Tobi Gopon '04 organized the drive after hearing about the Bundubuaran Liberian refugee camp in Ghana from St. Olaf alumna Karen Spencer '03, who is teaching in Accra, Ghana. The camp is home to some 60,000 refugees who have fled civil war in their home country of Liberia. About 10,000 of those refugees are orphaned children.
Spencer organized a soccer team with the children who attend the camp's school in order to encourage socialization between them. Despite their enthusiasm for the game, the team lacked proper soccer equipment, often substituting sacks of rice or flattened basketballs for soccer balls. Spencer wrote to Gopon about the lack of proper equipment, and he began to search for a way to help out the team.
A soccer player himself, Gopon found an article in the EuroSport soccer magazine about the passback program which donates soccer gear to disadvantaged youth. Gopon wrote to the program, describing the need of the children in Ghana and received 80 jerseys, 25 pairs of shoes, 80 shoe bags, 20 balls and eight nets.
Now, Gopon is looking for donations to pay the $900 that it costs to send the equipment to the camp. Members of the St. Olaf men's and women's soccer teams, the intramural soccer teams and Karibu, headed by Mustafa Dualeh '06, have joined Gopon in working to collect money to send the gear to Ghana.
Gopon feels that the soccer gear is important in allowing children at the refugee camp - who have witnessed a tremendous amount of violence in their lives - a chance to participate in an activity with a sense of normalcy. "The kids love to play, and I say, why not give them a chance to be kids," Gopon said.
He cited his own interest in soccer as one of the factors that led him to organize the drive.
"I remember how important soccer was to me as a kid and how much I enjoyed playing the game," Gopon said. "I want other kids to have that same experience."
Erik Halaas '07 agreed that a love for the game encouraged him to assist Gopon in spreading the word about Ghana's need.
"I've always enjoyed playing soccer, and it's nice to be able to help kids that want to play," he said.
"People have been generous," Eric Steege '04 said, estimating that the group has received about $450 so far - or about half of the necessary amount - from donations at their table.
Matt Osborne '05 said the group is "looking for a loose change donation. Or, someone can help just by spreading the word about what we're trying to do."
Gopon's group will keep their donation station outside the cafeteria for another week.