For the past eight years, Soccer Without Borders Uganda has become increasingly engaged in the conversation around improving access to education for refugee youth. Over that time, SWB has been serving the growing refugee community in Kampala, Uganda by initially offering soccer (football) programming and life skills classes, and expanding to offer English classes to refugee youth who are excluded from opportunities for formal education.
A primary focus for SWB is on engaging girls in the community, empowering them both on and off the field. In a team environment, girls form meaningful cross-cultural relationships, work together to set and achieve goals, and develop key English communication skills. Participation in our program has been instrumental in many girls’ integration into a new culture and community. For Gloria and Grace, two sisters from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), that is especially true. The two girls moved from the DRC to Kampala with their family five years ago to escape the violence and unrest that has affected the region for many decades.
At a visit to their home in Kirombe, a neighborhood in Kampala where many Congolese refugees live, the girls’ mother told SWB coaches and teachers that the girls were very quiet and reserved when they first arrived. They were intimidated by a new community and struggled to overcome past trauma. When they discovered SWB, the girls found a safe place to have fun, learn, and play. They made new friends from different cultural backgrounds and they learned how to speak English, allowing them to communicate with community members.
This year, SWB has been able to further expand opportunities available to Gloria, Grace, and the other refugee girls in the program. In an international OpenIDEO challenge focused on expanding access to refugee education, SWB was selected as one of 7 finalists out of 400+ entries. Our idea is based on an expansion of our Girls Empowerment Program in order to include vocational training. We are now prototyping that idea, offering training in practical skills, such as crafting and computer skills, to 40-60 girls twice per week.
Initial feedback from the girls and the families has been very positive, and we are excited to continue to explore different ways to empower the girls in the community and support refugee youth in Kampala!