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Joy…Not Just for Almonds

Nduta Refugee Camp, Tanzania—This week I had the absolute pleasure of facilitating a refresher training for Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) coaches in the Mtendeli refugee camp in Tanzania. I knew these coaches from my work in Tanzania last year and was overjoyed to see them again. When the head coach, Anaclet, saw me from a distance in the child-friendly space where the training took place, he took off at a break-neck speed to run up and give me one of the biggest hugs I’ve ever received, picking me off the ground and squeezing me so tight I thought my ribs would crack. It was the kind of hug that makes you realize the person hugging you never thought they’d see you again and they can’t believe you are really there; a moment filled with such joy that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much.


On day one of the training, it was clear that these six coaches: Anaclet, Irene, Claudine, Emery, Étienne, and Chantal, were experts in the RUSA program. When going over the basics, they anticipated everything I was going to say before I said it, citing the Academy principles and objectives like it was second nature. However, the first question came when covering the Academy coach responsibilities. The last responsibility listed in the Academy curriculum is ‘to enjoy’. Anaclet raised his hand and asked, “This means that we must bring joy to our players, yes?” When I said, “Yes, but…” he cut me off and, a loquacious and known orator, he immediately launched into a mini lecture to his fellow coaches about how it was their job to inspire their players and make sure they bring energy, positivity, and enthusiasm to every practice.

When he finished, I agreed with him, but then asked the group, “Why do you do this work? Why are you a RUSA coach?” Irene raised her hand and said, “Because the children in this camp have many problems, especially girls, and the RUSA program can help them.” Étienne nodded his head in agreement and said, “Because the RUSA program can help children build soccer skills AND life skills.” Chantal and Claudine nodded in agreement. Emery also chimed in saying, “Because we love football (soccer)!”


“This is all great!” I said and asked, “Do any of these things bring you joy?” The coaches were silent for a moment and looked at me as if I were crazy. I thought I had lost them completely until Anaclet said, “Of course these things bring us joy! We look forwar