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Putting Things into Perspective

By Brian Cleveland / April, 1, 2012


The Darfur United hopefuls have not ceased to amaze me. This morning we arrived at camp before sunrise so the players weren’t playing in the direct heat. While Coach Mark and I were setting up the field for try outs, we began to wonder where the players were, and if they had slept in. All the sudden, out of nowhere, all 56 of them came jogging in from behind the field in lines while clapping in unison. It was like they have been playing together for weeks. We all know most of them just met yesterday. It’s hard enough to get a group of 20 athletes back home to be on the same page like that for the first game after an in depth preseason, and they completely planned this on their own. The players warm up was enough inspiration we needed to get us through the day.

We set up the field into areas where we could maximize the space we had to work with, and have as many players playing at once. With just a couple substitutes waiting their turn for each small sided game, things were moving quite smoothly. Another positive is that these guys don’t waste time, they’re willing to just jump right in to get things going.

Planning the logistics of this whole project must have been a nightmare for the i-ACT team and UNHCR when you consider the fact that the top 5 players from the 12 camps in Eastern Chad needed to be selected, transportation between camps arranged, housing set up, and food provided for them while they stay at Camp Djabal for the try outs. Stepping back and taking the moment in was pretty awesome to say the least. Everything had come together and we had the top 60 or so players from nearly 280,000 refugees in Eastern Chad at Camp Djabal knocking around a soccer ball, fighting for their chance to represent Darfur on a worldwide stage.

Once the heat cooled down somewhat, we got the players together for the second session. Mark lead the team in a chalk talk in regards to playing a 4-3-3 formation for the afternoons scrimmages. Each player watched intently as it was probably the first time they have been coached in their lives. Once we walked out to the field, there were 100s of women and children gathered to see what Darfur United is all about. Just when I was marking out the field with cones, there were at least 30 children crowding around me, “helping” set up the field, walking the perimeter of the field with me every step of the way. Once the scrimmages got under way, the Darfur United fans lined the sides of the field watching intently. It was like something I’ve never seen before. As for the soccer, there are some quite talented players. I give them even more respect since they’re playing in sand like beach soccer, and some of the players playing barefoot go in for tackles just as hard as the ones with cleats. The sand makes it a different game than it is back home, but a pretty tasteful one at that.

Aside from the I-ACT team, we had help from Rahma and Murtada, amongst others, during the scrimmages for crowd control, translation and picture taking. I wish I could just take these two boys back home for one day to speak to my students about the importance of education. Every conversation I have with Rahma somehow relates back to school and what his goals are. It’s like there’s something missing back home for a lot of people, and not just students. When you’re from a small town as I am, it can be so easy to just get caught up with the everyday obstacles. When we get caught up like this, it’s easy to forget about what’s most important, or how good we actually have it, when maybe some of the little things in life may not be going our way, or as we planned. I’m sure Rahma isn’t the only boy or girl in the camps that has dreams to go to a university, but unfortunately, the reality of it is his and others chances are quite slim. How can a refugee have the means to attend a university when they are trying to make ends meet on a day to day basis, and may barely receive a secondary education? Most people back home go to college after high school because it’s what you’re supposed to do culturally. Some, and maybe most people go to college without any idea about what they want to do as an adult. This is mostly because things have come so easy. We weren’t raised in a camp where we felt the pressure of having to make change and if we didn’t we may have to live the camp life forever.

Even with athletics in America, how many athletes really play for the name or town on the front of the jersey and sacrifice the name on the back? There’s going to be around 40 refugees sent back to their camps that don’t make the cut on Monday, and you know what they have to say about it? They say they will cheer on the team when they go to the Viva World Cup, and tell everyone while they watch it that they had the chance to play with the players who make up Darfur United. The reality of it is they all want the best players to be chosen, so the team can play for and represent Darfur with hopes they will be as successful as possible, even if it means they don’t make the cut. In the end, these guys are the future of the Darfuri people, which makes these try outs more than just the game of soccer. The try outs are about the future of Darfur, and making connections without borders between what camp you’re from, and what tribe you’re associated with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying America is filled with selfishness and lack of pride. I’m just saying some of us can put things into perspective a little better than we do, including myself.

Yikes, I guess I’ll get off my soapbox. Being here truly creates such sheer inspiration. Im probably supposed to be blogging about the days events, but everything runs so much deeper here.

On another note…
It ends up our sister school is not at Camp Djabal, but at Camp Goz Amer, the closest camp nearby. Luckily, Umda is the leader from Goz Amer and is here for the try outs. Tomorrow I’ll get to deliver the posters, letters made by my students, and even the friendship bracelets made at home by one of my students to Umda to ensure our gifts make it to Goz Amer and end up in the right hands. Go SMS! I guess this kind of contradicts what I just explained, and that there are just as many students who do understand how good we actually have it. I’ll also be able to find out more about the social networking between sister schools before I leave so we can begin that process when I get back to the states. Talk soon!

Brian Cleveland
Darfur United Assistant Coach


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10 Responses to Putting Things into Perspective

  • Vincent Lombardo

    I hope those kids had fun at the tryouts also hope that most of them make the team

    • Brian Cleveland

      Hi Vin! It has been quite an experience, I hope you have gotten to read our blogs and watch the video footage! Enjoy April vacation, see you when we get back!
      Mr. Cleveland

  • Rachel

    Goose bumps, goose bumps… Thank you for sharing your journey.

  • Candy

    It will be hard for the atheletes that don’t make the Darfur United team but they can be proud that they were a part of this. The fact that they want the best players to be chosen to represent Darfur United and be as successful as possible says alot.
    You have so much to bring back to teach your students.

  • Mike Oberdick

    Reading this and watching the video really puts this into perspective for me. What you guys are doing over there goes beyond sports. I can only imagine the intensity during practice and the passion for the game.

  • Jess Chambal

    Mr Cleveland this is so touching! I bet your having the experience of a lifetime!!!

    • Brian Cleveland

      Hi Jess! It has definitely been an experience of a lifetime! I’ll be sure to fill you in after April break, enjoy your time off!
      -Mr. Cleveland

  • Rjohnson

    Hello there,

    I covered for your class the other day. Your students were overly excited and impressed (as was I) with your journey. We watched the video of your arrival and students took turns reading your Blog. *Truly inspirational.* A few have mentioned their desire to follow in your footsteps. Safe travels home.

  • Amy Adamo

    Mr Cleveland, What an amazing story! I am so proud to have a teacher like you in our school system. Abby was lucky to have you and hopefully will have you as a coach. I hope that all your students can be inspired by your travels and accomplishments!

    • Brian Cleveland

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Amy!