A Soccer Star Caught in Poverty, a Risky Trip, and a Sorrowful End


SEREKUNDA, Gambia — The pregame warm-up for the Red Scorpions, Gambia’s top women’s soccer team, used to begin with joyful singing and dancing. But now the players in their yellow shirts and blue shorts begin every match in a somber prayer circle under the shade of a baobab tree.

Three months ago, the team’s star goalkeeper, Fatima Jawara, 19, was presumed drowned off the coast of Libya while trying to escape to Europe, dreaming of finally breaking her family free of poverty and of finding a broader stage for her skills.

Now, both her team and her family are struggling to make sense of their loss.

“The only thing she would talk about was how one day she would make our mother and all of us happy,” said her sister, Oumi Jawara, recounting how Ms. Jawara was haunted by the suffering their mother went through over the family’s struggles for subsistence.

Hers is a fate shared by hundreds of others from her country and across West Africa who have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea or somewhere along the thousands of miles of treacherous desert to get there.

Thousands of Gambians have tried to make their way to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration. The organization estimates that more than 4.3 percent of Gambians live outside the country, with many fleeing across the border into Senegal.