In Bidi Bidi Settlement, which is the world’s largest refugee camp, the International Rescue Committee, in partnership with other aid organizations, have begun organizing inter-village football competitions in an attempt to promote unity among refugees who escape civil war in the continent. “If they were not playing football now, they might be doing other things which could be detrimental in their lives. Some of them would be playing cards, others would be smoking and others would be planning to do nasty things,” explained Moses Opio, one of the men in charge of the International Rescue Committee’s community services.
The majority of refugees are escaping from the conflict in South Sudan, which has caused the deaths of tens of thousands since December 2013. From the South Sudanese population in the camp, most arrived in the past year. Bidi Bidi now houses 270,000 refugees in total, the majority being women and children. Because of the huge rises in population, Uganda’s government and the United Nations are partnering to seek $8 billion in funding to be able to keep up.
While the government authorities try to figure out the future, the International Rescue Committee and local volunteers are trying to at least make the present bearable, and one way they’ve found to achieve that goal is by supporting the sport of football. For example, a group of young men armed with not much more beyond rakes and hoes cleared a site for a soccer field, using the former site of a forest before the camp was established. The refugees have repeatedly expressed their gratefulness for the efforts of the community. For example, one older man talked about the effects of having this pastime available to the youth: “A lot of our young children want to play football to forget what happened in South Sudan. In sport you can play and forget everything.”