Al Jazeera World

Darfur: Football for Peace

A group of boys in a Darfur refugee camp become barefoot football warriors, finding hope in a tournament for peace.

Filmmaker: Hamza Elamin

Every day, somewhere in the world, teams gather to play football. But rarely is “The Beautiful Game” played in the shadow of a bloody conflict that has claimed many thousands of lives.

Darfur: Football for Peace follows a football tournament set in a refugee camp in North Darfur where passion for the game is high.

Darfur covers a vast area of western Sudan and is synonymous with a conflict that is difficult to comprehend, except for its legacy.

The conflict peaked in 2003 and remains largely unresolved. The UN estimates that war, famine and disease have cost some 300,000 lives, though the government of Sudan disputes this figure. An international aid response has brought some stability to Darfur where refugee camps the size of small cities are dotted throughout the region

One such place is the Abu Shouk refugee camp. Established in 2004 at a time when the Darfur conflict was at its height, it has now become a home of sorts to a young generation whose only knowledge of their family roots come from stories told by their parents.

Many are trapped with no homes to return to as the fighting left many villages in ashes. But despite everything, Abu Shouk is also a place where hope is still very much alive, a place where battle now takes place on a football pitch with young barefoot sporting warriors seeking glory on their own terms.

Soccer Field - Al Jazeera World
The boys play without proper boots or cleats within the Abu Shouk refugee camp. [Al Jazeera]

This film features a group of boys hoping to win a locally organised football tournament. They call their team Al-Jabal al-Akhdar or The Green Mountain, named after a small mountain near the city from where they were displaced.

The team’s star striker is Eissa Adam, whose only memory is of life in the Abu Shouk refugee camp.

Eissa’s very survival was due to his mother’s quick thinking, having rescued Eissa as a toddler at a time when their village was under attack by armed raiders.

“When they attacked our village, I dressed my son like a girl so they wouldn’t take him,” Khadija Suleiman, Eissa’s mother, tells Al Jazeera. Her strength in the face of adversity saved the life of not just her young son Eissa, but also her eldest son captured by the attackers.

“To this day, when I think about how brave my mother was, tears run down my face. She saved me from those people,” Al-Fatih Adam, Eissa’s brother, says.

Eissa - Al Jazeera World
Eissa follows in the footsteps of his brother, Al-Fatih Adam, who began playing football when there were even less resources available. [Al Jazeera]

During the holidays when Eissa is not at school, he leaves home early to buy and resell goods like perfumes, air fresheners and paper towels so he can pay his way, balancing his schooling with work.

In the evening, Eissa returns to football training where he has gained popularity not just within his team, but throughout his community.

“When I walk down the street, people stop and call my name even though I don’t know them. It’s because of football.”