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City of Banjul
Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Teen Motivation: How can we help our children to grow to full potential?

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 Of course I played soccer games in Banjul using a ball called black-and-white or the legendary one called “double-derr” over a tin of Gloria milk as prize but times have changed and what was fun for us is now boredom for our video-game and internet-generation kids. And please do not expect me to tell these kids that our times were more fun or better because that is not the case. It is no fun sleeping in a crintin house in Banjul next to exposed gutters; with TV a most amazing luxury for ministers and the bourgeoisie only, tuned in to the indispensable RTS of Senegal. Neither are our grannies right to say their times were more glorious, filled with love because they sold Banjul to the whites for a pittance while casting magic spells on one another just to outshine the step brother. And remembering how President Roosevelt described Banjul as a hell-hole on earth during the colonial era, I thank Allah to be living here now.

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Enough digression on the past for here we are in the present. Things are different and we have to contend with the fact that we have children to not only raise but also motivate and inspire to be able to find themselves in a fast evolving global village. During a science lecture I volunteered at a school recently, I was amazed to learn that 90 percent of the pupils, who are Gambians, have American passports. What kind of message are we sending to our children? How do we motivate and inspire kids who are born abroad, spend their vacations away from us and during the school calendar, spend the afternoon hours with private teachers and their cell phones or video games? How do we nurture a sense of community in a generation whose neighbourhoods are devoid of parks and playgrounds due to our adult-excessive desire for landed property?

When I lived at Pipeline, the kids in the neighbourhood would converge at my house every evening to play with my children and it was great fun because occasionally I would join them to play football on the concrete yard. But I always wished that those who planned that neighbourhood had made provision for children’s playgrounds. Anyway I decided to make some lemonade out of the lemon of lack of parks in the hood; some days I would gather the boys in my house for a little pep talk. One such evening I spoke to them about one of the greatest players to ever partake in the beautiful game, the immutable George Opong Weah. 

But where is Weah now? These kids do not even know him, by the way. Disappointed in repeated elections the gentleman, I am told, now serves as some Ambassador of Peace in Liberia. What went wrong? Weah may have been a genius on the field, but this genius was not translated elsewhere and this is a tragedy. If he had completed a good school education he would have certainly been doing better in his immediate post-football life. The day he lost his first presidential election I met a jubilant Liberian in Atlanta and asking why the celebration he answered that he had a graduate degree and that he would be remiss if a primary school dropout like Weah could be President of his country. Weah had earlier, during the campaign for that election, argued that running a country is similar to leading a football team and that he could translate his leadership in football into the successful running of a country—hmmm!

Poor Weah; the Liberians taught him a lesson. Yes I do agree that the world of football is similar to the real world but the world today is too complex for the simplistic analysis he used. You need a decent education to run any entity in today’s world and especially if you are seeking a job. You may be the perfect candidate but you will have to show proof for it and there is no better measure invented yet than the diploma. Weah did not have to suffer such a disadvantage (ceteris paribus). If he lived in an country that made sure to provide the adequate environment and mentorship, his excellence in football would not have precluded his educational attainment. The US has the highest number of college graduates playing in their national football (I mean soccer) team. Why? Because they have created a system that makes sure the human potential is exploited to its fullest. You can be the best soccer star on campus but if you fall below a certain QPA you will have to leave the school. And it is such earnest college students who star in their college soccer tourneys that graduate into the national team. Why can’t we do the same here; starting in our own neighbourhoods?

The children who converged at our home are brilliant young teenagers all going to school. The problem is that I believe they were spending an inordinate amount of time playing each day of the week. One day I called them and asked each of them for their most recent exam grades. Their answers were impressive but I thought that they could do even better if they curtailed their playtime and substituted it with a little more study time.

To make this proposal attractive I asked them to form a football team called P.S.G. the reaction was not all that positive with each of them making counter proposals to match their favourite teams’ names. One offered Manchester united, the other offered Barcelona, another said Real Madrid and the list went on until I asked them whether they new what the abbreviation P.S.G meant. “Of course” was their answer but I shocked them with my definition of P.S.G (Pipeline Study Group); as opposed to Paris Saint Germain. They all went mum. I then explained that such a group would be making sure each member spends more time studying; which they could do in a group or groups, and then organize themselves into a football team that would be taking on other teams and I would volunteer as coach and sponsor. We all agreed on this study-fun peer review system.

But lo and Behold, no sooner had we set the ball/books rolling than I was elevated from Budget Director, which was my job to a Cabinet position. And we had to move out to live elsewhere so that my guards could have decent accommodation alongside the family. A lot has happened since then and I am back to my calling as motivational speaker and author. These beautiful children still visit my kids at Kerr Sering. I have started with my own kids, nephews and nieces on a weekly presentation/public speaking training programme at home. It’s looking promising. Perhaps it will one day blossom into the junior league of my up-and-coming Sabally’s Leadership Academy that is targeting college students and young professionals in the Gambia and abroad. My goal is to create support systems for young people that would complement their formal training at school. I have already hosted a couple of motivational dinners at home; and one motivational attaaya session (dubbed for mavericks only) at my bookstore Jangi Jollof All Books Gambian on Kairaba Avenue.

Dear reader, perhaps you are in your own way involved in some mentoring either with family or others. Keep it going because we all need that coaching and support at one time or the other. The people who need this most are our beloved children. We must never let them down.

To paraphrase Jaliba Kuyateh in his song for children:  a journey of a thousand kilometers starts with a step, so (let’s take these steps with our children) 
Leading to your paradise 
Leading to your paradise…


Momodou Sabally

Author, Instant Success: Ten Keys to Personal Acheivement


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