucky school children. They headed over to the Cape Coast Sports Stadium that evening to watch a Women’s AFCON match between Mali and Cameron. The kids were treated to a spectacle as Cameroon ran out 4:2 winners. A great way to end her two days with Play Soccer Ghana.

“It was amazing to see the work that WhizzKids United and Play Soccer Ghana do and the difference they make to the lives of children and young people in Ghana. My trip really confirmed why I joined Common Goal in the first place and showed me what we can achieve by teaming up with these great football for good organisations,” said Sofie of her trip.

Just before Sofie had left the WhizzKids United academy, there was one more question for her. “What would you like to do when you retire from football?” asked one of the participants. “I’d love to go into development work and maybe even work for WKU!” she replied. A testament to the impact the trip has made and the commitment and belief she has in the power of football for good. The final question on everyone’s lips: when are you coming back?

Common Goal is uniting the football community in tackling the greatest social challenges of our time. And we can use your help. Join the team at www.common-goal.org

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