YES Programs



Developing Future Liberian Leaders through Football

The US. Ambassador to Liberia stands with youth holding soccer balls

By Sona Traore (YES 2010-2011, Liberia, placed by YFU in Montgomery County, MD)

The U.S. Embassy in Liberia recently published an article about Ambassador Michael McCarthy visiting the LEAD Monrovia Football Academy (LEAD MFA). YES alumna Sona Traore was in the first YES cohort of Liberian alumni and is the executive director of LEAD MFA. The YES program spoke with Sona about her YES experience and how it impacted her life.

The LEAD Monrovia Football Academy (LEAD MFA) is an independent academy which serves underserved youth from across Liberia. There are currently around 150 residential students ranging from third to tenth grade studying at LEAD MFA. The students receive academic instruction and football coaching, and also receive lessons on leadership, accountability, enthusiasm, and discipline. 

Sona with three participants

Every day, I draw on my experience with the YES program in my current work with LEAD MFA. One aspect that is particularly inspiring is the YES program’s emphasis on volunteerism and paying it forward. While in the U.S., I participated in many community service activities, which I then shared with my own community in Liberia when I returned. My host parents also inspire me in my work. They were both educators; my host mom was a special education teacher and my host dad was a principal. Their influence shaped my view on education and made me believe that I was capable of creating change in my country. I also participated in a number of leadership programs while in the U.S. One of the most impactful experiences I had was attending the Better Understanding for a Better World Summit, where I learned about the importance of intercultural and interfaith dialogue. This focus on the coexistence of people from different backgrounds is something I carry into my work with LEAD MFA.

LEAD MFA is impactful in a number of different ways. Growing up, I was interested in playing basketball, but I never pursued it because of the stereotype that only boys can play sports. At LEAD MFA, we emphasize having a gender balance and allowing all students to fully realize their potential. LEAD MFA also supports students in a number of aspects outside of football coaching and academics. We provide life skills, pastoral care, good nutrition, and healthcare. We aim to give students the tools they need to be empathetic, ethical, and effective leaders in Liberia, and through this, we believe we can make Liberia into a better place for all. 

Read more about LEAD MFA on the U.S. Embassy of Liberia website.