Football for peace: World Cup fever helps bridge barriers for South Sudanese refugees

Dorah Ntunga

Blog post by Dorah Ntunga

Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Information, Media & Communications Officer, Oxfam in Uganda
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As countries from all over compete for the World Cup title in Brazil, a different kind of tournament is taking place in northern Uganda. There, in the districts of Arua and Adjumani, young South Sudanese refugees have formed football teams to play for peace.

“I never expected to end up in such a situation. I miss Bor, school and my friends,” says 18-year-old Manyangson Ngong, the captain of the Lucky Start team from Ayilo settlement. His studies in Bor were cut short at the start of the conflict that has left many fleeing for safety.

Breaking the cycle

Manyangson is not the only young person trying to cope. Of the more than 110,000 refugees that have arrived in Uganda since December 2013, 65 percent are under 18. With no schools for them to attend, the youths have been left idle, often engaging in fights. The soccer tournament is a refugee-initiated attempt to break that cycle.

“A few of us started by kicking a handmade ball within the settlements, many youths showed interest to join us and before we knew it, the numbers had grown. We then decided to ask for space where we created a football pitch. With football, we are kept busy not to think over the bad situation and pain,” Manyangson says.

“Many other teams have been created. We are all from different tribes including the host [Ugandan] community!”

Becoming friends

The biggest challenge, according to Manyangson, is allowing everyone to play since, there are not enough balls or uniforms to differentiate who is on which team.

“It feels bad stopping someone from joining the teams when they want to. We have tried to divide the teams to ensure everyone has a chance to play. The balls we recently received from [Oxfam partner] ACORD are assisting in making this possible.”

“With more support, hopefully we can grow stronger and start playing friendly matches with other refugees and teams within the districts. Who knows? I might meet some of my old friends among the teams!"

Building peace

Oxfam and partners Community Empowerment for Rural Development (CEFORD) and Agency for Cooperation and Research in Development (ACORD) are engaged in protection and peace building work in the settlements. Besides providing for recreational activities like distributing footballs, Oxfam is supporting the formation and strengthening of peace committees made up of refugee and host communities to engage in national, regional and international advocacy to encourage peace building and reconciliation.

As of June, Oxfam and local partners including Uganda Red cross have supported over 38,198 South Sudanese refugees and the communities hosting them in Arua and Adjumani districts. 

We are providing clean water to over 31,000 people, improving sanitation facilities and promoting good hygiene to prevent disease outbreaks like cholera. Oxfam and its partners CEFORD and ACORD are distributing energy saving stoves, farming tools, vegetable seedlings and providing short term jobs to help people rebuild their livelihoods.

Oxfam and partners have also carried out analysis of the protection needs for each gender, and have designed and implemented activities that reduce vulnerability and prevent gender based violence among refugees and host communities. 

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