Deafness is no obstacle for refugee team in Dadaab

Telling the Human Story, 9 August 2012

These refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps have shown that a hearing disability is no hindrance to playing sports; next up for the football team is a tournament in Nairobi.

DADAAB, Kenya, 9 August (UNHCR) The cheering from their fans is unlikely to have much effect on this football team drawn from the five sprawling refugee camps at Dadaab: all the members of EL-MAN DEAF FC have limited or no hearing.

That has not stopped them playing well. Earlier this month showing the Olympic spirit on a dry desert field far from the rain of Britain -- the team easily defeated a team of NGO and UN players 2-0. Tomoya Soejima, a UNHCR Youth Officer who works closely with the team, saw the victory as instilling further confidence.

The team is now ready to travel this month to the capital, Nairobi, to compete in a national tournament organised by the Kenyan football Federation of the Deaf (KFFD), in what for many players will be the first time they have left the refugee camps of north-eastern Kenya.

"I always dreamt of participating in a tournament and of bringing home a cup to my community," said Hussein Abdulai, the assistant coach who fled Somalia for Dadaab in 1991 and works as a primary school teacher in Ifo Camp.

'I remember the first ball we played with was made out of plastic bags and scrap paper. We started training every day and sometimes even joined the tournaments of 'hearing teams.'

"Years later we heard about the national tournament for the deaf and we immediately thought that this is our chance," he said. "We contacted Handicap International and asked for support. This is how it all started."

There are more than 12,000 people living with disabilities across the Dadaab refugee camps, which host a population of more than 470,000. Most suffer more than the average refugee and face challenges to access services because of discrimination or practical obstacles related to their disabilities.

"Very few agency staff and police officers know sign language, which can easily lead to confusion and miscommunication," said the first coach, also called Hussein Abdulai but from Hagadera camp. "One major concern is the insecurity in the camps with regular shootings and explosions of Improvised Explosive Devices.

"If there is a bomb exploding or if someone approaches me from behind how shall I know? I sometimes cannot fall asleep because I am afraid that something will happen during the night and I will simply not hear it."

It is therefore even more impressive when a team such as EL- MAN DEAF FC emerges, mobilizing supporters from all the camps.

"The players train once or twice per week in Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera camps and on the weekends, they all get together from the respective camps and have inter-camp tournaments, often also against "hearing" teams and they still win," said Natha Yare Bashir, the team manager.

Many organisations and private donors have helped refugees to develop their skills in sports, including Nike, Right to Play, Handicap International, CARE, Alive&Kicking and UNHCR.

UNHCR and its partners launched the Dadaab Sport Initiative 2012, which reached out to more than 10,000 youths who were out of school to provide training, workshops, and equipment. Across the camps women, girls, men and boys play volleyball, football and other sports

Sport is important, not just for physical fitness but for strengthening the bonds between people. In the refugee camps and surrounding areas sport has become an important way to build peace and give people confidence in their skills and worth as human beings.

"We will give our utmost to succeed in the tournament," said a smiling Hussein Abdulai. "But even if we lose, we will still make Dadaab proud."

Bettina Schulte, Andreas Kiaby and Tomoya Soejima in Dadaab




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People with Disabilities

People with disabilities remain largely invisible or forgotten in their uprooted communities.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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