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Refugees Truly United

Nduta Refugee Camp, Tanzania—Recently, I had the privilege of delivering a refresher training for Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) coaches in the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Ten Burundian refugee men and women gathered to review the basics of the Academy program and learn additional skills and drills to do with their players. One of the major topics discussed was the coaches’ desire to connect more with their fellow coaches in the Mtendeli refugee camp, as well as other Academy coaches around the world. Little did they know I had a surprise in store for them. After completing the training in Nduta, I had arranged for the Academy coaches in the Mtendeli camp to travel to the Nduta camp to spend a day together with their fellow coaches. When both groups found out, they were ecstatic!

Early on Friday morning the Mtendli coaches traveled over an hour to arrive at the Nduta camp. When they entered into the child-friendly space, the Nduta coaches greeted them with hugs and smiles as if they had known each other for years, despite this being the first time they had ever met. We all gathered in a classroom and started the day with a fun name-game followed by mindfulness, allowing coaches from both camps to lead different exercises. After a short discussion on how the two groups were delivering the Academy program in their respective camps, we were joined by soccer coaches from the nearby schools in the camp. This was a great opportunity to share the Academy program with them, discuss common challenges and solutions, and identify ways to work together. Although the overall discussion was positive, it eventually went down the path of venting frustrations about particular challenges the coaches were facing: not enough program materials, not enough playing space, lack of support from parents, etc. This was a perfect segue to the next activity.

In addition to bringing the coaches together, I had also arranged for them to watch the Not Just Football documentary, which tells the story of the Darfur United men’s football team. For the next two hours, the coaches were riveted. When the film showed old news clips of violence in Darfur, the coaches were saddened, shaking their heads with disapproval. When the film showed footage of the Darfur United try-outs in Chad, the coaches were in awe of the situation and context: some players didn’t have any shoes and had to play on burning sand; other players wore thread-bare clothes with holes; and many players sustained injuries, yet persevered as if their lives depended on it. When the film finally showed the team scoring their first goal, the coaches cheered and clapped as if they were they were in the stadium seeing it in real time.

After the film finished, the coaches had lots of questions. “Where is the team now?”, “Are they still playing?”, “How can we get in touch with them?” “What is the situation in their camps now?” etc.