Everyone Speaks Soccer
Call it soccer or football, the sport is a universal language for refugees and nationals in Kampala, where players of different nationalities, ethnicities, and tribes unite for a common goal: victory. The only thing that makes one different from the next person is skill, which levels the playing field for the students at Amani Football Academy in Kampala. Started in March 2008 by a group of refugee youth leaders, Amani has grown with the support of international donors to become a thriving organization building bridges between refugees and their hosts.
In Swahili, amani means peace, which is what the Academy strives to foster through soccer. It helps refugees integrate with the local population. The players soon realized that being from Burundi, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Sudan did not affect one's ability to kick a ball.
Poverty still held many of the refugees back. In Uganda, refugees who have chosen to live outside the official refugee settlements are denied assistance and left to fend for themselves. As a result, most refugee players at Amani could not afford to buy shoes, uniforms, or any other equipment. "Our policy is that if one person doesn’t have shoes, nobody plays with shoes. Either everyone plays with shoes or everyone plays without shoes," says Raphael Murumbi, director of Amani.
Fortunately, with the help of Soccer Without Borders (SWB), an organization based out of San Francisco, all of Amani’s players have the equipment they need. SWB also facilitated training for the coaches at Amani and held a course teaching staff how to train coaches, empowering the refugees and nationals to continue their work to promote peace through soccer. In addition to their work with the Academy, SWB supports a youth soccer league in Ndejje, a rural Kampala suburb where more than 2,000 boys and girls participated over the course of last year.
At Amani Football Academy, a grassroots idea that started with one ball, one team, and one coach has grown into a full-fledged program with ten coaches, eight teams, and enough soccer balls to keep the program thriving for years. But there is still only one jersey, and wearing it has united men and women who hail from six different countries but who all speak the same language: soccer.