One team, ten members – everyone has their own incredible story and hopes. Six girls and four boys under 18 years, coming from three refugee camp (Gihembe, Mahama and Nyabiheke) both Congolese and Burundians, with their background and challenging experiences, to part to this competition with the one goal: Demonstrate their talent and skills.
Thanks to the great support from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and UNHCR a Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) participated in the ANOCA Zone V Youth Games held in Huye, Rwanda from 2 to 6 April, 2019. Amidst twelves countries (Burundi, Eritrea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and France). The Refugee Olympic Team stood still and demonstrated that they are an inspiration and source of hope.
Meet all the ten members of the Refugee Olympic Team
- UWINEZA Solange
Solange fled the Democratic Republic of Congo with her parents and two brothers and a sister to find refuge in Nyabiheke refugee camp, in Rwanda. In 2004, Solange was only three years-old when her family was forced to quit Nord Kivu and flee in a neighbouring country. They walked 3 days and nights with no rest to reach the border.
“When we fled, I was a baby but I could feel the pain and exhaustion that my mother had to carry me with her through bushes and forests to get asylum to Rwanda.”
Solange is one of the four Girls basketball team members who were waving a flag of under the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT). She was thrilled to participate in the games and compete with national teams.
“I couldn’t imagine playing with such big teams! Thanks to the IOC, I now have a story to tell. This is the beginning of my story in Basketball and I will write it along my life.”
Uwamahoro is a Congolese refugee living in Nyabiheke refugee camp. Her family fled to Rwanda in 2005 when she was only three. She is now 16 years old and she is the captain of Nyabiheke Girls Basketball team.
Uwamahoro’s parents are very supportive of girls’ participation to sports activities and she is very appreciative as she considers sports as a great protection tool for refugee girls in the refugee camp
“There is nothing much to do in refugee camps and it is easier to get involved in futile doings. After school, sport makes us busy and it increased our self-control.”
Uwamahoro found a great opportunity for her to participate in the ANOCA Game V Youth Games as refugee girls met professional players of their age, she said that they learnt a lot from them.
“Participating in these games was awesome! We thank the IOC and UNHCR for facilitating refugees’ access to sports facilities in the camp. This was a very good start and I promise we will be doing better in the next games.”
3. UWERA Jacqueline
When Jacqueline lost her mother in Nyabiheke refugee camp three years ago, she understood that she could not go any further. She saw everything disappearing and felt so empty. Only one possible solution to her desperation was sports.
“After everything our family went through in DRC, and the hard life we lived in Nyabiheke refugee camp, the death of my mother came as the final to my persistence. Life without my mother will never be what it was before, but with sports it is getting easier.”
The 17 years old Nyabiheke girls’ basketball team player found the ANOCA Zone V Youth Games challenging but opening a room to develop their career. She is proud of being part of the basketball team which is considered as role model in the camp.
“All I want is to be a prominent basketballer. I like the way at my school other students look at basketballers as role models. It gives me courage and zeal to go on and exercise more.”
4. UMUTONI Pacifique
Pacifique is the number five in eight brothers and sisters. He was four years old when her family found refuge in Nyabiheke refugee camp, now home to more than 14,300 Congolese refugees. For her, sport is a great tool to liaise with different people in the camp and outside of the camp. Her dream is to become an international professional basketballer.
“Sports is the best way people can meet and build friendship. Look! I have made friends from Egypt, Rwanda and Sudan youth national teams. For me sport reminds me that I am still youth and have a right to play.”
“This was my first time to play outside of the camp. Even if we didn’t win and got a medal, the match was awesome. I really enjoyed it and felt like I was as champion as others! I learned a lot from other good players.”
5. NDAYISHIMIYE Bolard
Bolard, 16-year-old refugee, lives in Mahama refugee camp. Despite being Rwanda’s latest refugee camp set in 2015, Mahama is by far the largest camp, hosting almost 59,400 Burundian refugees.
Bolard is one of the best volleyball players in Mahama. He participated in the beach volley category of the ANOCA Game V Youth Games. When he fled to Rwanda, Bolard lost friends and family members. Sports is the only thing that helps him from solitude and depression.
“It was not easy when we arrived in Mahama. I felt like everything was gone … Hope, Future and Happiness. Sports helps me to cope with camp’s life. Sports restored everything in me.”
6. NIYONKURU Elyse Frank
Frank appreciates the effort made by UNHCR and IOC to give a chance to refugee youth to be children again and play. He said that the refugee participation to the ANOCA Game V Youth Games was a great honour for refugees.
“Even if we couldn’t make it to the semi-finals, we gave our best to lift our foreheads. It was a great honour to represent the refugee community, and I was happy. Even though I was not waving the Burundian flag, I was very proud to wave the flag of IOC.”
This 18 years old Burundian refugee lives in Mahama camp. He is part of the peaceful cohabitation initiative volunteer. Frank believes that sports can be a better way for people to be reunified and submissive.
“Sports is a great device to drive unity and reconciliation. When you are angry with someone, you cannot leave the pitch angry.”
7. NIYOMUGABO Roger
Sports enables refugee youth to optimize their time, energy and talent. Like in other refugee camps. Thanks to the IOC, in Kiziba camp, refugee youth have sports facilities and programmes that also involve youth from the host community.
Roger, 19 years old was born in Kiziba. He is the male Taekwondo champion in Kiziba camp. He is attending a secondary school together with Rwandan nationals at Groupe Scolaire Kiziba. He thinks that empowered, youth can be more than athletes, but peace ambassadors.
“If we’re empowered, refugee youth can be strong agents for positive change, peace and development. Sometimes we lack opportunities, but we use the little we have to build a strong friendship with Rwandans students through sports.”
Roger dreams to go back to his home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
“I will be very happy to see my motherland. I am impatient to provide my support to the peaceful development of my country when I return home, but for the meantime, I am providing my support here in exile to build Rwanda.”
8. KINUNDA Thierry
Thierry arrived in Mahama in 2015 and started practicing Taekwondo in January 2018. He says that sports help him in his studies and to overcome all anxiety that camp’s life may trigger.
“From Bujumbura to Mahama – there was a very huge change in my life. Some of us couldn’t manage it. Some children didn’t want to go back to school. When I started Taekwondo, I found inner peace and my life was as smooth as it was in Burundi.”
9. MBABAZI Lady
When refugees flee their homes, they keep asking when they will go back. Sometimes their situation become protracted and feel like forgotten. A new generation of refugees are then born in the camp.
Lady – 15 years old – is one of the refugee children who are born in Kiziba refugee camp. She doesn’t know any other place to call home apart from Kiziba, the oldest refugee camp in Rwanda settled in 1996. She won a bronze medal in Taekwondo in ANOCA Zone V Youth Gamnes
“When I was still a kid, I kept asking my parents: when will we go home? But now it is like we’ve forgotten, we’re busy with playing and school, we don’t think about it anymore.”
“When I am playing, I cannot feel like I am a refugee anymore … I feel like I am a normal child, that’s what I love about Taekwondo.
10. ITERITEKA Aniella
Aniella, 14, is a Bronze Medal winner of Taekwondo in ANOCA Zone V Youth Games. She lives in Mahama refugee camp in eastern province of Rwanda since May 2015. For her, all a refugee girl needs in a camp is self-confidence and hope – and she finds that in Taekwondo.
“When I am doing my Taekwondo I make sure it challenges my mind and my body and takes me out of my relaxation. That’s how it builds in me Hope and Confidence which help me to cope with my daily life in Mahama.”
“I dedicate my medal to all refugee children, in Rwanda and all-over the world.”
Eugene Sibomana Kamuhanda