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Soccer and Teaching Bring Semblance of Normalcy to Refugee Youth's Lives

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Players do not have shoes to play, but football helps them forget and brings children together 

June 2011: Having to play soccer in their socks, mismatched shoes and sandals is the least Nicholas, Venance and Gervais' worries*.

At the end of last year, the three childhood friends fled their homes in their native Cote d'Ivoire, a country ravaged by civil war.

"We headed for the [Liberian] border on December 16th [2010] without our parents," says Nicholas. "We heard gunshots and ran."

The three arrived in Mah Diaplay, a remote, once-tiny village in Liberia's Nimba County which has swelled to seven times its original size after absorbing close to 500 refugees.

It was then that staff from Plan International, a humanitarian organization dedicated to the improvement of the quality of life of deprived children in developing countries, approached them to retrain as educators to teach younger children in the local elementary school—and to join a community soccer team along with other refugees.

In mid-June, the early weeks of the rainy season and despite many of their teammates' clear lack of proper equipment, particularly shoes, they play the rival local Liberian team, bringing just a bit of normalcy to their turbulent lives.

"Soccer brings us together," says Nicholas. "It lets us forget."

Plan emergency action

Plan provides education for children and recreational activities for approximately 8,000 Ivorian refugee and Liberian host community children and youth aged three through 25. Overall, about 14,000 people in Liberia's crisis-affected Nimba and Grand Gedeh counties are served by Plan's emergency response program.

In a twist of irony, Nicholas who was deprived a chance to go to university because he had to run for his life weeks before graduating high school, has been trained by Plan to teach younger refugee children in French at Mah Diaplay School.

His friend Gervais managed to graduate only to be prevented from starting university after it closed because of the fighting.

* Name changed for child protection reasons.

Read more about Plan's emergency action in Liberia.

Read more about Plan's work in Liberia.