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Nike donates sports gear to Kakuma camp

Partners, 1 March 2003

Nike staff visited Kenya's Kakuma camp in late January to produce a short film documenting the donation of sports clothing and equipment to the UN refugee agency. Nike and UNHCR agreed that this generous gift of T-shirts, shorts, shoes, socks and balls would benefit the refugee populations in both Kakuma and Dadaab camps in Kenya.

The Nike staff and film crew were taken on an extensive tour of sports activities at Kakuma, one of the most developed sports programmes in UNHCR camps worldwide. They witnessed a netball game, a volleyball game, a soccer match and wheelchair basketball played by Sudanese landmine victims. Several of the matches were played between refugee team and local community teams.

Sports is used in Kakuma to foster good relations between different ethnic groups of refugees and locals living in this remote area of the country. Natural resources here are scarce and without sports, tensions can easily arise.

The sports programme began in 1992 when Kakuma camp was set up. The camp population was very young, with a large number of former child soldiers from Sudan the now famous "Lost Boys". With the arrival of other nationalities and ethnic groups, it was critical to ensure positive outlets for potential conflict and to overcome idleness.

Today, the programme runs in 11 zones in Kakuma, thanks to the dedication of a small number of staff from the Lutheran World Federation, Right to Play and most importantly, the refugee community itself. The refugees form zonal sports councils and appoint a zonal supervisor. These councils decide on the organisation of activities, team recruitment and schedules.

Matches, which involve both the refugees and locals, are played under a league system in which teams earn points towards a championship match. The teams also have the opportunity to chalk up points through volunteer community services such as building shelter for elderly and vulnerable persons, tree planting and garbage collection.

The games not only build friendship between the players, but are also an excellent opportunity to convey important messages to spectators and the broader population. In this way, the sports programme has helped raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the importance of peaceful co existence and of involving girls in sports.

The sports programme also seeks to teach refugee players valuable skills. UNHCR's non governmental organisation partners organise workshops to train refugees as referees and coaches useful skills when they return home or are resettled in a new country.

Many of the "Lost Boys" who were resettled in the United States have written back to share their experiences playing ball in their new communities. A few very lucky and talented refugees have even found spots in well known training centres, but these are a minority as most of them cannot afford to pay for such coaching.

During their visit to Kakuma camp, the Nike team also visited a kindergarten school and saw the dedication of staff and refugee teachers in combining sports, fun and learning through an innovative programme called "The Five Rings". Right to Play is spearheading this concept in UNHCR camps, using sports as a tool for holistic development integrating health, mind, body, spirit and peace.

The visiting crew also met a talented refugee marathon runner who, despite the odds little food, inadequate equipment and the sweltering desert heat keeps up his training and is motivated to become a professional athlete.

Aside from the sports programme, the Nike staff also got a feel for life as a refugee. They interviewed refugees, coaches and programme managers, and visited programmes involving adult education, income generation projects and environmental conservation. At the end of the four day visit, the Nike staff left with a positive view in spite of the desperate situation.

Much more remains to be done to broaden these programmes and to meet even the basic needs of refugees in Kakuma. With a refugee population of some 80,000-75 percent of whom are children and young adults sports, empowerment and self reliance measures are an essential part of the response to the critical challenge faced by UNHCR and its partners there.

February 2003




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