Kakuma Premier League players dribble in a past football match. Youth in the camp have embraced the league as an avenue for enhancing harmonious living in the camp. [Photo/LWF-Kakuma}
The unique power of sport can change lives and the world in the shortest time, it is the truest demonstration of all that brings people together. In Kakuma, youth and leaders use sport to communicate and create awareness on subjects that affect their daily lives.
As the world marks International Youth Day 2021, Julisha.Info looks at how football has given hope and sense of purpose to many youths in Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Although faced with many challenges and hard living conditions in the camp, including shortage of food and clean water, disease, crime, lack of opportunity and extremely hot temperatures, many young people have unwavering support for the Kakuma Premier League (KPL).
Many youths have found solace in playing football in the camp. The lightness that football brings to the camp is beyond anyone’s imagination.
The league which was started in 2016 by Lutheran World Federation's Youth Protection and Development program is providing the many youths, a dream and platform to showcase their football talents.
The league’s first match was played at Virunga Field in Kakuma 3 zone 2 on June 30, 2016, the same day a team of 5 refugee athletes from Kakuma was in Rio preparing to participate in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Years later, the tournament has given many youths something to look up to, to dream of and to work hard for. Currently, 16 teams participate in the league.
The teams include Okapi FC, Virunga United, Lamasia, Tarachi, Kakuma Rangers, Fizi, Shambe, Equatorial, Nuer Boys, Dinka All-Stars, 99 Mountains, Ochuok, Kadar, Kinati, Naath Boys and Dinka Legends.
To ensure that girls are also involved in the sport activities, the LWF also runs a girls’ league known as Kakuma Divas League (KDL).
300 girls participate in the league. The league has 10 ’ teams drawn from Kakuma camps, Kalobeyei settlement and the host community.
17-year-old girl, Emmanuella Biluge, who joined the girls’ league after sitting for her Standard eight exams in 2020, says playing in the Kakuma Divas League is like a dream come true.
“I love football that’s why I joined Talanta FC to play in KDL. Playing helps me keep fit and busy when am not in school. Through the league, I have got the opportunity to interact with other people of different nationalities. I hope to play for big teams in the world one day,” Biluge stated.
Despite being a student at Kakuma Secondary, the form one girl creates time after school hours to train with her teammates.
How can one join a team in the KPL, KDL?
The league follows FIFA rules where the last two teams in the league table are relegated and replaced by another two teams at the end of every season.
A tournament is always organized by the Lutheran World Federation at the end of the season where the two best teams earn a promotion to the Kakuma Premier League (KPL). All non-KPL teams are allowed to participate in this tournament.
To be eligible to join the league, a team must be multinational/multi-ethnic. The teams train during evening hours in the fields available in the camp. Joining a team is free, you only need to turn up for training and impress the coach.
A past Kakuma Premier League contest. Onlooking are football fanatics drawn from Refugee camp, host communities and the Kalobeyei settlement area. [Photo/LWF-Kakuma}
Promoting football talent and excellence
Best players and top scorers in the league are treated like celebrities in the community and are nicknamed after famous professional football players as “Dinho”, “Messi” and “Cristiano”.
Through the league, refugee youth who rarely afford opportunities outside the camp, now have a chance to move outside the camp and play for Kenyan Premier League teams and other best leagues in the world.
The league has so far produced two players who play for the Football Kenya Federation Premier League (FKFPL) side Nzoia United Football Club. The two, Gaetan Masha and Felix Okanda, played for Virunga United and Okapi FC respectively before they were scouted to join Nzoia FC.
These two footballers are role models to the young players who take to the dusty fields in the scorching sun every weekend hoping that one day they will get such an opportunity.
Bukuru Christopher Asumani, well-known by his soccer nickname “Vich”, has been playing football in the camp for five years since he finished his form four studies in 2015.
Asumani is one of the players who has been fortunate to have been selected from the league to join Kakuma United Football team which play in the regional Football Kenya Federation (FKF) leagues.
“When I finished form Four in 2015, I never thought I will get the opportunity to play for Kakuma United. I was playing for Okapi FC when I was scouted to join Kakuma United.” Asumani stated.
Promoting peaceful coexistence in the camp and cohesion.
Being the most favorite sport among many refugee youths, KPL has become a symbol of unity, peace and love for refugees and the host community.
The tournament brings together communities living in the camp as well as the host community, fostering cohesion. Among the 16 teams participating in the league, two are from the host community.
“Playing football is important to me. I enjoy it, it makes me strong physically and creates job opportunities. It also brings people together; we are now able to interact as youths regardless of our tribal/ethnic background.” Asumani stated.
The league’s matches have become large social affairs in the camp attracting thousands of diversified football fans who show up to pitch every weekend to cheer their favorite teams and players.
Tool for raising awareness on issues affecting the community
Community leaders take advantage of the matches to pass important information in the camp more so during this COVID-19 pandemic.
Using football, stakeholders in the health sector take advantage of the tournament to create awareness on how to stop the spread of the virus in the community.
Stakeholders have partnered with these teams to install handwashing containers in the camp. The teams also participate in the general hygiene routine activities in the camp.
Asumani, a Burundian refugee, hopes that one day he will play professional football and through KPL he will follow in the footsteps of Gaeten Masha and Felix Okanda.
He not only hopes to play in the Kenyan Premier League but also to join the best leagues in the world.
Even as we come out in numbers to cheer and enjoy the matches, remember to protect yourself, family, and friends against COVID-19 by adhering to WHO protocols.
- Properly wear a mask.
- Avoid touching surfaces, mouth, and nose.
- Carry an alcohol-based rub (sanitizer) with you and use it often.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a bent elbow or tissue
For more information on how you can protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 click here.
The league is sponsored by LWF by offering transport where necessary, making security arrangements, supporting the secretariat of the league, awards and rewards administration, management, and accountability of material and financial support.
Interested in playing sports in Kakuma? Please write to us via the Julisha.Info Facebook page, Monday to Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.