The soccer team you won’t see at the World Cup

By Oxfam
Fired up by the World Cup, members of a local soccer team in Uganda get psyched for a match in Arua, where many South Sudanese refugees have fled for safety. Photo: Dorah Ntunga/Oxfam

While the World Cup continues, teams of young refugees in Uganda play hard to take their minds off the troubles at home in South Sudan.

The following has been adapted from a story written by Dorah Ntunga, Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Information, Media & Communications Officer in Uganda.

As 32 countries compete for the World Cup title in Brazil, a different kind of tournament is taking place in northern Uganda. There, in the districts of Arua and Adjumani, young South Sudanese refugees have formed soccer teams to play for peace.

They are among more than 400,000 people who have fled South Sudan since fighting broke out there in mid-December. The conflict has dragged the world’s newest nation into a food crisis that threatens nearly four million people. Inside the country, more than one million people remain displaced.

“I never expected to end up in such a situation. I miss Bor, school, and my friends,” says 18-year-old Manyangson Ngong, the captain of the Lucky Start team from Ayilo settlement in Uganda. The fighting in South Sudan cut his studies short in Bor.

Ngong is not the only young person trying to cope. Of the more than 110,000 South Sudanese refugees in Uganda, 65 percent are under 18. With no schools for them to attend, these young people have had little to do, and often wind up fighting with each other. The soccer tournament is a refugee-initiated attempt to break that cycle.

To help, Oxfam has been helping to distribute soccer balls. It’s part of our work with two partner organizations: Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD) and Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD). The work includes supporting the formation and strengthening of peace committees made up of refugees and the communities that are hosting them.

Games to ease the pain

“A few of us started by kicking a handmade ball within the settlements,” says Ngong, explaining how the games first started. “Many youths showed interest to join us and before we knew it, the numbers had grown. We then decided to ask for space where we created a football pitch.  With football, we are kept busy not to think over the bad situation and pain. Many other teams have been created. We are all from different tribes including the host [Ugandan] community.”

Manyangson Ngong, a South Sudanese refugee in Ayilo settlement in Uganda, stands with two of his teammates. Photo: Oxfam

The biggest challenge, says Ngong, is allowing everyone to play since there are not enough balls or uniforms to differentiate who is on which team.

“It feels bad stopping someone from joining the teams when they want to. We have tried to divide the teams to ensure everyone has a chance to play,” he says. “With more support, hopefully we can grow stronger and start playing friendly matches with other refugees and teams within the districts. Who knows? I might meet some of my old friends among the teams.”

Water and sanitation

In addition to peace building, Oxfam and its local partners, including the Uganda Red Cross, are working to help meet some of the basic needs of the South Sudanese refugees. So far, we have helped more than 38,000 of them in Uganda.

We are providing clean water to over 31,000 people, improving sanitation facilities, and promoting good hygiene to prevent disease outbreaks like cholera. We are distributing energy saving stoves, farming tools, and vegetable seedlings, and providing short-term jobs to help people rebuild their livelihoods. Together with our partners, we are also working on ways to help prevent gender-based violence among refugees and their hosts.

Help Oxfam continue to provide emergency aid to refugees in Uganda and displaced families in South Sudan.

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