8 September 2016

It's been less than three months since the South Sudan Youth Sports Association (SSYSA) sent five young participants to Lyon, France, for Festival 16.


Over the course 10 days, they joined 500 boys and girls from around the world for a celebration of football's positive potential. They connected with different cultures, exchanged local knowledge and, of course, played plenty of football. Beneath perfect blue skies and against the backdrop of UEFA Euro 2016, the event proved an experience to remember for all the right reasons.


Festival 16 drew to a close on July 7 and, like all participants, the young SSYSA attendees made their way home. Sadly, however, the life they returned to has become unexpectedly difficult and deeply concerning. On July 8, a civil war broke out in South Sudan that has since led to the death and displacement of thousands. Many of the families of SSYSA’s delegation members were forced to flee their homes to escape the violence and the task of reuniting the young players with their families was immense.


This is a problem years in the making. The Republic of South Sudan became the world's newest nation in 2011, after a six-year peace process that began with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Since gaining independence, however, the country has seen rising tensions between its highest ranking officials and ultimately descended into chaos, driving much of its population to the brink of starvation.


More than 80,000 South Sudanese, including 100s of unaccompanied minors, have fled to the relative safety of neighbouring countries, including Uganda. But they now face a raft of new challenges as they embark on life in informal refugee camps. The camps are primitive and there is an urgent lack of food, shelter, sanitation and medical aid. Internal conflict is also common due to competing ethnic groups being made to share the same space.


In this time of desperate need, SSYSA has taken its game to a new level. The organisation was swift in mobilising its staff and volunteers around the crisis. The SSYSA team made its way to the border with Uganda in order to serve the thousands of SSYSA participants and their families that fled into Uganda. SSYSA is using football as a tool to integrate conflicting communities and support young refugees with life skills training. In addition to its sporting initiatives, SSYSA is providing food, counselling, medicine and shelter to individuals in need.


One such individual is Sarah, an 11-year-old girl battling hydrocephalus. Sarah had not received medication or even food in the camp before SSYSA intervened. Since then, the organisation has supplied her with both and also given her mother enough money to sustain the family for a few more days.


SSYSA is planning to expand its impact in the coming weeks and has outlined seven immediate priorities:


  • Increase collaboration with other organisations serving the camps
  • Source more funds so as to feed more families
  • Provide sports equipment
  • Arrange for the donation of clothing
  • Offer life skills training through football
  • Educate leaders on conflict resolution
  • Secure ongoing medical support for Sarah


You can find more information on the organisation, including contact details, on its streetfootballworld profile page.  

"We have mobilised our staff and volunteers and decided to organise activities for the refugees. We believe in using sports to integrate conflicting communities. Our activities are targeting children, men and women from the ages of 7 to 65."

Geoffrey Kasudi
Project Director, South Sudan Youth Sports Association
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