This blog was originally posted on DarfurUnited.com.
When asked, “Who likes football?
Tomorrow morning we start the first day of coach’s training with 15 men and 15 women candidates from refugee site Gado! It doesn’t feel real yet. We’ve been traveling for over three weeks now, and I’ve been anticipating this part of our trip – the opportunity to launch a new Refugees United Soccer Academy, the first in Cameroon for refugees from the Central African Republic.
This morning we held a long meeting with what seemed like 100 youth, mainly young men. We introduced iACT, the Refugees United Soccer Academy program, and allowed them to take the floor to ask questions and to let us know what they thought. The meeting dragged on for a couple of hours, all of them footballers, divided by their love of Real Madrid or Barcelona. It was clear they were invested in soccer for their community – they wanted to know all the details and vision of the program.
When we mentioned that at least 15 of the coach candidates had to be women, there was some doubt and pushback. They tried to negotiate. “How about seven or eight candidates?” they asked. Others told us that “the women are too busy” and “there would not be many available.” Well, we responded, please at least inform the women and give them the opportunity to choose whether they’re too busy to be employed as soccer coaches. The pushback on women playing is always a bit frustrating, yet comical. It’s to be expected. We can’t blame them. Soccer has traditionally been a sport for boys and men. But as we’ve seen time and time again in every community now hosting a Refugees United Soccer Academy, when given the chance, women jump at the opportunity to play, learn, and have a formal job.
About one hour after that meeting ended, we were having another meeting with a UN Refugee Agency officer. Outside the office, it was getting noisy. We stepped out to see the commotion and, turns out, it was a group of women signing up to ensure their chance at being one of the 15 candidates for tomorrow’s training! In fact, one of the NGO coordinators turned to me and said, “They’re going to have a hard time only selecting 15!”
The sight of these women, eager to sign-up, made me feel that much more excited for training tomorrow. For me, it might be just a few days of routine training and play, but for these women and men in refugee site Gado, the training and the employment with iACT will likely be life-changing. For the children attending the Soccer Academy, it will be the only comprehensive sports program offering a safe space to learn and play in peace with their peers.
Women signing up to try-out as coaches
The training field