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  • Soccer Without Borders

Soccer as a Refuge: Building Community in Kampala

For World Refugee Day 2016, we interviewed Olivier Matanda, Director of Soccer Without Borders Uganda. Olivier has been with the program from the start, and is a refugee from the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo that borders Rwanda. Uganda is home to more than 512,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers, with more than 200,000 living in Kampala alone. After serving as a coach and leader, Olivier became Director of SWB Uganda in 2013 after the program's co-founder and Director Raphael Murumbi moved to Canada. Just this month, Olivier learned that after nearly ten years in Uganda, he and his family will be resettled to Sweden this summer through the United Nations resettlement program.

What brought you to Kampala?

I came in Uganda in December 2006, and I am a Mushi by tribe. They call people from my tribe Rwandese, but this is just because we are on the border to Rwanda. We had a war between my tribe and others called Banyanga and Batembo. These two tribes were killing my tribe because of land and calling us Rwandese, claiming that we were letting the Rwandese Army enter the DRC to steal land and gold. The DRC Army was also involved in killing my tribe, believing that my people the Mushi were the ones betraying the country. My father couldn’t do anything in the area, we started to live a life of no hope or no future. So this forced us to leave Congo.

My journey from Congo to Uganda was very complicated, and this is because we didn't know where we were going. We came to Uganda without even knowing that we were going to Uganda. We were not the only family in that situation, running, there were many. We did not have money or travel document to pass to the border. We used the Bunagana border. On Tuesdays there was a market and everyone would pass that border as if to buy goods in the market, so that was how we crossed.

What challenges have you faced as a refugee in Kampala?

Staying in Kampala is not that easy, especially if you are coming for the first time. First, you face the language barrier problem, but also you are going to be discriminated in each and everything you will be doing. One memory that comes to mind is when my family first came, they didn’t want us to rent a house because we were so many. We were told that we were going to fill their toilet because of having so many children. It makes me cry when I remember it, to know that refugees are still facing the same challenge. Now when we do home visits with Soccer Without Borders to participant houses, I hear similar stories from parents.

How and why did you first start Soccer Without Borders Uganda?

I am one of the founders of SWB Uganda from 2007 after I completed my English course at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRC). We started SWB as a football team which brought refugees together to have fun. That was the initiative that was led by Raphael (Murumbi- former Director), Ben (SWB Founder) and I. I got involved because I thought it was the right thing for me to serve my fellow refugees. I understand better what kind of situation have they gone through to reach here, and what are they going through now. My goal for myself was to serve my fellow refugees. My first day of the initiative was very interesting because I didn’t believe that refugees could do anything in a foreign country. But I was so happy to see the group come together and have fun.

How did you learn that your family will be resettled in Sweden? How did you feel when you heard the news?

It was really unbelievable to me, we didn’t know that we were going to be resettled to Sweden. I was so, so excited but also very sad to leave behind my dream. I really enjoy the beauty of working with kids, and have learned so much through the steps I have taken in the organization (Soccer Without Borders). I feel so bad leaving all of this.

What are you most looking forward to in Sweden?

I am going to do two things in Sweden:

1. I am going to play football cause this was my dream since I was young. I will play for my campus.

2. My priority is to go to school and study leadership and governance. I would like to come back with a master's degree. This will help me to serve more refugees and help SWB Uganda to become like UNICEF or UNHCR.

How is Soccer Without Borders Uganda celebrating World Refugee Day?

We use this day as a day to raise awareness in the Ugandan community about the right of refugees, and to show them that refugees are also human beings, that we deserve the rights of freedom, speech and voice in the community.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

The biggest thing I have learned from Soccer Without Borders is that it is very important in our life to consider others more than considering yourself.

To learn more about World Refugee Day and the challenges facing refugees globally, take a look through the newly released "Global Trends" report for 2015 from the UNHCR.

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