Sports are important, not least as a way of bringing both athletes and spectators from different towns or countries, and from all walks of life, together.
The Chinese engineering troops based in Wau and serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan have recently contributed to this noble cause by handing over a variety of sports equipment to the state’s Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, much to the delight of athletes.
‘’I am out of words to express my gratitude and happiness to the peacekeepers for giving this equipment to us,’’ said an excited Suzi Peter, Chairperson of the state’s Women Footballers’ Association.
She and her fellow athletes were justifiably chuffed, as the goodies handed over by the Chinese engineers included footballs, pumps, socks and skipping ropes.
Reflecting on the difficulties faced by women footballers, Suzi Peters used the ropes as an example.
“We improvise and use whatever we can find to train and exercise, but to do a lot of jumping without skipping ropes is just not the same as it is hard for us to tell how well we are doing and whether we are improving or not. What we have been given will make a big difference for us,” she said.
In South Sudan, many men frown upon the idea of women playing football, but attitudes are slowly changing. Female peacekeepers in Wau have contributed to the development of this new mindset among some of the local men, according to 11-year-old Emmanuella Khamisa, who is a member of the Dr. John Garang Football Academy.
“They [female peacekeepers] are helping the communities by proving existing stereotypes of girls wrong. Not only do they play football, but they have also joined the armies in their home countries, and that is something else that South Sudanese women are traditionally not supposed to do,” she observes, adding that it may lead to the community being more supportive of her football academy, leading to more girls enjoying the beautiful game.
Emmanuella will need such support and encouragement to fulfil her sporting ambition: to play for both South Sudan’s national team and professionally, for one of the big clubs in Europe.
Emmanuella’s academy friend Samuel Edward in the same academy agrees that the new and appropriate equipment is a big moral boost to everyone who loves kicking that ball.
“What we have received is equipment that I had only ever seen on TV before, used by professional players in the most important football leagues in the world. The skipping rope, for example, will help me become quicker and to turn faster while at the same time building my stamina,” he said, keen to get back onto the training field.