Harbel — Attracting high school students, especially females, to college education is a herculean task Harbel College (Harcol) in Firestone, Margibi County has embarked on.
"Our desire is to make a hub of sports to produce men and women that will go on and graduate from here and they can play for the Lone Star of Liberia or even play in the county meet."
"Our desire is one day we will turn on the TV - we want to see men and women from Harbel College... , we are willing to hold on to that dream. It is not a crime to dream big for your nation, and that [is] what we are doing here" - Dr. Syrulwa Somah, President, Harbel College
The college launched its sports academy on Saturday, February 11 for both male and female students with the optimism of attracting more students in the next couple of years.
Speaking at the inauguration of the sports academy, Liberia's Youth and Sports Minister, Saah Charles N'Tow, said the vision to initiate the project is unique and has been a project he, too, had desired since he started working in government.
"This is a vision that sees sports as an opportunistic conduit for the development of young people," said the Youth and Sports Minister, adding that sports can help or attract young people to education.
Hailing the college for its steadfastness and commitment to educating Liberia's youthful population, he emphasized the importance of motivating the youth.
"We should try to give young people what they want, in order for us to be able to encourage them do what they want to do," N'Tow said.
Stressing the vital role sports play as a unifier, and how it has helped eased tension and conflict amongst Liberians during the country's troubling days, N'Tow expressed optimism for the future of the sports academy.
"This idea is such an important idea, am praying and hoping that no one will kill this dream - that this dream will grow and turn Margibi and Liberia into another space that create players and people who will fly our flag beyond our shores," he said.
Established in 2012 by the legislature and accredited by the commission on higher education, the college started with a limited budget around US$250,000 but appears to be the "smallest college with the biggest heart".
The college offers Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, Safety Energy, Renewable Energy, Information Technology, Climate Change, Geography, Environmental Science and Liberian Studies.
Aiming to improving its admission of students and at the same time showing commitment for luring more female students through the sports program, the college uses athleticism as a means of keeping the young people in school.
With the opening of the academy, which already has almost 30 female players, Harcol President recalled how he and other visionaries were determined to initiate the program years back even though their efforts were shattered.
"What kills good ideas is human being; good idea will never be killed by diseases like malaria, cholera, or HIV. But it is human being who is inclined to kill good ideas," Dr. Syrulwa Somah told the audience at the launch of the sports academy.
In 2006, Dr. Somah and others lobbied with the Brazilian Embassy in the United States to start a sports academy in the country, but it failed because of ill fitted bottlenecks back in Liberia.
"So when I became President of Harbel College, one of my passions was to make sure that young girls' attentions are drawn to engineering," he said, adding that sport is a conduit of attracting young women to technical training and skills in applied science.
"Our desire is to make a hub of sports to produce men and women that will go on and graduate from here and they can play for the Lone Star of Liberia or even play in the county meet," Dr. Somah said confidently.
"Our desire is one day we will turn on the TV - we want to see men and women from Harbel College... , we are willing to hold on to that dream. It is not a crime to dream big for your nation, and that [is] what we are doing here."
Harcol sports academy will scout and select students from grade 9th to 12th who will then play on the team for up to four years and later stand the chance of enrolling in the college.
The prospect for the sports academy appears to be bright but it will need some help from the community to ensure players/students are motivated to stay in school.
Earlier, the Youth and Sports Minister amplified the role of the community and said they should take ownership, while adding that the program can help galvanize the community into one people and promote the talents of students to the international stage.
"If you give these young people more than the sports, if you prepare them for the future, then football becomes something that will not just be the only thing they depend on but get ready to become engineers tomorrow," Minister N'Tow said.
He assured that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is committed to promoting such initiative which, he said, was highlighted in her recent address to the nation when she called for the promotion of sports in the country.
Also Speaking at the launch was the Technical Director of the National Football team, Kelvin Sebwe who hailed the initiative by the college".
"It's quite laudable."
Mr. Sebwe, who played professional football for many years in Europe, told the audience that sports and education are important and when the two merged they can yield great results.
He also encouraged the female players by calling on them to strike a balance - playing sports and getting education.
"Do what you can do; do it with commitment and diligence," he said.
For these students, the sports academy is a means of rejuvenating their desire to continue playing football under a professional stewardship.
Sabella Doue is a 12th grader of the Firestone High School; she believes playing sports gives her a zest to make her family and Liberia proud.
"I feel soccer is good for me; it's an exercise that keeps me strong and make me more beautiful," she said.
"I will like to tell other girls out there that they should be encouraged to join sporting activities. It is good to play sports because it keeps you healthy and make you popular and also promote your chance of going to college here."
Another female footballer, Naomi Paye, is amazed to see herself playing football.
"Because I had not been playing soccer before, but it's like a dream for me," she said, while saying misperception about women playing football doesn't bother her.
And like Dr. Somah, they are upbeat by the academy as they look to begin more practices in the coming days to improve their skills while keeping an eye on college education at Harcol in the next few years.