A recipient of goodwill turned provider, Columbus Crew SC’s Eddie Opoku – who originally came to the U.S. from Ghana when he was 10 years old – spoke about the role education played in his dream of becoming a professional soccer player, and how he hopes his pathway can provide a blueprint for others from his community.
“So I came through the Right to Dream Academy when I was 10 years old, and through that, I was able to come to boarding school here and go to the University of Virginia on a scholarship and I got the opportunity to sign with MLS,” Opoku said.
Founded in 1999, the Right to Dream Academy spans multiple continents with the mission of utilizing education and soccer as an engine for social development.
Raised from a poor background in Ghana, Opoku put into perspective the common dream of kids he grew up with, and the impact the Right to Dream Academy had on him as a student and now as a professional.
It been a year and I still believe that I’m dreaming. God really do work in mysterious ways! Good luck to everyone in the draft today especially to my boys @lilshido @figbe5 @Nelson_J14 live it up. It’s a very special moment and trust wherever you end up! @MLS #BeHappy #Crew96 pic.twitter.com/oU953vrqlu— Edward Opoku (Eddie) (@edward_opoku) January 11, 2019
“Being given the opportunity by Right to Dream, through that I was able to make the steps where I had the dream of becoming a professional soccer player, like every single kid from my village, but it’s such a [small possibility],” Opoku said.
“You see this thing that’s so far away and there’s so many kids that don’t have the opportunity. For me, [Right to Dream has] done such a tremendous job to so many kids. Now, my goal is to get more kids, not even just from my village.”
As a success story of Right to Dream’s mission, Opoku is still heavily involved with the organization while leading his own charity project called #BeHappy.
“I started this thing called the #BeHappy organization back in my village, where one of my cousins was taking care of kids and our goal was to get them to school and get them equipment of, like, soccer stuff and shoes and the necessary stuff, and through that – selling the #BeHappy t-shirts and people donating – we’re able to help these kids who just have so little and I think that’s just been my main goal.”
As for the emotional connection to the name “#BeHappy,” Opoku said it started with something his mother once said to him.
“How it started was my mom told me ‘no matter what you’re going through, there’s always someone going through a worse situation than you. So be thankful and be happy with whatever situation you’re in,’” Opoku said. “So that’s how it started. Every time I posted online in high school, I said #BeHappy. So when I went to college, my friend Caroline said to me that ‘you know, maybe you can sell t-shirts.’ So right when I signed, she brought the idea that we can make t-shirts and sell it. And every profit that we make, I match the profit to donate.”
Since being in the U.S., one of Opoku’s main priorities has been to host an annual tournament for kids in his community back home.
“When I went to Ghana, it was my main goal to organize a tournament for kids who are under the age of 10…and hopefully create the opportunity for them, whether they are getting the opportunity to go through the Right to Dream or get a scholarship to the US, but it’s been a very good step,” Opoku said.
As part of organizing the event, Opoku provides and pays for all the logistics, including transportation, food and equipment, and the Columbus Crew family has played an important role, the Crew winger said.
“The fans in Columbus have been tremendous with helping me and have been very supportive with me. It’s been a great start now. The kids, you could see the happiness. When I was going back, the Columbus Crew helped me tremendously in helping me out with gear and soccer balls and shoes.”
Through soccer, Opoku sees his main goal of educating more kids becoming a real possibility, given that was the path offered to him.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school till I was 10, to go to Right to Dream,” Opoku said. “So to be able to have this plan to put kids in school, that’s been my main goal – to educate more kids. You can always play soccer, but once you have an education, you need to have an education to help support you and I think my goal is…to help as many kids as I can.”
One of the many goals Opoku has in his sights? Building a turf field for his community in Ghana.
“One of my main goals in the future is to get people to help me build [a turf field]. When you’re a kid, it’s a getaway for you because you live such a poor life, once you get on the soccer field, you forget about everything. So to be able to build that for them would be a dream come true.”
As for where Opoku’s charitable drive comes from, it starts with family.
“So the family that you come from, the parents are always like, ‘take care of each other,’” Opoku said. “So it becomes natural. You get to a point where you want to help…and Jonathan Mensah is such a great example…and Harrison Afful does the same thing, Lalas [Abubakar] does the same thing…I can mention so many names who do such an amazing job."
Sharing the same sentiment of Jonathan Mensah, Opoku emphasized the individual responsibility he feels he now holds.
“The culture of Ghana, I think it’s most African countries – they are so thankful for what they have, and it’s not just me…there are so many guys here who are doing such a great job, and if you don’t start that, from being in a very fortunate position like we are, who’s going to start that?”
On the pitch, Opoku and the rest of the Black & Gold family start giving back on March 2 as part of the regular-season opener against the New York Red Bulls, with kickoff slated for 4:30 p.m. ET at MAPFRE Stadium.