In a nation where cultural practices strongly discourage women from entering male-dominated spheres of life, a female football team is rare.
But a recent upsurge of female football teams in the international arena, like the indomitable Falcons of Nigeria and Black Queens of Ghana, has attracted young girls in some rural and underdeveloped communities, who are battling socio-economic and cultural challenges, to the game.
The Wotap Female Football Club in the Western Bahr El-Ghazal State capital of Wau, South Sudan, has been making waves in both the town and country at large.
Mostly made up of teenagers, Wotap Football Club was formed in 2000, aimed at drawing girls together to fight illiteracy and promote reconciliation among different groups of people in Wau.
Among its achievements is winning the cup in a match against the Khartoum female football team. Wotap football team has also participated in competitions in Kenya and Uganda.
“So far we have established nine teams in the state, but only one is really functioning due to our personal efforts and commitment,” said team coach Sabino Damazo. “Our biggest challenge is funding to keep the team running.”
With enthusiasm and zeal to excel and make a name for themselves, it is no wonder that several girls focus on benefits they derive from being members of the team, despite the challenges.
“It helps me in many things,” said Rozana Anthony Ubor, who plays a winger position in the team. “Socially, I have learned team spirit and have made many friends.”
“It also breaks boundaries between people, as there used to be tribal conflicts between the Fertit and Dinka groups in Wau,” the girl added. “Through our matches, we have created a link between our members from different tribes.”
The opportunities and benefits of the team cannot be underestimated in a country with high illiteracy and school dropout rates, especially among girls.
Football keeps them in check and instils discipline.
"I enjoy it because instead of wasting time in the evening I go to practice and associate with my friends, acquire new knowledge and avoid idleness,” said centre striker Ernesta Erminio Faragalla. “I cannot stop playing football because it helps me to discover many things and even gives me the opportunity to go outside the country.”