Football helped me find my feet again in Ireland

Asifiwe Tutu came to Ireland from a refugee camp in Tanzania in 2014. A keen athlete, he still plays with his local club in Cavan when not studying business in Letterkenny IT.


Asifiwe Tutu at Letterkenny I.T.  © Svenja von Reuss/UNHCR

“My name is Asifiwe Tutu, I ‘m from Cavan but I moved to Letterkenny for college and I’m currently studying Business in my first year at the IT. My family and I came to Ireland through UNHCR’s Resettlement programme from a refugee camp in Tanzania in 2014.

My parents flew from DRC to Tanzania and came to live in Dar es Salaam, where I was born. We stayed in the city for a few years before the government sent us to a refugee camp in the western part of Tanzania in 2003. I was still a young child and didn’t understand what was happening, why I had to leave my friends and the city with all its amenities. It took me a few months to get used to our new life there, but I eventually started going to school, making new friends and playing football and basketball. That’s what kids are doing there most of the time and that’s how I grew up loving sports.

Life in the refugee camp, which is called Nyagurusu, was hard. I was going to school, but the education there compared to here wasn’t good.

We didn’t have any equipment, no books, you just had to listen to the teacher and take notes. And there was no way to check afterwards if you got everything right, no books or board to look at. There wasn’t any transport as well, people had to walk for miles and miles to just get water or something to eat. Life was so different compared to here, I don’t even recognize myself now when I look at pictures from that time.

But I also learned a lot during that time and I’d say everything I had to go through made me the person I am today. I learned respect, how to live together with a lot of different people and how to quickly make new friends. People often assume that I’m older than I actually am and I sometimes also feel that way. I had to help my family in a lot of aspects from a very young age on. I learned how to cook when I was 7, as my mom had some health issues and my siblings went to school, so I had to help her at home, cleaning, cooking, doing things like that. I grew up differently and I still feel that way some times.

I came to Ireland in 2014, on February 11. I still remember the date because it’s a day I will never forget. It was a dream come true, leaving the refugee camp and having the opportunity to live here.

In the beginning, living here was really hard though. I didn’t know how to speak English so it was really difficult to make friends and even communicate with people. I was shy and felt like I can’t do anything. I only knew how to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, that’s not a lot to start a proper conversation.

Two weeks after I started school I joined my local football team in Cavan. That helped me a lot to practice my English, even though it was very difficult in the beginning as my coach tried to tell me what to do and I just couldn’t understand him. At school I asked for extra lessons in English and they put me in touch with this lady, a primary school teacher, where I went every day after school. But it took me about one year to understand what people were saying and to start talking.


Spend a day with Asifiwe


In the end football was what helped me most to find my feet again here in Ireland. As I played so much during my time in the refugee camp I became really good and was even invited for trials in Birmingham several times. An agent from England saw me playing in Cavan shortly after we moved here and asked me if I was interested to try out for the club in Birmingham. The first year I wasn’t able to come, as we didn’t have the proper travel documents yet, but I went the year after. Unfortunately I injured my knee during the two weeks of training and had to pause for half a year after that. They invited me the year after again, but I wanted to focus on college and declined. I was picked to play for county Cavan and stayed with them until I was 21. Now I play for Killeymooney FC and really enjoy that. I go home every Friday for training and the matches during the weekend.

I went to college in Cavan straight after I got my leaving cert and studied Tourism and Airline studies. First I wanted to start working right away after the two-year degree, but everyone kept telling me that I should get a Bachelor’s degree, so I applied for Business at the IT in Letterkenny. I want to work in Tourism once I finish my course, so I can work and travel around and help people the way they helped me when we lived in Tanzania.

I want to become someone big so I can give back something, even if it’s small, to the people and communities who helped and supported us.

UNHCR played an important role in our lives. They helped us a lot, they provided food, education and hospitals in the camp and I’m thankful for everything they did, for my family, my friends and me. Thanks to the Resettlement programme I now have friends, people I grew up with, all over the world and I know that they’re doing well and they all got a chance for life.”