When news spread that a massive earthquake had hit Turkey and Syria in February, the children of Becky’s Foundation, a residential home and school in Ghana, started praying.
A young man many referred to as “uncle” or “Father Christian” was lost in the rubble. To the rest of the world he was the international footballer, Christian Atsu, who’d played for Premier League sides Newcastle and Everton before his current team Hatayspor.
But for the children, he was a “pillar of support” who would appear unexpectedly on visits bearing football shirts and leading the children in games.
The director of the project, Seth Asiedu, remembers the first time he visited:
“It was like a festival. The whole community came out in their numbers to have a glimpse of him… And then there was a game between the girls and boys with different Newcastle jerseys.”
As the son of a fisherman, 31-year-old Atsu had struggled to get to training and buy football boots. He grew up determined to help children who’d had a similarly hard start.
So when the news of the footballer’s death finally came, many were inconsolable. All the children are being given counselling.
And the question of who will continue Atsu’s support is also at the forefront of Seth’s mind. They were halfway through the construction of a new school building.
He remains hopeful though – especially as Newcastle fans have themselves started fundraising in tribute to their former player.
In the meantime, he can’t help but speak of the football star, his friend, in the present tense:
“Anytime he comes here you see that there’s full joy,” he says. “You realise the kids feel like their father is around. Their mentor is around. Sometimes when he’s coming we don’t tell the children he’s coming, like a surprise. And when he gets out of his car all the children will run and jump on him and embrace him… And he himself will feel very happy.”