Sanneh Foundation: Empowering Haitian Girls

July 12, 2015

For nearly two decades Tony Sanneh made a name for himself on the professional soccer field. In his second career as founder and executive director of the Tony Sanneh Foundation, he uses soccer as a catalyst to fight poverty and racism and to create opportunities for youth who might otherwise find them elusive.

During the school year, Sanneh Foundation mentors establish relationships with local students in the classroom and through after school activities, serving as a bridge between students and teachers. The Dreamline program is the subject of one of my columns in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Haitian Initiative, another of the foundation’s programs, is a partnership with the Galaxy Foundation. Established to motivate kids to remain in school, it blends academics and soccer for Haitian students. Students also have the chance to compete for coveted spots in an exchange program facilitated through the Sanneh Foundation.

Though Haitian boys have visited in previous years, a dozen girls recently traveled from Haiti to St. Paul, Minnesota as guests of the Sanneh Foundation. Living with host families for two weeks, they will experience life through a much difference lens than that to which they are accustomed as residents of the largest, poorest and most violent slum in Soleil, Haiti, where nearly half of the children are child slaves. They live in homes with no electricity, plumbing, sewer or water systems.

The visitors’ Minnesota experience will be quite different. The girls will play in the USA Cup in Blaine; take in Minnesota Lynx and Minnesota Timberwolves games; visit local lakes and spend time at a camp in Alexandria, Minnesota. Through exposure to American peers and adults, the girls will focus on leadership skills, English fluency, and empowerment.

In my book, Bitter or Better: Grappling With Life on the Op-Ed Page, I pose the question: When faced with challenges in life, do you step forward or step back? Sanneh exemplifies one who has chosen to take a big step forward.