©UNICEF Ghana/2008/ Asselin
By Robin Giri
Footballer Stephen Appiah (centre second row) at a surprise visit to his former school with a crowd of excited young students and his former teachers. Mr. Appiah had not been to his school since he became a football star.
ACCRA, Ghana, 13 February – Stephen Appiah, one of the biggest footballers in Ghana, made a surprise visit to his former primary school to emphasise the importance of education in this West African nation.
The former captain of the national team, which is popularly known as the Black Stars, is one of many African footballers to have partnered with UNICEF to promote the ‘Quality Education for All Children’ campaign.
“You are lucky to have chairs to sit on and toys to play with, because when I was here, we were sitting on the floor and there were no toys,” Appiah said jokingly to the children, referring to his rough childhood in this impoverished neighbourhood near the capital, Accra.
‘School is the first step’
Former teachers hugged him and overjoyed children thronged around him as he answered their questions and distributed footballs, stickers and pocket calendars. He hammered home the idea that education was the key to everything in life – even football.
“Attending school teaches you new skills to solve problems everyday. Football is the same; you have to keep learning new skills and work hard to perfect them,” he told the children. “So remember, school is the first step in anything you want to become in life – even a footballer like me.”
© UNICEF Ghana/2008/ Asselin
Mobile phone campaign
Stephen Appiah distributed stickers and pocket calendars to students at his former primary school in Ghana.
Mr. Appiah’s visit to the school is part of a larger awareness and fundraising campaign organized by UNICEF in collaboration with the Confederation of African Football to raise awareness on the ‘Quality Education for All Children’ campaign during the MTN Africa Cup of Nations, GHANA 2008 – Africa’s biggest international football competition.
Although he did not play in this tournament due to a knee injury, Mr. Appiah is one of five football stars who recorded a series of PSAs encouraging football fans to send a text message from their mobile phones to make a donation.
Football fans in Ghana, Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and South Africa, who subscribe to the MTN mobile phone service, have been donating the local equivalent of $1 by sending an SMS text message with the word “kids” to 1388.
A message to parents
The former captain of the Black Stars was accompanied by members of the national media and UNICEF Ghana Deputy Representative Liv Elden. He also used this opportunity to send a message to parents who were not sending their children to school.
“If you send your children to school, they may have the opportunity to become doctors, lawyers and even the President one day; and they will look after you when you grow old,” Mr. Appiah said.
His message, which was directed at the parents of the approximately 800,000 out-of-school Ghanaian children, was broadcast on all major television and radio stations during the evening news.
The visit was personally memorable for Mr. Appiah – he hadn’t visited his school since he became a football hero.
“Right here is where I learned the basic skills of the game and this is where I began dreaming,” he told the crowd of young cheering students. “But you, too, have to remain in school and study hard – if you want your dreams to come true.”