A summer of Harvard and humanitarianism

Tue, Sep 9, 2014

Metro Vancouver, B.C. – While retracing the roots of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Surrey resident Ayesha Khan was also organizing a multi-community soccer tournament for the youth who live in the West Africa of today.

Earlier this year, the third-year Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) student was selected by Harvard University to participate in the institution’s Ghana field study. Under the guidance of Harvard and University of Ghana professors, Khan and her peers learned about the West African slave trade in situ, with expeditions to coastal European forts, and archaeological field work at Danish plantations.

During her eight weeks of ivy league studies, Khan was also wrapping up a project that had begun months before: delivering donated soccer equipment to community teams in the Legon suburb of Ghana’s capital.

“Soccer has always been a large part of my life, and when I had the opportunity to study abroad in Ghana this past summer, I thought it would be a great idea to combine my love for soccer, with my love for humanitarian aid and my love for African studies,” said Khan, who is majoring in sociology, and played with the Surrey Youth Soccer Association for 11 years.

“I strongly believe that sports – soccer in particular – provide a safe and healthy environment for youth of all ages,” she said. “Sports can also bring about opportunities and incentive for youth to pursue post-secondary education. Sports do not see colour. They provide a welcoming atmosphere with the power to unite people from all walks of life.”

Together with the help of friend Erik Johnson, an economics major at Harvard University whom Khan met during the field study, KPU arts student Emma Cleveland and a local Ghanaian connection, Khan organized a friendly four-team soccer tournament, where all teams took home soccer balls as their spoils. The real result, however, was 44 players ages 11-16 participating in a fun, healthy, community- and self-confidence building activity.

While the trip was Khan's first to Africa, it wasn't her debut humanitarian initiative on the continent. As a student at Frank Hurt Secondary, she organized a Me to We, Free the Children trip to Kenya, where a group of students built a school.

Her past philanthropic experiences, coupled with Harvard’s summer program, have left a lasting impact on Khan.

“I loved every moment of the Harvard Summer School program,” she said. “I really appreciated studying the cause and effects of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and especially having the opportunity to visit the slave castles and pay my respects to the departed, and to those who are alive and are still being affected by the slave trade through racism and perpetual poverty.”

“There are still social programs regarding the effects of the slave trade that need to be introduced and established in Ghana. I found this Harvard program so meaningful, as it helped me decide to pursue humanitarian aid after graduation,” she added.

Through a generous donation made by local Surrey Akal Football Club, 25 soccer balls were given away by Khan this summer. And as she continues her studies at KPU this year, Khan is reaching out to soccer clubs across Surrey to arrange for a shipping container of equipment to be delivered to Ghana. If everything continues as planned, she says she will be travelling back to West Africa in between her 2015 spring and summer semesters.

Further into the future, Khan is looking to combine her passion for humanitarian aid and her arts degree to do good globally. Both teaching English abroad while implementing humanitarian aid projects, and graduate studies at the United Nations University in Costa Rica, are goals she is eager to pursue.

“I know that I will do both one day,” she said. “It’s just a matter of which will come first.”

A video recap of the soccer tournament is available here.

For more information about KPU’s faculty of arts programs, visit: kpu.ca/arts.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University has been serving the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 250,000 people. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs, including business, liberal arts, science, design, health, trades and technology, horticulture, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 124 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at www.kpu.ca.


Caption: KPU arts student Ayesha Khan (centre, left) with peer Emma Cleveland at their multi-community soccer tournament in Ghana.

Media contact:
Hayley Woodin
Media Specialist, KPU
t: 604.599.2883
c: 604.364.1288

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