UN peacekeepers power up Aweil girls football team’s hopes to win regional tournament
Twenty-two of them kick the ball and do all the footballing maneuvers, perhaps aspiring to become professional footballers. But only a few professional footballers have done what they do here in Aweil: they train on a pebble-littered rough pitch, barefoot.
Drawn from four different football clubs in the greater Aweil area, the girls are training in preparation for the Greater Bahr-el-Ghazal regional tournament in Wau.
“We should continue to prepare ourselves and to encourage our other colleagues to come and join us despite the difficulties we are facing,” says 18-year-old Adhuel Hazaat who plays as right-winger.”
The task ahead for these footballers is both exciting and daunting, as they must overcome the challenges they currently face, including lack of football boots, jerseys, and food.
On this day, though, some power has been injected into their training: the Ghanaian military contingent of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan in Aweil has donated assorted food items to the footballers, including beans, rice, cooking oil, milk, and oats.
“Thank you very much because you have given us a gift,” says 17-year old, Veronica Amou, a mid-fielder. “We shall keep on playing and supporting our team to be strong in Aweil,” she pledges.
“Since we have got our items we shall continue with our practice,” declares Adhuel Hazaat, who also acknowledges that more support is required for the greater Aweil female football team to progress.
“We lack football boots and jerseys,” she reveals.
The squad in this camp includes players from Tiger, Golden Star, and the Bakhita football clubs, and the food items are meant to nourish them, so they will be both mentally and physically prepared for the tournament.
“I wish to play against the female footballers of Wau and defeat them,” says ambitious 19-year-old Abuk Maradona, nick-named after Argentine football star Diego Maradona for her electrifying skills. “And we shall proceed to Juba and defeat the girls there and raise our Aweil flag.”
For the UNMISS peacekeepers, it is an opportunity to strengthen their relationship between them and the people of Aweil.
“We took it upon ourselves to support you by providing you with various food items,” says Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kweku Mautsueni, commander of the Ghanaian military contingent. “We wish you well and hope you perform very well in the tournament in Wau,” he says, while handing over the items to the young female footballers.
These girls are defying traditional norms that have deemed playing football a taboo for women in Aweil. For Abuk Maradona it is important to play football for physical fitness, and so she takes this opportunity to challenge those traditional norms.
“My parents, I am asking you to let girls play football,” she says. “Football does not spoil a girl but instead it strengthens her and keeps her busy.”
And if their parents have any doubts, they only need to listen to Moses Zacharia Ngor, their coach – winner of eight trophies with two different teams, in Egypt and Uganda.
“These girls have skills and they can really play good football,” proudly declares the coach, optimistic that the young female footballers will win the forthcoming tournament.
And now powered by the food items, thanks to Ghanaian peacekeepers, the girls are ready wow Wau in July.