For Refugees from CAR, Life Doesn’t Stop
Last week, Stanislas, Ghislaine, Haron, and Rachidatou, the four Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches in refugee camp Gado in eastern Cameroon, traveled by bus to meet Kelsey and me in Bertoua, a town five hours south of Gado. The logistics weren’t easy, but it had been two years since we had last seen the coaches, and meeting in Bertoua allowed us to spend a day together.
“Life is hard,” they shared, as we sat waiting for our food in a quiet restaurant. Food rations have been reduced and there are very few job opportunities. Families are struggling to survive and a generation of youth, so capable and eager to rebuild their lives, is losing hope. As a result, the coaches tell us, some families have made the very dangerous decision to go back to Central African Republic (CAR), a country some say is on the brink of falling into a full-blown war.
Together, the coaches are doing all they can both through the Academy and their ideas—which include wanting to provide ongoing soccer training for girls and women who age out of the Academy—to ensure children and youth have a safe space to learn, play, and foster hope. But the needs are overwhelming, and the coaches are concerned. Camp Gado hosts over 25,000 refugees from CAR, with 57 percent of the population over the age of 18. These tens of thousands of refugees are still adjusting to their abruptly changed lives.
Later in the evening, the coaches talked about their own lives “before the crisis,” and now, living in Gado. Coach Rashidatou quietly mentioned that she lost her parents and three of her siblings. “She became an orphan when the crisis happened,” said Stanislas, as he translated for her. She is now the only one in her family with a job.
While still in CAR, Ghislaine was in her third year of obtaining her accounting baccalaureate in Bangui. Today, she lives with her husband, her mother, and several siblings. She is the main provider in the family; her husband struggles to find consistent work despite his best efforts every day. Ghislaine also looks for side jobs, but her mother is concerned she works too hard.
At the age of 23, Haron is the youngest of the four coaches. His grandmother’s caretaker, he told us that instead of thinking about life back in Bangui “because the memories are too difficult,” he prefers to focus on the people and life around him. He dreams of playing soccer competitively and vows he won’t let anything get in his way. He is a big fan of the Darfur United Men’s Team and proudly mentioned his friendship with Saleh, one of the team’s star players. When we asked about relationships and love, he smiled shyly, not wanting to respond. The other coaches cajoled him a bit and he began to tell us about this girl and that girl, while quick to remind us that he doesn’t want a relationship to get in the way of his soccer career.
Stanislas is the oldest and by far the most gregarious of the group, always the first to respond to our questions, and laugh. We learned all about how he met his fiancée—a love-at-first-sight story—and that he is now working hard save up money for her dowry. He beamed when talking about her.
As a group, they were emphatic when expressing that being a coach at the Academy and working with iACT is a source of inspiration, happiness, and purpose. They have become celebrities in their community, so much so that it’s impossible for them to walk around without being noticed or spoken to. “Look, it’s Coach Stanislas!” Haron said, while laughing. It’s clear the coaches have made a much-needed impact on the lives around them.
Life is hard in camp Gado, but life doesn’t stop. Stanislas, Ghislaine, Haron, and Rachidatou, and thousands of others in their community—people just like you and me—continue to look for meaning, for purpose, for love, and for ways to improve their lives and the lives of their children and families. Let’s share their stories.
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