Hungry for a Better Life

AMALE, Ghana -- On the most important day of his life, Shadrak Kwabena wakes up hungry. He is 9 years old, his pencil legs covered in knee-high, hand-me-down yellow socks. This is the moment his mother imagined when she took him to the coach three years ago with a request: Please give my son a future.

He makes his way toward the mosque for morning prayer, the dirt streets pocked with rock and rubble. Around town, other boys slip into the predawn darkness. The ones who own soccer cleats wear them; parents save for months to afford the $12 shoes. Many come barefoot. Word has spread: A scout is in Tamale, with strange words and customs, who possesses the mystical power to change a person's destiny forever.

The coach, Sharhabib Mumuni, is at the mosque waiting on Shadrak and the rest of the Great Eagles. Mumuni has procured the best breakfast he can. Last year, the boys started game days with hearty porridge. Today, it's bread and tea.

"Outside the Lines" chronicles the journey of Ghanaian soccer players Oscar Umar and Mohammed Rashid.

Once they've prayed and eaten, the boys walk toward the field, which is ringed in barbed wire and, thanks to last night's monsoon, covered in large patches of standing water. Andy Farrant, a 23-year-old from England, surveys the damage. He hardly looks mystic. More like a first-year law student, with a lean build, a friendly, boyish face and a mother who worries about him in Africa, so far away from home. This is his show -- he's head scout, a volunteer, for the Right to Dream Academy. He will decide which boys come to the capital city of Accra and which stay behind. Playing God makes him uncomfortable. He's not blind. He sees the desperation. This is one of the poorest places in the world. He sees that the 20 coaches the academy invited have shown up with more than the allotted 10 players each -- one coach, who was not invited, has brought his team anyway. "Those boys who come from the North," Farrant says, "you're their chance in life."

Looking around, he does some counting in his head, realizes there are far too many players here for the camp to run smoothly. It's only 7 a.m., and he's about to snuff the first of many dreams today.

"I told the coaches to only select 10 players," he tells a local helper.

"If they bring just 10 players," the man explains, "the rest will not get a chance to play."

"I told them only to register 10 players," Farrant says, sounding aggravated, "so they only should have brought 10. Can you arrange the coaches for me?"

The West African sun has begun its all-day assault. Farrant stands before the men and reiterates the rule about the number of players. The coaches look at their teams.

How will they choose?

Right to Dream tryouts
Candace Feit
Dreams live and die in a few scant hours during soccer tryouts for the Right to Dream Academy.

Oscar: Pathfinder

Four years earlier, another young boy walked the early morning streets from his mud-walled home to the Right to Dream tryout -- Abdul Gafaru Umar, Oscar to his friends. A journey began that day -- the same one Shadrak hopes to begin.

Oscar grew up with about 25 other family members in a small compound, consisting mostly of outdoor space for their animals, the entire thing about the size of a tennis court. The local mosque stood tall overhead. The coffin maker lived down the alley. His father was born in the family compound. So was Oscar. His kids would almost certainly be born here, too.

Oscar's family compound
Candace Feit
A child bathes in the compound shared by 25 members of Oscar's family. Like his father, Oscar was born here.

Any other life must have seemed unreachable as he stood in the open air at night, surrounded by reminders of his family's hopeless poverty. Livestock roamed the courtyard. The young bathed in a basin in plain view of everyone. There was one light outside, and many nights, it attracted a swarm of bugs ... and young Oscar, then all of 8, who crouched under it and read while the other children played. The elders took notice: Here was a serious child, measured with his words. They noticed another obsession, too. Every time they turned around, Oscar was making a ball out of something, literally chewing up discarded plastic bags, packing them together until the ball was large enough to kick.

He wanted to play soccer -- and not just with homemade balls in the medieval alleys surrounding the mosque. His family wondered about the wisdom of chasing such foolish dreams. From sunrise to dusk, they worked hard, farming for subsistence, selling straw mattresses in the market, barely getting by. Each generation lived as the one before, worshipping at the mosque, taking care of the old folks, deferring to the eldest brother. But Oscar was too small to work the fields and too young to hawk wares in the markets, so they decided to let him be a child awhile longer.

Neither he nor his friends had ever visited Accra, 12 long hours south, but they imagined what it would be like to earn a spot at one of the soccer academies there, much like a small-town American kid dreams about the bright lights of Hollywood. A place there could change everything, for them, and for their parents, who bore the yoke of school fees that took as much as half of their meager income. In the North, many parents couldn't afford school. Since the British first came to Ghana in 1821, the money and power have been located along the ocean in the South. The colony was called the Gold Coast. The North, on the other hand, was left fallow. There wasn't even a road until a few decades ago. Education and development lag far behind the South. Between 70 and 90 percent of families in the North live on less than a dollar a day. The government uses foreign aid to build a $50 million presidential palace in Accra but can't provide Tamale with school lunches or running water. So every time scouts come, bringing hope, competition is fierce. When he was 9, Oscar and his friend Mohammed Abdul Rashid (whom everyone calls simply Rashid) made it to the finals of a qualifier to represent their region in a national tournament. In the end, neither boy was picked.

Rashid went home to his father and told him he did not make the team. He also told him he wasn't giving up. "One day," Rashid promised.

Oscar worried this failure might be the end of his dreams. So many important scouts would have seen him play. Still, he kept working, kept making balls out of plastic bags, kept holding his books under the small, naked light in the mud-walled family compound.

A year later, another academy -- Right to Dream -- came calling. Positions were precious; Oscar's coach got to pick three players for the tryouts. Oscar, one of the three, walked to the field, ringed, like Shadrak's four years later, in barbed wire. His friend Rashid was there, too, along with 150 other kids. This was Oscar's moment. He could be lifted out of this life and into a new one. Or he could die in the same room in which he was born. Oscar ran his heart out, hoping the coaches would see that the tiny boy in front of them was a giant in disguise.

Andy Farrant
Candace Feit
Scout Andy Farrant knows he holds futures in his hands, and he doesn't take that responsibility lightly.

Shadrak: Undernourished Dreamer

The coaches whittle their rosters, mostly cutting players over the 35-kilogram weight limit (77 pounds), designed to keep out the boys too old for the academy. Because there isn't much food in this part of Ghana -- for anybody -- some 14-year-olds can pass for 11; sadly, these boys already have missed their windows. One coach stares at his list, then at the 18 players before him, then back at his list. At last, he begins reading names.

Right to Dream flag
Candace Feit
The Right to Dream sign serves as a beacon for soccer hopefuls throughout Ghana.

All around the rocky dirt field, with just a few patches of grass, teams gather to prepare. The Great Eagles team manager, Lukman Yussif, takes it all in. Shadrak plays on his team. Yussif's very proud of the boy, who despite being tiny has become one of his best players. He also can't help but wonder: What if? What if the boy had grown up someplace else? What if he'd grown up a few years earlier, before the prices of food started doubling?

"Food shouldn't prevent somebody from having his dreams being realized," Yussif says. "It shouldn't."

Yussif knows the bleak arithmetic. Among his responsibilities is feeding his various teams before they play games. A year ago, it cost him $30 a week for the 105 players. Now, it costs $60. A bag of corn has more than doubled in price. A bag of rice has almost doubled. The bread the boys ate this morning? A year ago, 34 cents bought a small loaf. Now, it's 52. The poorest boys are already slipping away, like a shipwreck victim unable to hold on to the driftwood, and those who remain aren't performing as well. "Ever since the food prices starting going up," says Mumuni, Shadrak's coach, "we have been suffering."

The past year has been especially cruel. A flood followed by a drought destroyed the crops of subsistence farmers. An ocean away, technology allowed men to run cars on corn ethanol, sending food prices rising all over the world. In America, this means fewer meals out. In northern Ghana, where most people have never even heard of biofuel and some local dialects don't have a word for it, it's the difference between barely making it and not making it at all. Driving into town, the impact is immediately visible: More and more kids who should be in school are out begging in the streets. How many Shadraks are among them? How many Oscars?

The boys at the tryout seem to sense all of this, as do the adults and scouts. Desperation hangs over the field. Crowd control is difficult. Kids ring the sidelines. There's pushing and shoving for position, as if the closer you sit to the scout, the better chance you have of being picked.

Not long after the 10-game marathon starts, a sheep runs onto the field, disrupting play. Around midfield, it takes a hard right and bounds straight for Andy Farrant, who squirts water at it to scare it away. Everybody laughs, breaking the tension.

Even the sheep wants to impress the scout.

Right to Dream Academy
Candace Feit
At the Right to Dream Academy outside of Accra, Ghana, players get proper nutrition and equipment.

Oscar: Becoming A Man

Whatever Oscar did during that 2004 tryout worked. The scouts, one of whom was Farrant, selected him. They also selected Rashid and two other boys. The day dawned with 150 dreams. Four made it to nightfall.

After much debate -- Oscar's family knew he'd have to give up studying Arabic, a serious sacrifice in a Muslim family -- they agreed to let him go. His uncle felt Oscar's success could help everyone. His father remembered what it was like to still believe anything was possible. They gave their blessings. Oscar moved to Accra.

Oscar's parents
Candace Feit
Oscar's parents worried about their son's move to Accra, but were pleasantly surprised when he returned a grown man.

Right to Dream wasn't like the other academies, which are mostly sponsored by European professional teams, like Major League Baseball does in the Dominican Republic. Founded by international coach and Manchester United scout Tom Vernon, the academy housed its first generation of boys in Vernon's home. Eventually, they'd move to the hills outside the city, far from the urban chaos, to a small town up the Aburi Road. Some of the pro teams had whitewashed walls and pool tables and proper dorms. Right to Dream didn't have those kinds of facilities. It was conceived not simply to find the best players but to build the best people, to make something from nothing. Many of the most talented kids arrived illiterate. About 80 percent of their families made less than a dollar a day. "It's so hard to put this place into words," says Julia Brooks, an annual summer volunteer from England. "It's a pitch and a classroom and two houses -- and a lot of hard work."

When Oscar showed up, the coaches noticed how small he was. That wasn't surprising. Most kids arrive undernourished, especially players from the North, where a system of rationalizations has been invented over time to help explain away a lack of food that was critical even before the floods and rising food prices. A kid who eats meat learns to steal. If a woman eats meat or eggs while pregnant, her child will be a thief. But at Right to Dream, the boys get three good meals a day, loaded with carbohydrates and proteins. "You should see their faces the first time they are served chicken and rice," coach Samuel Mawuena says. "They are like, oh, this is heaven. Some of them have never had chicken."

Oscar shot up, filled out. On his first visit home, his family wondered what had become of the little boy they'd sent to Accra. They were now staring at a man. His uncle wonders whether the family didn't fail Oscar. "Is it the food he was eating here that wasn't sufficient?"

At the academy, with one dream realized, Oscar and Rashid discovered a new one. A bigger one. The year they arrived, a group of students went to the United States for high school. That first group from Right to Dream did well in the States, as did those who followed. One sent back his report card ... all A's. The coaches posted it right inside the gate to the soccer field. All the boys could see what the teachers had written about their friend.

    "I can't even explain how much I enjoyed having [him] in class this year."

    "I know he will do great things one day."

    "I cannot wait to hear what the future holds for him."

Could Oscar and Rashid do this, too? They believed they could, if they worked hard. They would cross an ocean. They would go to America.

Right to Dream tryout
Candace Feit
Many in worn cleats, the competitors at the tryouts in Tamale play as if their futures depend upon it.

Shadrak: Praying To Be Noticed

The games continue. Farrant and his assistant, a fellow scout named Fifi, make notes. "Today is to separate the cream," Farrant says.

It doesn't take much to get noticed. A knack for being around the ball. A smart pass. A whistling kick. Bright socks or shoes. Even a name, like the kid named Prince Charles. "You see 200 boys within the space of five hours," Farrant says. "It's easy to forget them."

Right to Dream

For more information about the Right to Dream Academy, or to find out to make a donation, click here.

A young man in light blue shorts stands out. His name is Mashad Hakeem, and his legs never stop moving. "He should be a sprinter," Farrant says. The kid has no shoes, and he grimaces removing rocks stuck in the soles of his feet. He starts limping but doesn't stop running. He's making great passes, getting to balls and, when a teammate blunders into his way, messing up a scoring opportunity, Hakeem has words for him. This is serious business. When the game ends, even though Hakeem is about the smallest person out there, Farrant invites him back for the final game, where the best get one more shot to impress. The crowd claps when Hakeem walks off the field, and one man taps him on the head with a big plastic water bottle. When a couple of Hakeem's coaches sit their players down, taking all of the jerseys back except for the chosen two, it's clear a separation has occurred. One teammate mimes taking off street clothes, as if to trade. It's a joke, but the truth behind it is painful. Another player, who thought he would be picked, looks like he is crying.

Next up, the Great Eagles. This is Shadrak's chance. As the game begins, the call to afternoon prayer echoes around the city. Next to the field, the devout not in the game kneel and face Mecca, bending toward the holy city, kissing the ground. The sun is brutal.

Shadrak anticipates the ball, makes smart passes. But will that be enough? The Great Eagles play for only 30 minutes, with other boys just as intent on making it as him. It's hard to tell -- Farrant took a phone call during the game -- but Shadrak's about to find out. The ref stops play. Farrant brings the teams together. The boys crowd around, not blinking, sweat rolling down their faces, hoping, praying. Shadrak can't understand every word, so he listens for his name.

Farrant calls three of them. When he's finished, those not picked hang for just a moment, as if to will one more name from his lips, then slip into the crowd, disappearing, along with their dreams, swallowed by the mass of people.

Yussif, manager of the Great Eagles, has been watching from a distance. He can't stand the suspense, and he corners Farrant. "Which of the boys were picked?" he asks.

"From which side?"

"From Great Eagles," Yussif says.

Farrant checks his list and gives three names.

The first is Shadrak Kwabena.

Right to Dream tryout
Candace Feit
Shadrak Kwabena, directly in front of scouts Fifi, left, and Farrant, listened intently to hear his name called ... and was rewarded.

Oscar: Frustration

The sun has risen as Oscar and Rashid wait on the sidewalk outside the U.S. Embassy in Accra. Rashid has a priority slip and a secured place at the front of the line. Oscar doesn't, so he's with the masses who arrived before dawn. Wednesday is visa day, and around them are assorted dreamers, all in their Sunday best, clutching application packets as if they contain the secret to eternal life.

It's now 7:15, and the boys' journey is almost complete. They began in a Tamale slum, dreaming, as Shadrak soon will, of a way out. Now they are standing here, under a large American flag rippling in the wind. A dozen feet away, past the iconic image of the Statue of Liberty on the embassy wall, is a security guard. Behind the security guard is a metal detector. Behind the metal detector is the United States of America.

The boys laugh a little, but mostly, they are silent, imagining the questions, their jangled nerves transferred to the chaperoning adults. Farrant hunts for loose threads to remove from his suit. "This is massive," says Anna Hegley, a Right to Dream executive.

Rashid and Oscar
Candace Feit
Mohammed Rashid, second from left, and Oscar Umar, third from left, take in a soccer game with a couple of friends.

For the past few weeks, the academy has been tense. Four boys waited on interviews, including Oscar and Rashid. In fact, all of the players selected four years ago in Tamale wound up earning a new life. One was about to leave for school in England, another had been signed by a European team and has a bright future as a pro, two were heading to elite private schools in Connecticut -- Rashid to Hotchkiss and Oscar to Kent.

The unknowns frightened the boys. They worried about their new friends, and the food, and the weather. The visa interview took on a life of its own. Those Guantanamo headlines run in Africa, too. Would boys with Muslim names be let into the United States? What would they be asked? Would people be nice to them? Could they do the work? What was it like reading books for class, then discussing them? Would their schools help them get ready to take the SATs? How scary was the airplane flight?

C.K. Kumah, a senior at Hotchkiss and Right to Dream grad visiting for the summer, told them everything he knew. Told them about landing at JFK and it being 60 degrees and his thinking he would freeze. About the dreams that come next, about places named Bucknell and Boston College. The biggest difference, he warned them, was how growing up with everything shapes a person, just as growing up with nothing does. "They take things for granted," he told them. "Sometimes, they don't do well in class and they don't really care. I'm like, 'You have all this and back in Africa, there isn't anything like that and you guys are just joking around.' You try to talk to them about your situation, but they don't really understand it, because they've never experienced anything like that."

There was nothing else to do after that but wait, first for weeks, then days, then hours, and now, as the clock hits 7:45 a.m., and the line outside the embassy moves, minutes. Rashid is next. He folds his arms. He clasps his hands. A security guard walks him and a teammate inside. Soon it should be Oscar's turn.

The minutes slip away. An hour goes by, then more. Finally, the first two emerge. The wide grin on Rashid's face tells the story. He and the teammate who walked in with him are laughing, bumping fists. Rashid exhales, his shoulders sinking, relaxing for the first time in weeks. He is visibly lighter. "So, so excited," he says.

Soon Oscar comes out, too.

He's not smiling.

Right to Dream tryout
Candace Feit
Spectators and players buy water and snacks during the tryout in Tamale.

Shadrak: Left Behind?

One more game. Seven on seven. Forty-five minutes. Thirty-eight players, divided by position. Each will play until Farrant and Fifi decide up or down. "Everyone will get a chance," Farrant says.

The whistle blows. Game on. Shadrak calls for the ball, trying to catch a teammate's attention. Nobody notices, so he chases it down, looks up, head swiveling. A few possessions later, he's on the ball again, moving from right to left, and he sends another precise pass, calls for it back but doesn't get it. Farrant takes more notes. It's almost 4 now, about 11 hours since Shadrak had breakfast, and he's running out of gas. Still, he is able to engineer another breakaway, eluding everyone but the final defender, slips in a little juke to break free but loses the ball.

That's about the time Farrant starts pointing. "We know they're too old, so bring them out," he says.

More dreams die.

Shadrak keeps trying to impress. He steals the ball, then promptly loses it. A teammate finally hits him with a pass, but he's bogged down in the big puddle at midfield and can't dig the ball out of the water. As play continues, Farrant pulls players out and sends new ones in. None of them knows whether he has done enough. Farrant writes down evaluations of those who were on the field, letting Fifi monitor the action. As he finishes with the current round of names, Farrant turns back to the field just in time to see Shadrak lose the ball again. Time for more cuts.

"Which ones should go now?" Farrant asks.

Fifi doesn't have as quick a hook. Maybe it's because he's not as experienced a scout. Maybe it's because, as a Ghanaian, he knows what this means. "Let these guys keep playing," he says.

Farrant sounds impatient when he responds, "You can tell if they're not up to the standard."

Fifi looks at the field and gestures toward a player and tells Farrant he should come out.


"The yellows," Fifi says. Shadrak. "He's good," Fifi says, "but he's tired."

What does that mean? Is this how it ends? To those sitting nearby, it's frustratingly ambiguous. He's good but too tired to show his true talent, so maybe next time? He's good and since he's tired, pull him out and offer him a spot? There are no clues, just the sun, and the cheering crowd and 14 boys on the field playing like it's the last game of their lives. Fifi keeps watching Shadrak. Something's off. He's athletic, but ... but ... finally it hits him.

"He's not playing his normal position," he says.

"The big guy?" Farrant says.

"No, the one wearing 11."


Farrant stops play, bringing them together in a group. "Who's been in the whole time?" he asks. "Put your hand up." The kids seem reluctant to do so. They squeeze in tight, trying to maintain eye contact. Farrant looks at Shadrak, who is covered in sweat. "What's your name?" Farrant asks.

Shadrak's interrupted by more jockeying for position.

"Relax, relax," Farrant says.

"Shadrak," the boy answers when the boys finally quiet down.

His voice is raspy and quiet, as if he's not sure of his English. Farrant tells Shadrak to switch positions and keep playing, but Shadrak doesn't understand. Is he staying in? Is he coming out? Has he been picked? Has he been left behind? His small voice sounds frantic, as he tries to get Farrant's attention.





Farrant turns to listen. Shadrak is searching for the words, trying to put the thoughts swirling in his head into an unfamiliar language to a strange man who holds his future in his hands. Finally, he comes up with a sentence:

"I can play."

It's not clear whether he is making a statement or asking a question, but his voice does not waver.

I can play.

Right to Dream tryouts
Candace Feit
Rain couldn't dampen spirits at the tryout, where players plowed right through the puddles.

Oscar: Welcome to the USA

The morning embassy line hadn't moved fast enough, and Oscar didn't have his interview. The four teammates, two with visas, two with a few more hours to wait, head around the front of the embassy toward Farrant's car. Oscar has an appointment to come back at 1:30 p.m. What began four years ago will last awhile longer. He walks silently past the shiny gate, alone with his thoughts.

A few hours later, he tries again, going through the metal detectors, across the courtyard and into the office. The government official couldn't have been nicer -- all the worrying was for nothing, it turns out -- and Oscar comes out of the side door of the embassy, walking up the sidewalk, across the courtyard, toward the security building. The guards can see his smile from 20 yards away. It's beaming, a smile that the people who know Oscar think of when they hear his name. He's holding a ticket in his hand, No. A0001, with a time and a date to pick up his visa.

Candace Feit
Rashid says he feels sorry for the friends he left behind in Ghana.

Welcome to the United States of America.

Only logistics remain: shots, packing, shopping, scheduling flights. In their free time, the boys soak up the last moments of home, climbing the bleachers at a local professional soccer game. The stadium is on a military base called Burma Camp, and it's ragged. The players out there are talented, but this is as big as they'll get. The crowd is into it, though, beating drums, with the players celebrating goals like they'd just scored at Old Trafford, running with abandon, doing the airplane, turning flips. The boys enjoy the action, and, now that their journey is almost complete, are reflective.

"I want to be who I am," Oscar says. "And work hard. And appreciate what opportunities come my way. I am trying my best to appreciate and pay back any opportunity that comes my way."

The past four years have brought much change to Ghana. Things are hard in their hometown. Rashid's dad is buying bowls of grain now instead of bags, and he doesn't have money to pay for electricity, which means he has to flip through the picture book his son gave him, "Journey Through North America," in the dark. Oscar doesn't know it yet, but the rains that will hit Tamale the next night will destroy his family's corn crop for the second year in a row. They've recently started skipping lunch.

The kids who didn't get selected that day four years earlier face an uncertain future. Oscar and Rashid feel complicated emotions when they go home and see the wide gulf that has opened between them and those left behind. Every day the food crisis continues, the window for escape grows smaller, trapping boys like Shadrak and their old friends. "They wish they had the same opportunity," Oscar says, "and they are happy for me."

"I feel sorry for them," Rashid says.

They talk about their summer reading, about the classes they'll take this fall. And, of course, they talk about Nov. 1.

They've been on the Internet, looking at both the Kent and Hotchkiss schedules, and they've figured out when they play each other. The smack talking has begun, two worlds away. "After that game," Rashid cracks, "they will be sad."

Oscar laughs, a high-pitched wheeze, coming from his belly, different from the way he talks, suggesting something beneath the shy exterior. "We definitely will win," he says. "C.K. knows that."

"He's gonna be crying," Rashid says.

Back and forth, until it's time for more errands. Farrant is driving them around town, and he's headed north to Tamale tomorrow. The search for the next generation of players is on.

The boys huddle together in the small gravel parking lot behind the grandstand. They're wondering aloud once more about life in America. Oscar is optimistic. He thinks everything will work out. They talk about the game they just watched, and about one player in particular, who once had a brief moment in the sun with the national team but has landed here, playing for peanuts, on a dusty pitch at Burma Camp. Oscar realizes the truth.

That could have been him.

Tamale, Ghana
Candace Feit
Living conditions in Ghana have become increasingly difficult over the last four years.

Shadrak: The Final Test

The game ends and, with it, any semblance of order. Farrant needs to write down two final names, but he can't find a place calm enough to concentrate. The other boys mob him, pushing the two kids he's trying to talk to, taking control away from him, converging on the remaining plastic bags of water, a swarm of bees, the strong throwing aside the weak, moments from an honest-to-god riot. One boy punches another in the head.

An adult grabs the bully. "Why did you knock him?" he asks.

Nearby, heavy tears roll down the face of the boy who was hit. And the boy who hit him? It's the same kid who didn't get picked earlier and looked like he was crying. His rejection has already turned to anger.

Farrant keeps moving, trying to write down the final names, and the Ghanaian adults are literally slapping kids, trying to open a small circle of space. The boys shove and kick, trying to get in the front of the group, again thinking proximity helps. The mass keeps moving closer to Farrant, who is trying to read the names and get out. "It's a nightmare," he says. He makes sure the volunteers have collected all the jerseys used in the final game. A hundred eyes stare back at him, the kids still fighting for position. He realizes he can't call the names out here. That would be the spark. No, he needs to have just the coaches together. Defuse the situation. He asks the players to wait. Of course, they follow him, trying to read the paper in his hand, pushing: isitmeisitmeisitme?

"There shouldn't be any players here," he says, as everyone is cleared away but the coaches. "If I said the names," he begins, "there'd be fights and riots. You know the way it works."

He begins reading the list, going team by team, player by player. "Great Eagles," Farrant says.

This is it. One player from the team has been selected to come down to the academy and compete for a spot. Coach Mumuni steps forward.

"Shadrak," Farrant says.

Mumuni glows. He has fulfilled his promise to the boy's mother.

In all, 11 players are invited to a final tryout and one is asked to enter the academy straight away. The rest look on in envy. Farrant lays out the ground rules. In the next six months, these boys and others found around Ghana will be brought to Accra. Pass that test and they start down the same road as Oscar and Rashid. A new journey will await them, one even more difficult and challenging than making it from Tamale to Accra.

Farrant takes a photo of each of the lucky boys. Coaches, he has learned, will try to send a different player to the academy, so a record is needed. Shadrak puts his shoulders back and locks his eyes on the camera. He does not smile. He does not flinch. He looks ready for whatever is next.

Farrant meets with the boy invited directly to the academy, a meeting that has to take place in his SUV because the boys not picked keep clamoring for a second chance. Another boy comes up to the first white face he sees and says, "I want to meet you. I want to be your friend. What's your number?"

Locals load the goals into a truck and drive away, leaving the field empty again, as if none of it ever really happened. The boys blend back into the dull cityscape. Some of them will try again. Some will not. But one boy runs through the streets, light as the wind, past the mosque, and all the mud-walled homes. It's Shadrak, and today, something has changed for him. His mother hears him before she sees him. A wonderful noise echoes down the narrow alley.

Her son is laughing.

Shadrak, Oscar
Candace Feit
After Shadrak was selected for the academy, Andy took the boy's photo to document the occasion.

Oscar: A New Home

This is how Oscar gets to his new home: a flight to Rome, the first airplane he has ever boarded, then a flight to New York City, then the Manhattan skyscrapers looming like futuristic bouncers on the drive through Jamaica and Flushing, through the quiet Connecticut countryside, over a single-lane covered bridge, down the road cut between the foothills of the Berkshires and the gently rippling Housatonic River. The discreet sign on the left tells him that the collection of colonial farmhouses, each as white as a wedding dress, is the Kent School.

Rashid and a fellow academy boy named Nathanial settle up the road at Hotchkiss. Oscar and his friend Bernard sleep at the home of their new coach, Tim Booth. Both awake early the first morning and, when Booth goes outside just before dawn, he sees them on the field in front of his house, the steam rising off the ground, a fog rolling in off the mountains, finding comfort in a strange place with a soccer ball. To Booth, it looks like a LeRoy Neiman painting.

Coaches at Right to Dream tryout
Candace Feit
Coaches altered their lists at the tryout, trying to squeeze in as many players as possible.

School starts a few days later, and Oscar's thrown right in. Soccer is easier than in Ghana, even though an opposing coach writes a scathing letter to Kent officials about the foreign ringers beating his boys of privilege. School is a different story. History, as you can imagine, is hard. There are so many things to figure out. A teammate teaches him to tie a tie. He wears a coat to class every day. One day not long after his arrival, Oscar walks into the sprawling cafeteria with picture windows overlooking the forest. Life's different at the top of the food chain; every day that he's here and Shadrak is in Ghana is another day they move further apart. Oscar points at the varied buffet options and the fresh-made pizza, and he laughs. "You pick what you want to eat," he explains.

There's more to learn. The culture. The girls. Oscar stands in the dorm room he shares with a boy from Florida, Room 221, and plugs in his new laptop after class. There's a Modern Chemistry book on the desk, a Right to Dream T-shirt pinned to the bulletin board. Bernard is in the doorway. Booth stands near Oscar, talking about the game later that afternoon.

"Is she coming?" Booth asks.

"Who?" Oscar asks.

"Your girlfriend," Booth says.

Bernard and Oscar laugh. "No," Oscar says, "I don't have a girlfriend."

"We don't talk to them," Bernard says, "they don't talk to us."

"After the game," Oscar says, "some of the girls came and said congratulations."

"You got to say, 'What's your name?'" Booth says.

"I've been asking them," Oscar says, smiling.

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at

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