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Soccer Star Ashlyn Harris Shares Her Liberia Travel Diary: Supporting African Girls in Sports

Photo: Courtesy of Ashlyn Harris

While most people were scrolling for Cyber Monday deals, U.S. Women’s National Team goalie Ashlyn Harris and coach Jill Ellis boarded the first of three flights taking them from Orlando, Florida, to Monrovia, Liberia. It was only appropriate that they arrived in the capital of the coastal West African country on Giving Tuesday: the two came as sports envoys of the U.S. embassy to visit the Monrovia Football Academy, the first of its kind in Liberia to combine formal education with soccer training. In a culture where soccer, or football, is commonly referred to as manball, it was with great enthusiasm that the women’s soccer stars visited to support firsthand the work the academy is doing to break traditional gender barriers.
“They’re doing groundbreaking work by giving girls the chance to play football, and we want to help in whatever way we can,” says Ellis. That included coaching lessons from Ellis, the women’s 2015 FIFA World Coach of the Year, and goalie training with Harris for the 50 8- to-12-year-old students. “Education there is not a right—it’s for the privileged and you have to pay for it,” explains Harris. “We just told our stories and hoped it impacted the women to [stay in] school no matter how difficult.”
Their whirlwind trip included watching soccer practice with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, karaoke with the winner of Liberian Idol, a cocktail party in their honor at the U.S. embassy, shopping for traditional West African dashikis and locally mined gold on downtown Benson Street, and taking in the sweeping view from the roof of the Ducor Hotel. “The things I saw and the people I met put a lot in perspective,” says Harris of her experience. “It definitely humbled me and grounded me.”

Source: Vogue
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