Former Granby soccer star who witnessed the unthinkable in Liberia is expanding his academy to help young people in his native country succeed

David Quenah was 6 years old when he was forced to watch rebels in Liberia force his father to lie down on his own plantation and kill him with a machete.

Young Quenah passed out – he doesn’t know how long – and awoke quietly to a pool of blood from his father Joseph.

As if that wasn’t gruesome enough, the little boy turned to see his brother Lincoln, 30, with his throat cut as well. Quenah tried to get help to save Lincoln, but he died too.

“It was a very difficult situation. They made me watch while they were doing it (killed his father),” said Quenah, now 34. “They murdered him. They wanted me to watch. I don’t know why.

Quenah ran 15 miles at night to another town to warn an uncle that the rebels were talking about coming for him. He was unable to find his mother, Ngarngo, after that and had heard that she and a group of others were believed to have been killed by rebel forces in that country’s civil war.

“We firmly believed she was dead,” he said.

That would be enough trauma and heartache to bring anyone down, but Quenah has triumphed over the evils of her childhood. He ended up being adopted at age 16 by an aunt and uncle in Granby.

Today Quenah, who lives in Waterbury, has a wife, two young daughters and a son on the way and owns a small trucking business, David and Dionne, Express, LLC.

He is also dedicated to a heart project in Liberia – the creation of an academy where underprivileged young people between the ages of 13 and 18 can learn a trade such as plumbing, electricity or computer science to support themselves.

The Lincoln Academy for Soccer Excellence and Performance – or FC LASEP Academy – named after his brother, Lincoln, has operated on a limited basis since Quenah was in college. He invested his own money in it all those years, including buying 500 acres for $12,000.

Now he is asking for the public’s help so he can finish building the program.

Between 1998 and 2004, Quenah stayed in Liberia with a “nice woman” who knew her father. At 16, Quenah was adopted by his father’s sister who moved to the United States in the 1980s and lived in Granby.

In Granby, Quenah would go on to become an outstanding soccer player at Granby Memorial High School.

He played football, track and field and wrestled in high school, graduating in 2008. In 2017, after taking a break after his sophomore year to work and save money for tuition, he is graduated from Western Connecticut State University, where he also played football. and earned a degree in business management and entrepreneurship.

He coached for Granby Memorial High School in 2014 and for a summer program for the US Navy Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

It was in football that he found solace. First playing on the family plantation in Liberia where they grew sugar cane, coffee and cocoa. In his youth, he used oranges as balls and made balls from a rubber tree.

Quenah said among the many lessons football taught him were focus, discipline, dedication, socializing, patience, competitive advantage, how to be ‘correct’ and how to focus on more. great things.

“If it weren’t for football, I wouldn’t be the person I am today,” he said. “I think it’s a very powerful sport.”

David Quenah and his two daughters are having a playful time at their Waterbury home.  Quenah, who suffered unthinkable childhood trauma in her native Liberia, is trying to create an academy where trades are taught and football played to help disadvantaged young people in Liberia succeed.

It was at football that he learned that one day in life can be bad, but the next can be good.

“If you lose a game, there’s always tomorrow,” he said.

Above all, playing football has always been an escape – like therapy – from his horrible childhood.

“I forgot everything on the pitch,” he said. “The only thing that gave me hope and serenity was football.”

He wants football to be a big part of the academy in Liberia “so they can have something to look forward to every day.

“It makes you happy, it makes you feel like you’re not alone in the world,” Quenah said.

Liberia’s civil war began in 1995 and ended in 2001, but the number of disadvantaged young people in Liberia when he last visited “was concerning”. The young people involved in his academy are disadvantaged and many have also lost their parents.

Academy students are already learning by playing football on property in Liberia.

Although it has yet to construct a physical building, it does rent accommodation for some young people, which is cheap by American standards. He said the rent for each unit was around $50 to $100 a year.

“The government is extremely corrupt, but most citizens hope that one day things will be better,” Quenah said. “The reason why I dedicated the years I spent in the United States to helping these children is because I was like them. I was lucky and I thank God and my mother adoptive for giving me the opportunity to have a better life.

David Quenah was reunited with his mother in Liberia in 2017 when he was 23.  He believed she had been killed by rebels during the Liberian civil war.

Quenah was young when his father was murdered, so he has no specific memories of the kind of person Joseph was. But he remembers his father’s smile.

“People who knew my father said he was kind, caring. … He cared about others. Everyone who visited, and even those who stopped and needed something to eat, he cooked his wives for them,” Quenah said.

Joseph was married five times, and he and Quenah’s mother had 16 children between them.

Quenah said Joseph loved his 16 children without “favoritism.”

“People talk about his love for others, his work ethic and his vision for children to get an education,” Quenah said. “I know there have been a lot of traumatic events in my life, however, those events shaped me to be who I am today and in between those events there are also great memories to hold on to. Instead of getting revenge or being mad at the whole world, I decided a long time ago to use that anger as fuel for doing good.

Quenah said at one point that he would ask himself, “Why me? Why not someone else?

“Some things you can’t explain, you can’t get answers,” he said. “I had a very difficult childhood.”

Quenah said for years after what he witnessed that he was afraid to sleep at night because of nightmares. Often the nightmares were triggered by seeing blood or a machete. But Quenah said he faced his fears.

“I still have nightmares,” he said. “I’m still in the same place.”

In all this tragedy, there was good news. At 23, Quenah learned that her mother was alive after all. A friend of his adoptive mother said he saw Quenah’s mother on a refugee bus crossing the Liberia-Ivory Coast border.

He traveled to Liberia in 2017 to see her for the first time since he was 6 years old. He immediately felt the connection.

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“She’s my mother,” he said, gushing. They keep in touch regularly. He found her a place to live in Liberia and is helping her financially.

“My mother is very, very proud,” he said. “She always prays for me.”

Quenah said he wants people who have been through traumatic events to choose a good road rather than a bad one, “because people like us really understand the difference between right and wrong.”

Quenah said he remembers being asked in college how he always manages to have a smile on his face after everything he’s been through.

“I told him that when a traumatic event happens to people, there are two types of people that emerge,” he said. Either they embrace the bad and are dedicated to hurting others, or they embrace the good and enjoy changing people’s lives for the better, he added.

“As for me, in this case, I’m choosing the right because I went through hell and came back as a child,” Quenah said. “There is nothing worse in this world than a child forced to watch his father degrade and be murdered.”

To help contribute to the academy, Quenah can be contacted at [email protected]. Donations can be sent to 81 Robinwood Road, Waterbury, CT 06708.

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