On World Refugee Day, I need to thank Moubarag and the grit, determination, and spirit that he embodies as a representative of the people of Darfur.
Moubarag first tried out for the Darfur United squad that traveled to Iraq in 2012. From the moment I saw him, standing on the field waiting for the drills to start, I knew he was a baller. With singular intensity and focus, he just looked the part of a winner. When the ball started rolling, it was clear he was one of the best players from all the camps, and he played with passion and joy.
Just before going to Iraq, Moubarag suffered a serious injury to his leg. Our physical trainer Alex was ready for him, and he immediately started doing everything he was told to try to get back on the field. Our Dr. Alex is good, but she told me that, when massaging the leg, it felt “crunchy” under her thumbs. I hated hearing that.
But Moubarag continued seeing Alex every day, multiple times a day. He wanted to get on the field! Towards the end of game 2 in Iraq, one that Darfur United was losing by many goals, Coach Mark turned to the bench and asked our limping hero to come check in. He made his runs and did not hesitate in going in to defend the much bigger opponents. It was inspiring to see him go at it.
I was so happy to see Moubarag again show up for the 2014 try-outs. He looked great, and when I asked him about his leg, he said: “Yes! Very good!” And it showed. He was quick, aggressive, and slashing in his moves. Again, he was one of the top two or three players on the pitch.
When game one started in Sweden, one of my main highlights was just to see Moubarag running in the beautiful stadium. From the kick off, he was the most active and energetic player on his team, and he yelled for others to work as hard. My happiness turned to shock, when I saw Moubarag collide full-force with an opponent double his size, knee to knee. He went down, and Dr. Alex had to run in and use a teammate to assist Moubarag off the field. It was another serious injury.
There was no feeling sorry for himself, not for Moubarag. After the game, he immediately started visiting Dr. Alex religiously, pleading with her in his quiet way: “Get me back on the pitch.” He missed the next two games but continued with treatment and exercises.
For game four, Darfur United only had nine eligible players, with Moubarag being number ten. The thought of forfeiting the game was brought up, but we asked the players. Moubarag spoke for everyone: “We play!” He had Dr. Alex tape and wrap up his knee, and he walked on the field with a visible limp but also with pride in his eyes.
He wasn’t just a body on the field, he played all out for the full 90 minutes. He made incredible sprints, took shots, and challenged opponents. You just cannot keep Moubarag down.
Moubarag is one of those special people who leads by example and also has the great gift to understand situations, say the right thing at the right time, and inspire those around him to be better. He is strong and resilient, and all he wants is an opportunity to give all that he has.
He represents the best of Darfur. Like Moubarag, Darfur has been hurt and challenged, but it will keep coming at the world, demanding an opportunity for a life of joy and dignity.
Thank you, Moubarag. Your spirit is what should be celebrated on World Refugee Day.