Jonathan Mensah hears the public service announcements on the radio when he’s driving in Ghana.
The voice says if anyone sees an abandoned child on the side of the road, it should be reported so the child can be picked up, or the child should be taken to the nearest medical facility.
The Crew defender doesn’t need to hear the PSAs to know that there are thousands of children in his home country wandering on the streets or sleeping by the police station. Mensah knows he’s fortunate.
By his definition, he had a stable family life in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He was raised by parents who worked to give their children the best life possible.
It’s that background, his status as a professional soccer player, and his refusal to be a bystander that led Mensah to become a philanthropist for orphans in Ghana for almost a decade.
“Seeing these kids, they don’t have anyone,” Mensah said. “I took that as a responsibility to go there as a big brother, as a friend, and always getting involved in that.”
Mensah visits the Royal Seed Home orphanage and school at least once a year to donate supplies such as food, diapers and toilet paper, and he works to make progress on long-term improvements to the living conditions for the nearly 250 kids who are looked after by the orphanage’s director.
When Mensah is in season and unavailable to go, he has help from volunteers with the Jonathan Mensah Foundation to give the director what she might need. He also is exploring ventures to help the orphanage, specifically a GoFundMe account raising money to purchase a bus so the orphans don’t have to walk more than two hours each way to school.
“Day in and day out, people are bringing new babies in for the mother of the house,” Mensah said. “A lot of people give birth and they cannot take care of the baby, and they just leave them by the roadside, police station, anywhere that people will see and give attention to the baby. It’s just tough, man.”
An orphanage beckons
Mensah returned to Ghana after playing in the 2010 World Cup. He was thinking about what to do with the bonus money he had received. It didn’t take him long.
“I asked myself what I could do to help in the deprived places,” Mensah said.
He grew up in Accra, where his father was a gold miner and his mother was a trader, which was the foundation that allowed Mensah and his siblings to have access to whatever they needed as children.
Charity had always been a core value in his family, so Mensah’s calling to aid orphanages financially or with his time was met with equal excitement from his parents.
For the eight years after the World Cup, Mensah visited orphanages in and around Accra whenever he could, usually once a year — twice or more if he was lucky. He felt like he was making a difference.
Then he heard from a friend, George Wiafe, about an orphanage about 40 minutes outside of Accra, in Ofaakor. So Mensah sent a team from his foundation to check out the place and see what they needed.
They needed a lot.
When Mensah arrived at Royal Seed, it was unlike anything he had ever seen. There were wooden and bamboo structures for shelter and a school with no tiled floor, just dirt that became mud when it rained.
“It was tough for me watching that because I have a roof, I have clothes, food, whatever I need,” Mensah said. “And seeing these kids, it was like, ‘Oh.’ So I thought of what can I do to make them smile daily, and provide food for them; good, clean water for them. I was eager to do something to bring — even if it’s a little change.”
Royal Seed has become the lone orphanage Mensah helps out. For the number of kids that reside there, the living conditions and the lack of consistent help, Mensah has designated the reconstruction of the orphanage and school as his life’s work outside of soccer.
At the orphanage, director Naomi Esi Amoah is the primary caretaker for the orphans that range in age from a couple of weeks old to their early 20s.
Mensah’s organization has what can be considered five full-time staff members and volunteers that frequently contact the orphanage to ask what she needs in terms of clothing, food, water and other supplies.
Mensah will even ask his Crew teammates for donations of any old soccer cleats, shin guards, goalkeeper gloves, or any clothing.
“A lot of people talk about (giving), and a lot of people want to do it, but it’s very hard and it takes a lot of work to set up and to continue to keep it going and all that, so it’s very impressive for me,” Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen said. “He’s a big role model for me.”
Mensah last went to the orphanage in January with his foundation and volunteers. He has helped build a new campus, with better living conditions for the children. They also finished a new school at the old site of the orphanage, complete with a roof and tiled flooring.
The next step is cutting down that commute between the living area and the school from more than two hours on foot to just 15 minutes with a bus.
“I still want to get involved,” Mensah said. “I love doing this and building the school and campus for them, and now we’re raising funds to buy a school bus for them.”
Crew fans get involved
Mensah’s last visit to the orphanage was profiled on the Major League Soccer website and documented in a video it posted in March.
In home games that followed, Mensah was passing by the Nordecke, the Crew’s supporters section, where fans started handing him money. He was confused at first, but they told him it was for his foundation and to keep up the great work.
Mensah was humbled, and touched. He stuffed the money in his socks until he returned to the locker room to deposit it into his foundation’s account.
The Crew’s youngest supporters’ group, the Hive, has held multiple fundraisers and raffles at Mapfre Stadium, with benefits going toward helping Mensah purchase a bus for the orphanage.
“I’m grateful and I’m honored to be a part of this family because they raised a lot of money for me, for the charity program that we’re doing, and raising funds to get a bus,” Mensah said. “So it’s very encouraging.”
Harrison Afful sees the same problems in Ghana as Mensah. The two have talked about it over the years, even before Mensah joined Afful with the Crew in 2017. Knowing Mensah as well as he does, Afful was the least blown away by Mensah’s initiative to purchase a bus for the orphanage.
“He’s one guy who loves to give,” Afful said. “God bless him because it’s not easy to set up the foundation like that.”
Mensah hasn’t personally seen an abandoned child while driving through Ghana, but he has interacted with some that were fortunate enough to find an orphanage. They see him as a role model of sorts, kind of the way he used to look at players on the Ghana men’s national team.
That just inspires him to do more.
“We need to come together to make change,” Mensah said. ”(Soccer is) one big platform in the world, and if you can put something genuine out there and honest out there, I think people will have the desire to also join in.”