Refugee from DR Congo curves his niche as a Taekwondo athlete

“Gaston may be new to Taekwondo, but he has proved that with practice and dedication, one can excel in it and win medals.”

Gaston Nsazumukiza, 27 year old Taekwondo athlete originally from DR Congo. He is among the 18 refugees currently supported under the UNHCR athletics project. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

Clear skies and hot weather ushers in a new day in Gaborone, Botswana, perhaps an imperfect weather for the fourth Open Botswana Taekwondo President’s Cup held recently in November 2019. A refugee athlete, Gaston Nsazumukiza was among the more than 100 participants that signed up for the competition.
Big names in taekwondo from Southern Africa region also signed up for the championship, but Gaston remained unperturbed.

“I am not afraid of taking on the champions in the region, I will give my best in the games,” a determined Gaston says.

As we enter Maharaja hall at the Central Business District in Gaborone, a pin drop silence ushers you into a cool room, the venue for the bout of the year. The competitions begin with organizers recognizing the seven participating countries, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini (Swaziland), and Gaston being the only participant from Kenya.


Gaston sits with partipant from different countries that signed up to participate in 4th Taekwondo Presidents Cup in Botswana. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


More than 100 participants both female and male at the 4th Taekwondo Presidents Cup in Botswana. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

In the lineup of matches, Gaston was pitted against the reigning Southern Africa regional champion, Frederico Muianga from Mozambique. The matches were in various categories with half of the participants being children aged 10-17 years. The adult categories were based on kilograms from under 49 to 73kg, with female and male participants lining up to compete.

It was not an easy game but I am glad I won a bronze medal

As the games began, Gaston keenly followed the competitions to learn new techniques, because this was not the manual point system which he is familiar with. Instead, at the Botswana competition, the electronic point scoring system was used.

“I am glad I came to Botswana for the championship, because I have learnt how the point system works,” Gaston says. “The federation here has advanced equipment and I was able to practice in real time,” Gaston affirms

The moment of truth came, and Gaston was called up for his slot, competing in the under 58kg category. With each session lasting 90 minutes, the game was played for three rounds and Frederico won the match.


Gaston, second right, with other Taekwondo athletes who wond medals in different categories. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


Gaston (in red) with his competitor, Fredirico from Mozambique compete in Botswana © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


Frederico (second left) with Gaston in red Taekwondo kit with their respective team managers take a break after a gruelling Taekwondo game © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


Gaston is awarded a medal as another athlete from Lesotho shares the bronze podium with him. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


The medallist in the under 58kg stand tall with their medals. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

Prior to the game, Gaston was engrossed in intensive training under the tutorship of his seasoned Kenyan coach, George Wasonga, head coach at the Kenya Taekwondo Federation.

“Gaston is hardworking and disciplined, and the only refugee athlete that has been admitted to the federation,” George Wasonga says.

The Botswana championship was his third competition in 2019, with the first one being in Rwanda in September this year, where he won a gold medal. The second event was held in Nakuru, Kenya, where he competed against seasoned and physically fit persons from the police force and military. He won a bronze medal.

“Gaston may be new to Taekwondo, but he has proved that with practice and dedication, one can excel in it and win medals.” Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR Kenya Representative says.

“Once anyone cultivates an athlete mentality, you are ready to face any challenge that comes your way. We hope to continue supporting him to achieve his dream.”

Gaston admits that it has not been easy learning the game, competing and winning medals. He attributes it to hard work, discipline and commitment to be the best.


Gaston gives his best shot during at a practice session with his Kenyan coach, George Wesonga. © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


Gaston firms up his techniques in what is called spurring in Taekwondo © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


Gaston at the gym at the TLPF training centre for refugee athletes © UNHCR/Caroline Opile


Press up as part of strength training for Gaston in preparation for the Botswana championship © UNHCR/Caroline Opile

“I wake up early and start training by six in the morning. I run for at least 10km and also spend time in the gym for physical fitness. I also go to the police training center to train with seasoned players for mental and physical fitness,” the softly spoken Gaston says.

Aged 27 years old, Gaston first appeared on the refugee athletics scene in 2016, as he was among the first athletes to be selected for the professional training as a refugee athlete in preparation for the Olympics. However, although he was not selected to run in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, he proved to be talented in taekwondo and boxing. He later dropped boxing to concentrate on taekwondo.

We hope to continue supporting him to achieve his dream

Orphaned at the age of nine, Gaston fled from DR Congo when his entire family was killed during conflict. He has lived in Kenya since 2011, where he first honed his skills with other young people while living in Kakuma refugee camp.

The Refugee Athletics Program is funded by UNHCR with support from Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation. Currently there are 22 athletes supported under the program with runners taking part in 400m, 800m, 1500m and 5000m races.

Gaston is the only Taekwondo athlete at the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation (TLPF) training center and has found encouragement and support from the President of the Foundation, Ambassador Tegla Loroupe.

“There is a future in Taekwondo, and we want to build his capacity through tournaments so that he can hopefully win a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games, like he did in Rwanda,” Tegla says.