In 2005, I headed out to Darfuri refugee camps on the Chad-Sudan border with a little camera and a very naive heart and mind. I was going to go put a face on the numbers of dead, raped, and displaced that were being reported from what was being called, “hell on earth,” and genocide. That trip was to be my one and only, and then I could go back to my normal life, having contributed my share.
Just a week ago, I was in the refugee camps on my 19th trip to the region. Sadly, my small contribution through i-ACT and the contribution from the world has not been even close to enough to bring peace to Darfur, so I’ll be back for my 20th—and probably many more.
On those first trips many years ago, it was just a few dozen people following along watching our videos and pictures and reading our blogs. But those few really connected on a personal level with our friends in the camps. It was no longer abstract numbers. It was real people, with real hopes and dreams—deserving a life of dignity and opportunity, just like anyone else.
Violence has again been on the rise in Darfur, and conditions in the camps are getting worse. Some might think that there are higher priorities than a football team, when looking at options for action on Darfur. I say that right now is exactly the right time for Darfur United. The world has chosen to look the other way, as civilians are targeted inside of Darfur and refugees are gradually being left to their own devices in a region that cannot support them.
Darfur United brings together the best players from the refugee camps to represent their people and their land, using the most popular and most beautiful game in the world to bring joy—but to also carry their story outside of Darfur. After 11 years of violence and suffering, I do not lose hope. They will get to go back home someday. Will football be the answer? Maybe I’m still very naive but … why not!