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2006 FIFA World Cup

Mahamat Ali, 13, finds an outlet in football at a Chad refugee camp

© UNICEF/Chad/Matthews
Mahamat Ali, 13, is a refugee from the Central African Republic whose parents were killed in a coup d’etat.

For the 2006 FIFA World Cup, UNICEF and FIFA are campaigning to ensure a more peaceful world for children. This is a profile of one of Team UNICEF's star players.

By Jonathan Schienberg

AMBOKO CAMP, Chad – Mahamat Ali, 13, is a refugee from the Central African Republic (CAR), one of 28,000 people living in the Amboko camp in southern Chad. He fled to Chad three years ago after his parents were killed during a coup d'etat.

Found living under a stand of trees by the UN refugee agency, Ali was brought to the Amboko camp and reunified with his uncle Abdulaye Mahamat, who also had fled from the violence.

“We are very worried. It is very difficult in this situation, particularly in the way we have had to leave our houses,” says Mr. Mahamat. “The violence happened so suddenly that we were separated from our children and it was impossible to go to find them. At our home we had everything – a house, animals – but we had to leave everything behind.”

A refuge from trauma

Ali grew up watching his older cousins play football and marveling at the professional football stars on television, hoping to become one of them someday. But the death of his parents turned his life upside down and left him feeling depressed, damaging his aspirations for the future.

In a camp bursting at the seams, with little for teenagers to do, Mr. Mahamat is happy his nephew has found football again. Sport, he says, has given Ali an outlet and refuge from the traumatic pain he has suffered.

© UNICEF/Chad/Matthews
Mahamat says that football has helped him to focus in school and learn to be part of a team.

“In the beginning it was difficult for me,” says Ali. “But luckily my uncle came after me, and I found him here. Since then he has supported me, and it’s now three years since it all happened so I am feeling a little better.”

Ali’s coach, Waladingar Bdieubeni, himself a refugee, encouraged him to take up football in the camp. He says Ali has developed into a great striker, but has also learned more important lessons from the game.

“When he plays, he doesn’t think,” says Mr. Bdieubeni. “It gives him a little strength. When he plays, the problems have gone away, so he can sleep at night.”

Teamwork and education

Ali’s best friend Romain has a similar story. His parents were also killed in the attacks three years ago. The children met here in the camp and became instant friends.

“The football has helped me a lot, both emotionally and spiritually,” Romain offers. “When I am alone  and not playing, I think a lot about my parents, I get emotional thinking about them, but when I am on the field playing football, I forget all the bad things and I feel better.”

Both boys idolize Ronaldinho. But they know that in order to become a star, you also need to have good education.

“Football has helped me focus on school,” says Ali. “The other thing that really motivated me was the fair play, which is a form of education. When you play football with your mates, you also learn to be part of a team.”



Video and audio

UNICEF correspondent Jonathan Schienberg reports on Mahamat Ali, a 13-year-old footballer whose parents were killed in a coup d’etat in the Central African Republic.

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