Tony Osauzo, Benin
The problems of human trafficking and illegal migration have in recent times attracted more attention from developed countries, partly because of the toll the twin evils are taking on their resources and security.
This, perhaps, explains why many developed nations are now beginning to show more interest in addressing the problems of human trafficking and illegal migration of people, especially from underdeveloped countries of the world, by coming up with initiatives to tackle the menace from the roots in the countries of origin.
One such initiative was from the United States, which last week launched the Girls’ Mentoring and football programme, “Goal! Strong girls, Bright Future,” in Benin, the Edo State capital.
The objective of the programme put together by the US Consulate in Lagos, was initiated to get young schoolgirls involved in sports, especially footballm, and make a career out of it.
Launching the programme at Iyoba College, Benin, where girls from four schools participated, US Consular-General Claire Pierangelo commended the mentors and trainers for using their skills and expertise to contribute to the growth of Nigeria.
She disclosed that sports diplomacy was an integral part of American efforts to build even stronger relations between the US and Nigeria, stressing that, “Sports diplomacy uses the universal passion for sports as a way to transcend differences and bring people together.”
“Participation in sports teaches leadership, teamwork, and communication skills that help young people succeed in all areas of their lives. And our envoys are here to not only teach these girls football skills, but also to engage young women and girls on a very important topic – human trafficking.
“The US Government is committed to combatting this form of modern slavery through the prosecution of traffickers, the protection of victims, and the prevention of human trafficking.
“The Nigerian government has made impressive efforts to combat trafficking and illegal migration in Edo State and elsewhere. The US commends both federal and state governments for what they have done and we encourage them to do more
“But it is also the responsibility of citizens to help stop trafficking. Through programmes like these, girls can become aware of the dangers of trafficking and learn how to detect and prevent it, and better protect themselves. More importantly, these girls must be encouraged to be confident and feel empowered to pursue their dreams by acquiring an education, thereby making a better life for themselves and improving their communities.
“Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this program, I know it will be a great success. To the girl participants, please, take what you have learned here and share it with your fellow students and peers. I hope you leave here full of motivation and inspiration to become the future leaders of your communities,” she said.
At the event, three female football ambassadors, including two from the US, Staci Wilson and Joanna Lohman, who are former members of the US Women’s National Team, and former Super Falcons goalkeeper, Precious Dede, engaged the schoolgirls.
The trio shared their experiences and struggles, to encourage the girls and educate them on the value of education and sports to achieve greatness in life.
Lohman, who started playing football at the age six in the US, said she had nursed the idea of becoming a professional footballer from her youth, disclosing that 1999 was the turning point in her life, when she led the U S women team to the White House.
“I want this day to be life-changing day for all of you to show you that dreams come true,” she told the Edo schoolgirls, stressing that she worked hard to achieve success and that 16 years later, she is now a professional footballer.
On her part, her American compatriot, Staci Wilson, who started playing football at eight, said she used sports to get to college and up to the University of Carolina, with everything paid for.
She said she later made it to the American women team that won the gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, adding “now I train football teams,” even as she encouraged the girls to work hard to achieve success.
Also, Precious Dede, Super Falcons goalkeeper and captain for many years, said she started playing football at eight and her parents tried to desuade her as they believed only in education.
Precious, the fifth child in a family of seven children, narrated how she dropped out of university after losing her parents, to concentrate on her football career, whoseproceeds she used to sponsor her siblings’ education.
“I joined Falcons in 2000. I served the nation for 15 years,” she said.
She encouraged the girls to love sports while in school but advised them to take their education seriously, saying sports without education would not take them far in life. The trio later taught the girls the rudiments and basic skills of football at the Iyoba College, Benin City.