It’s not the end of the world…but it wouldn’t be a cheap taxi ride……If they had taxis!

Prior to our departure to Goz Beida one of the United Nation’s workers described the area we were travelling to as one of “the” most remotely inhabited communities on the planet… Now, I come from a small town in the North of England that’s pretty remote, but in comparison to here it’s positively Tokyo City!

The plane rides seem to provide an overriding sense of entertainment on this trip so far. We arrived at the airport before it opened and despite the already crowded reception area we were somehow shepherded through to the front of ticketing, after a nod and a wink from Gabriel and most probably some kind of invisible secret handshake… In this instance ticketing presented a man behind a table wearing a fake Gucci t-shirt and a big smile and in no time the tickets and bags were processed N’Djemena style. He also shook hands with each of us and sent us on our way with a “bon voyage!”… American Airlines take note!

We had confirmed the day previous that the flight to Goz Beida would be direct…a rare treat by all accounts…As we boarded the plane we were told that our destination would now be the second stop…..I still don’t think anyone’s quite sure where we went first…though if you drew a circle of travel approximately 70 minutes away from N’Djamena you would have to hit the spot eventually…although based on mud the runway/field we landed on, you might not find it on the map.

With our travel complete we were fortunate enough to head into camp with the assistance of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. I can’t really do justice to the experience other than to say for me it was “other worldly.” Young, young kids stood by the road in treacherous heat. Women were working hard, going about their daily list of seemingly endless tasks. Men, organizing, debating and communicating with great animation and a steely commitment to their case…whatever case they might have been contesting.

Already in camp were representatives from 8 of the 12 refugee camps. We met every player…each player was excited, nervous and inquisitive in their own individual way. Their faces shone with enthusiasm and passion for the trip they had just made and the journey that potentially lies ahead of them with the formation of the World’s first all refugee Darfur United team.

As the sun dimmed and we prepared to leave for the day we seized the opportunity to bring the players together for a briefing for tomorrow’s commencement of action. Through the use of our amazing 16 year old translator Rahma, we shared with the players that this was “their team” and that it was our goal to unite them on and off the field over the next 6 days and hopefully in a meaningful enough way that these new relationships might flourish and serve to bring some of the solutions that these people are seeking. There is unfortunately little hope for many of the people in these camps. Education is minimal and despite the amazing effort of groups such as i-ACT, the opportunity for individuals to move on to achieve much greater things with their lives is often a step too far.

We owe these people as much as to make the next six days the best six days that we can give them, not only to the players, but also the friends and supporters throughout Darfur and the rest of the world who have made this all possible. We owe them the opportunity to shine and spread the word about their cause…to give them a chance to smile and come together in representing their proud people…Tomorrow we kick the first ball for Darfur. Tomorrow we become UNITED.

Mark Hodson
Darfur United Coach

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