Soccer Conquest and Rescue: From Winning The World to Saving It

By Osprey Hunter Brown

So, you won the World Cup and ­­every major European championship that the soccer world cares about— what do you do now?  Well, aside from maybe renegotiating your Nike contract, you go back to your place of origin and empower the children there through the sport that has done so much for you.  At least that is what one of the best defenders in the game of soccer, Marcel Desailly, decided to do. After retiring from soccer in 2006, Desailly began his humanitarian work.  He became a UNICEF representative and began partnering with several different organizations that he felt passionate about.

Though he would eventually return to his homeland, Ghana, to assist the youth there, he began his journey as a prolific French footballer.  Soccer is a sport where the goal scorers often get all the glory.  But Desailly helped win the World Cup on a French national team that was not receiving production from its star strikers.  In fact, it was the defense that kept France in the tournament; and game winning goals came from the defense and the midfielders.  Desailly played center-back.  This means he was often the last tackle that prevented the opposing attackers from shooting on goal. As a center-back, he was the most important defender on a World Cup winning team that held the most prolific scoring nation, Brazil, scoreless in the championship match.  He holds the record for appearances for the French national team at 116.

After conquering the soccer world, Desailly set his sights on curing the ails of his native country.  Without a doubt, Marcel Desailly has done a tremendous service for the game of soccer.  But he has not forgotten how much soccer has done for him, and he is trying to give the youth of his country the opportunity to benefit from the game as well.   His recent venture is to represent the OrphanAid Africa project in his hometown Accra, Ghana.  While Accra is the capital of Ghana, and the center of politics and economic trade, the majority of people in the greater Accra area live in its outskirts in shanty towns.  In the outskirts of Accra, most people are farmers or fishers who make their living by selling their goods on the dirt roads which lead to the metropolitan center.  In these rural areas outside the metropolis, a high value is not placed on gaining academic knowledge.  Children are valuable farm-hands, and so they are not encouraged by their parents to pursue an education.

In these impoverished rural areas, with many different burdens on family life, it is difficult to prioritize school. OrphanAid Africa works to alleviate some of these burdens, and  prevent children from being put into institutional care.  Many times, when one or more parents in a family die, it becomes too difficult for the remaining members to support the children.  For this reason, children are often placed in orphanages.  OrphanAid fights to ensure children stay in the familial context by providing aid and placing children with other members of the family.  In addition, OrphanAid has put a considerable amount of work into institutional reform to improve the care and education that children who are placed in institutions receive.  Desailly became the spokesperson for OrphanAid when OrphanAid partnered with the Laureus Sports Academy to jointly promote health and education through soccer in Ghana. The sports aspect of the Laureus program, which includes other sports like basketball, provides a means to access the community and its youth.

The partnership is meant to provide at risk youth in rural Accra with needed structure and incentive to attend school.  It goes without saying that Desailly is a national hero.  After leaving Accra as a young boy he realized unparalleled achievements in soccer.  He is a fantastic role model and he takes that job seriously.  He visits the small villages and spends time with the children in the program to teach them discipline and focus through soccer.  Through the beloved sport of his country, Desailly is able to help start a conversation with his people about reaching a way of life they had not yet envisioned.

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