Their community said they couldn’t play soccer, but Darfuri women have been ready to take the field for many years. In November, thanks to the support of hundreds of soccer fans, women’s rights advocates, and iACT champions around the world, they finally had their chance. The first-ever, all-refugee Darfur United Women’s Team (DUWT) launched in refugee camp Goz Beida, eastern Chad, with a week-long Team Training Camp. The training camp was designed to serve as both a Darfur United tryout and as an opportunity to begin building the soccer foundations the players will need in order to one day compete on the international stage. Twenty players were selected for the roster at the end of the week.

From the first day, the atmosphere was saturated with excitement and joy as the players picked out soccer cleats—for many their first-ever pair of soccer shoes—proudly put on kits adorned with the Darfur United logo, took the field with eagerness and focus, and, for the first time in their community, were formally recognized as footballers. Each session was accompanied by a crowd of curious fans of all ages, who understood this was a historic moment for Darfuri women and girls.

The DUWT Training Camp was a family affair. The players not only traveled with their youngest sons and daughters, but brought along young girls from their families so that they, too, could be part of this moment of equality and empowerment. The week was demanding, with two training sessions each day and additional workshops in areas such as health and hygiene. Players hopped in and out of training to care for their children, interacted with and coach young fans between sessions, and spoke with the community about the importance of having female soccer players and community leaders.

The determination of these women to become great footballers was surpassed only by the broader mission of Darfur United to serve as a vehicle of hope, awareness, and inspiration for the people of Darfur. One could feel and witness the heart of the team in every encounter with the players, as they knew their team has the power to make sure the world does not forget Darfur.

When asked why the Darfur United Women’s Team was important, Leila Ismail, DUWT defender and stand-out player, said:

When iACT created the Darfur United Men’s Team, we thought, “When will it be time for women?” Now, at this time, our dreams have come through. We are so happy; we can’t explain. This is a new history we’re creating. Now we can lead the community forward. After today, we will not go back. We must continue forward, to show Darfuri girls they can play. Before this, the women were always at home. Their heads were down. Now, we are out in the community and our heads are up.

Thanks to and with the on-going support of the global family behind DUWT, there is no doubt that the players will continue to grow as leaders and change-makers on and off the pitch and that the team will lead the Darfuri community forward.

Follow the activities of the Darfur United Women’s Team from inaugural training camp to CONIFA World Cup 2020, the first-ever CONIFA World Cup to include women’s teams:

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