Darfur United Soccer Academy (DUSA) coaches Thouhilia, Sadiya, Issag and Souliman had a challenging day at DUSA recently. DUSA in Goz Amer is certainly not lacking participants, but with an abundance of children playing and watching each day in the first week of it’s opening, things got a little uneasy. We saw that the DUSA pillars of peace, helping, and sharing are more difficult to uphold amongst a crowd of children living in a severely resource deprived refugee camp.
“Children come from different places and different environments in the camp, and from different tribes. For this, they dislike each other. They fight for everything and any small thing like a ball. The solution is difficult. But in time, by bringing them together here at DUSA, by playing soccer together, they will learn about peacebuilding and they will learn to play together.”
Coach Souliman said this to me matter of factly after that challenging day. He knows first hand how soccer can bring people together. It wasn’t too long ago that he himself was trying out for the first Darfur United men’s team in 2012, where the team of young refugee men refused to eat and share the same space with those not of their tribe or camp. Here they were, selected to participate on Darfur UNITED and they refused to integrate with others. However, the conflict and separation did not last long. Within a couple of days, players quickly became brothers, learning each other’s language, sharing stories, meals, and high-fives.
The children attending DUSA are much younger than the Darfur United players. They are ages 6 to 13, and they have been born and raised in an environment where meals, clothing, education, and toys are not promised. The dislike among children is not deep seated. It’s survival. And as I’m told each day out here by someone or another, when there is a problem, there is always a solution. So as Souliman said, in time, as each player starts to understand that they too will get to play with a ball, have access to water, play fun games, wear pinnies and scrimmage, and receive positive affirmation from the coaches, they will shed their fear and dislike. They will learn to play together.
It was not easy to witness what I call “that challenging day.” I saw the stress and fear that children express in order to be included or to simply touch a soccer ball. I now feel even more strongly about the need and importance for a safe space where children are given access to tools, resources, and emotional support. The more time I spend in the camp, the more time I’m here, I see how so, so important it is that this program be offered for refugee children and their community.
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