Harbel, Margibi County - Fabitha B. Duo, 23, was a 12th grade student when she joined the Harbel College football academy in 2016.
She is now a Safety Engineering student at HARCO at the same time a formidable defender for the female football squad.
Duo earned a spot in the team when she met the college president in November 2016, who talked her on the pitch.
In Liberia, football is not a regular sport for women, but Duo gets motivation from her parents, her coach and the college president.
“Since I joined the team I feel very physically fit and healthy, and it is adding up to my knowledge because football is all about accuracy and I am studying safety engineering which requires accuracy,” she said after a recent practice session.
However, she’s optimistic football would offer an alternative career or a stepping-stone to greener pasture.
“I am sure you’re aware that women are now having some advantages in the world,” she said boldly, ignoring the existing challenges women endure.
“I have confidence in myself and I want to build my dreams and I won’t let it go just like that so I’m trying to work and I know I will fulfill my dream.”
“Women that go in the field of engineering can do better and I saw myself performing excellent in the first semester. I know I will make it, because I have forgone a lot of things to focus on my football and my lesson.”
Duo says the core value of the team is unity and the desire for successful is unwavering.
She helps motivate her teammates to stay in school.
“Because I know where I’m coming from I know where I’m going,” she said.
“I have vigor to improve my family life and contribute to my country. So I am working hard.”
Her teammate, Konah Vankeh also joined the academy in 2016 and has been developing her skills and career ambition.
“I think if I continue to play I can become one of the best players in Liberia,” the 15-year-old midfielder said confidently.
Vankeh, a 9th grader at the Firestone Liberia School System, wants to become an accountant but believes football offers an alternative.
So, she carries the team in her heart.
“What is special about our team is the discipline and unity that we are getting here and we focus on a lot of things.”
“I try to tell my friends on the team to be serious so that one day we all can get in the college when we graduate from high school,” she said.
George Q.S. Pele is the coach of the team; he’s proud the college’s sports development is threading on the right path by targeting females.
“Those that are in the college are encouraging the younger ones to work better, and what I see in them is that they are eager to enter the college,” he said.
Despite the slow development of sports in the country and limited opportunities, Pele is confident there’s bright future for the 25 players on his squad.
“I want to congratulate the First Lady (of Liberia, Clar Weah) for becoming an ambassador for women football in Africa and I know that she will help motivate women footballers in Liberia,” he said.
Established in 2012, Harbel College or HARCO education module encompasses sports development, technical skill development and academics.
HARCO uses its football academy for two reasons: keeping girls in school to obtain higher education and a prospect of making football a professional career for female.
Dr. Syrulwa Somah, the college president, says the module is tremendously inspiring students.
“We motivate these students and tell them there’s a brighter future for them, and that one day some of them can become professional footballers,” he said.
We believe in them that some can also become the next Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who set a new dynamism in Africa - that a woman can become a leader and we are very confident some of them can become the next Marta of Brazil, Dr. Somah said.
“So, we help them become mature, teach them how to communicate and interact and help them with their lessons (conduct tutorial) and provide them with food and other items.”
But there are challenges confronting the college. On top of the list is limited resource.
They see that, as an institution, we believe in their potential but sourcing funding is a challenge for the academy, he said.
“Because we love football, we are doing our best. We dig down in our pockets and find resources from other places to keep the academy going.
“This is an investment and it’s no immediate reward that we can get from this, but in the long run if we can produce one or two best players, we know what would happen to this college.”