As part of our Refugee Week 2019 series, Gabriel Stauring, co-founder and director of I-ACT, an NGO that provides humanitarian action to aid, empower, and extend hope to those affected by mass atrocities, explains how the Darfur United team came into existence…
“When the idea first came up about creating a football team made up of refugees from the 12 Darfuri camps in eastern Chad, we began conversations with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to see if they would be open to supporting what appeared to be an almost impossible road to the World Football Cup for non-FIFA teams. To our surprise, UNHCR in Chad was open to supporting and agreed to officially endorse our team’s journey in 2012.
“We knew that this beautiful game would be a great vehicle for positive change for a group of people that had experienced the horrors of genocide.
“Darfur United is serious about football – but the team is also a vehicle to tell the story of refugees from around the world. There are currently almost 70 million people that are refugees and internally displaced. It is a crisis that cannot be ignored. Darfur United uses a sport that is loved around the world to make the refugee story more accessible, and show the personal side of a huge, mind-numbing crisis.
“I knew that football had this amazing power to create change. Nonetheless, it was eye-opening to see how much more it meant to the refugees. When I first started talking with them about possibly creating Darfur United, one leader told me: ‘Now we are a part of the world.’ For a population that had lost so much, having their own team gives them a sense of identity and one that is positive and offers joy and hope.
“The players went through and continue to go through so many tough moments. It’s hard for me to even imagine, but they talk about being away from their families and how they worry about all their people. They feel guilty about not being to help as much as they’d like to.
“They also experience many moments of joy. They came from different camps, where they had been isolated since they were boys. Their teammates became like brothers, and I could see how meaningful that was—the connection with others that had experienced the same difficult journey.
“My hope is that the Darfur United Men’s and Women’s teams continue to be a source of joy for the people of Darfur and for all refugees. But beyond joy, we also want these teams to attract regular people that might not know about big humanitarian issues and they might then allow themselves the opportunity to become change-makers. Football has powerful gravity. Darfur United is hope in action.
“The teams have been a labor of love, for the players, for iACT (the nonprofit that worked with the refugees to create the teams), and for supporters. We’ve never had large sponsorships, although we’re working to find them. We are always looking for support, both monetarily, volunteers, and in-kind donations.”
People can learn more, follow the team, and donate at DarfurUnited.com – https://darfurunited.com/
They can also contact iACT Co-Executive Director Katie-Jay Scott: firstname.lastname@example.org