4,000 people cheer on as a football match for girls and the elderly brings hope in conflict-ridden Tambura

UNMISS womens history month women peace security tambura conflict western equatoria south sudan united nations un peacekeeping

The power of sport to unite people was in full display at a friendly football match between a local girls' team and a lineup of elderly men, as 4,000 onlookers cheered on and enjoyed a joyous afternoon in conflict-ridden Tambura, Western Equatoria. Photo by Phillip Mbugo/UNMISS

21 Mar 2022

4,000 people cheer on as a football match for girls and the elderly brings hope in conflict-ridden Tambura

Phillip Mbugo

WESTERN EQUATORIA – Happiness has been in short supply across the greater Tambura region of South Sudan’s Western Equatoria state.

In June 2021, violence erupted here, killing many and displacing tens of thousands.

Since then, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has proactively shored up its protective presence while working with local authorities and the government to engage communities in reconciliation activities.

A recent intervention by the UN Peacekeeping mission in partnership with the football Association in Tambura brought much-needed cheer to residents—a friendly football match between the local girls’ team who were pitted against a lineup formed by elderly men.

Some 4,000 community members gathered at the Tambura Freedom Square to cheer from the sidelines.

“I can’t believe it has been seven months since we came together to enjoy an event,” said Christine Francis Nahiya, who was displaced during armed attacks and is currently sheltering at a makeshift camp protected by UNMISS.

“We have had little to laugh about in past months, but today has been invigorating for my soul. I lost everything I owned and three of my close relatives were killed during the clashes. I don’t have words to express how grateful I feel seeing everyone out and about, enjoying themselves and leaving behind their worries to watch a game of football. This is what life should be like,” she added.

Christine wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by her feelings.

For Grace Maida, captain of girls’ team, though they lost with the final score at 2-1 in favour of their opponents, every player on her team is, in her opinion, a changemaker.

“Look at what we achieved today,” she stated passionately. “People came out to see us take on a more experienced team of men. We may have lost the game, but we won hearts and minds. There was no parochialism, no differences or disputes today, only joy and unity. Given the right support in terms of training and sports equipment, we would like to invite other girls across the state to join us in building peace through sport,” continued this committed young leader.

Rose Hamza, wife of the Tambura county commissioner and the guest of honor at the event saw the same potential for peacemaking as Grace.

“Look at how each player today come from different backgrounds, but they formed a team and gave us the incredible experience of watching a thrilling, hard-fought game. We must take their example and come together as one people if we are to build and sustain peace in South Sudan,” averred Ms. Hamza.

Another key aspect stressed by Ms. Hamza: Educating and empowering girls to become leaders in society.

“When women are given equal opportunities, a society becomes stronger. We must focus on upholding the rights of women and girls across South Sudan. It is time they take their rightful place in leading the charge for a gender-equal country. This starts with including women in taking decisions that impact their lives directly,” she stated.

The power of sport to build peace and unity was also highlighted by Joseph Nafoni Kapi, Chair of the local football association.

“Sports as a peacebuilding tool is second to none,” said Mr. Kapi. “Today, after months of turmoil, we had the great pleasure of watching girls and retirees come together at an event which has lifted us up from the darkness of these past months. I urge UNMISS and partners to organize more such sports activities to encourage communities across our nation to leave our differences aside,” he added.

As the shadows grew longer, trophy presentations and stirring speeches from women’s representatives as well as traditional leaders ended this day of harmony in Tambura, leaving scores of conflict-affected residents with a glimmer of hope for the future.

The event was facilitated by the mission’s Communication and Public Information Section and supported by the Gender Affairs Unit.