TeamRefugees: Popole Misenga

TeamRefugees: Popole Misenga

Popole Misenga was just nine years old when he fled fighting in Kisingani, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Separated from his family, he was rescued after eight days in the forest and taken to the capital, Kinshasa.

There, at a centre for displaced children, he discovered judo. "When you are a child, you need to have a family to give you instructions about what to do, and I didn't have one. Judo helped me by giving me serenity, discipline, commitment – everything."

Popole became a professional judoka, but each time he lost a competition his coach locked him in a cage for days with only coffee and bread to eat. Finally, at the 2013 world championships in Rio, where he was deprived of food and knocked out in the first round, he decided to seek asylum.

"In my country, I didn't have a home, a family or children. The war there caused too much death and confusion, and I thought I could stay in Brazil to improve my life."

After gaining refugee status, Popole began training at the judo school founded by Flavio Canto, an Olympic bronze medallist. "I want to be part of the Refugee Olympic Athletes team to keep dreaming, to give hope to all refugees and take sadness out of them," he says. "I want to show that refugees can do important things." He also hopes to catch the attention of his relatives back home. "I will win a medal, and will dedicate it to all refugees."