The first day of training camp with the Darfur United Women’s Team felt peacefully familiar. We arrived early in the morning to see the players already at the field eager to begin their sessions, smiling ear-to-ear when checking out their new cleats and jerseys—for some players their first-ever pair of soccer shoes— and giggling with excitement as they spoke with one another about the week ahead. The atmosphere had the same sense of anticipation and joy as the start of every soccer season I can remember growing up, and my heart was happy knowing that these women now share in the universal experience of camaraderie that comes when you are part of a team. Their hearts seemed happy, too.

My favorite moment today was between the morning and afternoon sessions, as the players gathered for a meal and relaxed before the work began again. As they snacked on bread and veggies laying on mats under a tree, my mind raced through dozens of memories lounging on grassy fields in the shade with my own teammates. I smiled watching Nouha and Isma speaking like best friends do, lost in laughter and conversation. I wondered what some of my teammates-turned-best-friends were doing at that moment. If you didn’t know better, it would have seemed as if these players were your own neighborhood team, and it would perhaps be easier to leave the story there.

In the background of these common experiences, however, the women of Darfur have much more on their minds. They are part of a community forgotten by the world, isolated in eastern Chad for over 15 years, and who live with the trauma of unimaginable atrocities committed against themselves and their loved ones. Unlike the teams I was part of, they too often will wonder if they have enough food for their next meal for themselves, their children, and their families. They fight every day to survive. I see them proudly wear the Darfur United crest on their jerseys and wonder if they will ever know the feeling of playing at “home.”

Just as badly as I want the Darfur United players to know and love the universal joy and unity of the game, I want the world to see that as refugees, It isn’t just a simple game for them. It carries the weight of representing a community in need of basic resources to survive. I’m grateful they now have this platform to tell their story to the world, but I wish they did not have to do so.

May the women of Darfur gain hope for the future knowing that the team shines a spotlight on Darfur to the international community. May the world see them.

 

 

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