This blog was originally posted on darfurunited.com and written by Mark Hodson.
We’ve all come a long way in terms of distance traveled as players and as human beings.
I still remember with vivid clarity the time we ran a football tryout, in the unlikely, apocalyptic setting of a refugee camp in Eastern Chad. If the truth be told, I had no idea what the ultimate goal for this team might be. To share the Darfur story was a part of it. To provide the opportunity for a small window of joy on the pitch was another part… but how quickly the ball of momentum for Darfur United started moving… and once it reached the parameter of that hot and desolate camp it simply refused to stop rolling.
The team are my boys. I have known many of them now for four amazing years. I was there in Djabal as I watched their underfed, wiry frames wander into training at 5am somewhere in the Chadian desert, that beautiful morning. The dust rising from the scorched earth, as they jogged over the horizon. Surely even they couldn’t dream that this moment would lead them to a new life, four years later, taking the field against an Academy Football Club in Sweden, surrounded by their band of brothers from their homeland.
As we arrived in Sweden with our formidable management and coaching team, the work that had been completed behind the scenes to make this event an incredible experience and opportunity for the boys was evident.
Families from across the globe have come together to raise funds, provide resources, and share incredible knowledge and expertise, to keep the ball constantly rolling forward at a great velocity.
It seems that with every twist and turn, the team is blessed with angels that fall out of the sky to light our way. The path isn’t always smooth, but whatever obstacles present themselves, they are always navigated by the intervention of someone or something from somewhere just at the right time.
DU players Saleh, Bishara and Ismail in the locker room.
In Sweden, Alan and Judith Barker have performed daily, selfless miracles to provide an experience for the boys that betters any of the multiple teams traveling opportunities I have had the fortune to lead.
The embraces from the team are long and hard. I experience in every squeeze, the feelings from the players that go deep into their beings. Their story is difficult and almost unfathomable to you or me. They have a new home but still carry the weight of knowing that their family and friends remain in the camps. They understand that their journey is important beyond any football match, but that their team continues to carry a beacon of hope and joy for so many Darfuri’s and that they must continue to give it their all.
If the goal was to create a team, then we have done that, but this goal holds no limits, there is no net that will hold us back.
I know that you are all proud of the team’s achievements and so many of you have contributed along the way, but I have to tell you again how incredible these boys are!
The way they have embraced their new home is amazing! Their efforts to develop the language is astounding, both Swedish and English. The manner in which they interact with everyone in their grace is beyond inspiring. They are loved and continue to love despite the many scars they will always carry from their life challenges. They are in constant contact with their loved ones, never for a moment forgetting their home.
Maybe one day the ball will stop rolling and they can be reunited with their families in peace and safety, but until that time we will not stop playing.
We are Darfur United.
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