Nestled in rural and dusty Old Akrade, a village along the banks of the Volta River, is one of the world's most progressive and inspiring schools, The Right to Dream Academy.
It all began in 1999 when 19 year-old Tom Vernon travelled to Ghana and, while scouting for Manchester United FC, quickly realised there were not enough opportunities for the many talented children and youth. He decided to set up a school system, which run with heart and vision, uses football, education and character development to transform lives.
The world of sport and development is nothing new. The unique model of holistic sustainability at Right to Dream however, is what sets it apart from other organisations not only in this field, but in education and sports around the world.
Right to Dream (RtD) believes that the world needs more role models: role models who truly understand the challenges faced by young people in the developing world; role models who have the talent and opportunity to express it, and those who have the ability to inspire, create and lead positive change. Tom knew that the best way to achieve long lasting results was to integrate directly into the local culture and empower the children to become the change.
RtD is a boarding school which hosts 80 boys and 16 girls and places equal emphasis on football, education and character development. Children with exceptional football and academic skills are scouted as early as 8 years old from various countries in West Africa, and offered a full residential scholarship to Right to Dream (Schools and Academy) until the age of 18. The kids follow a disciplined schedule with early mornings beginning at 5:30 and days full with devotion, classes, training, personal growth and prep time until bedtime at 9:30. They live, eat, learn, play and grow together as a community. The older kids support the younger ones who are new to the academy and often shy, taking on the role of leaders by encouraging and inspiring them. The incredible staff of teachers and coaches are imperative for the success of the kids. Along with a strict academic policy and professional football standards, RtD implement's a character development program, which works to instill core values such as social intelligence, mindfulness and balance in all aspects of the kids personal and professional lives. It is one of the main factors why I believe the students excel when they leave the academy at the age of 18 (sometimes even as young as 14) and go to elite universities or professional football clubs in the US and Europe.
Before arriving at RtD I had been told many stories about their success: how they began in a rented house near the slums of Accra using dirt pitches, the numerous international youth championships they have won, the recent purchase of FC Nordsjælland Football Club in Denmark, and their exciting and ambitious global vision. I watched videos online to get a feel for the environment I would soon be integrating into. However, words cannot describe the feeling when you drive through the gates at RtD. The green grassy pitches are perfectly maintained. The buildings are open air and exude dedication through inspirational quotes around the campus. It is filled with positive energy from the laughter, dancing, shouting and excitement that comes from 100 kids fulfilling their dream together. The academy is well respected by all the students, teachers, employees and volunteers. Multiple students told me that RtD has become their home and the community is their family. A day in RtD is full of passion, motivation and intention.
Right to Dream aims to discover and nurture role models by providing youth the opportunity to fulfill their potential, to ultimately create a better future for their communities and country. It is encouraging individuals to live up to their highest capacity and to impact the world around them...it is truly the art of yoga in action and is one that has left an imprint on my heart.