Rent a Ball: Girls Football taking shape in Nakivale albeit the challenges to nurture talent for girls

In light of the on going 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in June and July, It would be remise not to mention Nakivale refugee settlement’s budding future female world cup hopefuls . For some reason, the sight of pre-teen to teenage girls, chasing a worn ball across a dusty field, in the scotching sun, is the norm around Nakivale. Yes, they were aware of other female friendly games, and no, they are not interested. Why? I probed , they shrug their shoulders saying football is just what they know and understood. To a Ugandan mind set this is both shocking and intriguing all at once. Sure, Ugandan women who enjoy football and follow both local and international leagues do exist, but even these don’t actively play the sport.

Clearly fascinated, I make my way toward the pitch, and lucky for me the Captain, 18-year old Congolese refugee, Celestine calls for a much needed break. They quickly crowd the shelter around the water tank, behind the newly constructed Women’s Space by HIJRA Uganda. Since the main building was being utilised by another women’s group, we huddled around the water tank. I notice that few if any have shoes, those that do, seem ill fitting and if they are sports shoes, definitely not football spikes. I jokingly ask how many of them still have their toenails intact, and like warriors showing off battle scars, everyone had a story to tell, dusty hardened toes were presented with pride. I commiserated knowingly; having often witnessed my brother’s transforming feet growing up. However, by the looks of things it’s just collateral damage. You see, for 10 year old Rachael, this is only the beginning toward a promising international football career someday.

They are the Peace and Love Young Girls Football Club. Based in New Congo, Nakivale Settlement, None among the 16 members is attending school, though they are fairly proficient in both English and French. I learn that a handful of them were born within the settlement and that they were practicing, for an upcoming match with New Sagano, another girl’s football team all the way in Juru, a neighbouring refugee village. But there is no coach insight, apparently the girls motivate and look out for each other all by themselves. And no, they were not worried, they have comfortably beaten several rival teams around the settlement they giggled.

Whose ball is this I asked? Their ball was old but it was clearly a good quality ball, I learn that they share the cost of ten thousand shillings among themselves, one thousand shilling being  the daily rate for  renting the ball from men’s football team.

I asked how much a new ball costs and was met with blank stares. What happens if you don’t have the money for ball?  The men’s team is kind enough to let us use the ball on credit from time to time, replied Rachael. I wanted to ask were they got the money to pay for ball’s rent in the first place, but lost the opportunity as the captain signalled for round two.

Nakivale Settlement has 11 government recognised primary schools, one secondary school and one vocational institute geared towards a school going population of 23,612 young people who live in this melting pot of nationalities from a far as Pakistan to Rwanda, DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and  South Sudan. A worrisome rising child school dropout rate plagues the community due to various reasons mainly like lack of tuition fees and the long distances children are forced to trek from and to their schools.

Youth like the Peace and Love Gals football group and many scattered with in the settlement need to be supported and encouraged in their collective and individual pursuits. Their sheer determination in the face of all the things they lack and need is inspiring. HIJRA plans to provides play equipment for youth groups such as these throughout the settlement, however due to limited funding, the roll out is experiencing speed bumps and hiccups here and there.

 

 

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