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Youth - Somali boys visit Spain

© UNICEF Somalia/04/006/JHopkins
From left Mohamed, Nuune, Yusuf Ali, David Beckham and Abdi. Representative of Madrid Regional government is at rear.

Somali youth visit to Real Madrid boosts Sports for Peace in Somalia

Nairobi, August 2004 - Four Somali youth in mid-2004 participated in a summer football camp at Real Madrid FC, one of the world’s greatest football clubs.

The four were Abdi Bashir Abdi, 17, and Mohamed Yusuf Hassan, 15, from Hargeisa in Northwest Somalia (‘Somaliland’) and Yusuf Ali Morgan, 17 and Nuune Xuseen Cabdi, 17, from Central Somalia.

The trip to Madrid, Spain,was the result of an approach made by the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) to Real Madrid and another top Spanish side Barcelona FC as part of efforts to help promote peace in Somalia. While Barcelona donated T-shirts and recorded a video message by its stars to Somalis calling for peace, Real Madrid granted four scholarships to Somali youth to attend a summer football camp.  The aim was to expose Somali youth to peers from other countries and to support the role of sports as an outlet for encouraging personal development and discipline for youth.

UNICEF and UNDP and other local partners organized two Peace Cup tournaments in Central/Southern Somalia and Somaliland to select the four.  In total 384 youth from 24 football teams participated. The four were selected primarily on the basis of their football skills.

On Thursday, 15 July 2004, the four left Somalia for Real Madrid. At a farewell briefing in Nairobi, Kenya, UNICEF Somalia Representative, Jesper Morch implored them to make the best of the opportunity. At 10.00am on 18 July, they arrived at Madrid’s Barajas Airport. Accompanying them as chaperone was a Spaniard national, Enrique Valles, an employee of UNDP Somalia who would in the second week by replaced by Jeremy Hopkins of UNICEF Somalia.

The first stop for the boys was the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, home to Real Madrid FC. Thereafter, they  checked in at the venue of the Summer Camp - Alfonso X El Sabio University.

At the camp their day would start at 8.00am and end at midnight. Initially, the boys were a little homesick – one of the reasons being that the goat and rice was not quite the same as back home! Things would improve though and one day they were elated to eat spaghetti, a food popular in Somalia, a former Italian colony. 

The training was not without its light moments.  One day, Nuune was virtually blown of his feet after he turned on a high-power sprinkler to quench his thirst. He was left a little drenched and startled.  On the field, the boys made good progress. On 29 July, three of them scored 20 out of the 27 goals. Yusuf Ali Morgan was also the top goal scorer at the camp.


© UNICEF Somalia/04/007/JHopkins
From left Mohamed, Abdi, Ronaldo and Nuune.

On Saturday 31 July, the summer-camp closed. At a ceremony held at the Santiago de Bernabeu Stadium, participants promised to keep in touch and then everybody was gone. For the Somalis, there was still more on the cards for the next four days: a Madrid Regional Government-sponsored recreational and cultural tour.

The tour gave the boys a chance to experience kayaking, cycling, horse-riding and even skiing at Europe’s largest indoor slope. At the Warner Bros Theme park , the boys rode on a roller-coaster. On one occasion, they drove mini-versions of formula one cars and on another went to a three-dimensional cinema show.

The boy's last day in Spain was 4 August which turned out to have the best of surprises. Having turned up at a football ground for what they expected to be a farewell ceremony with officials of the Madrid Regional Government, they were pleasantly surprised when they found the Real Madrid first team going through its paces. For the boys what must have been the crowning moment of their visit was when the players among them stars Zinedin Zidane, David Beckham and Ronaldo spent a few minutes with the boys, signing autographs and posing for photos. They left the venue in very high spirits.

Early on Thursday, August 5, the boys flew out of Spain and on Sunday 8 August, two of them disembarked in Mogadishu to a warm reception from their football teams, UNICEF staff and representatives of local civil society organizations. Hours later in Hargeisa, Somaliland, the other two Abdi Bashir Abdi and Mohamed Yusuf Hassan arrived to a similarly warm reception from the local community. But the three-week whirlwind tour had taken its toll. The boys  were so tired that despite persistent media queries about their plans, all they said was that they just wanted to go home and rest.

With the boys back, the next challenge was to put their skills and role as ambassadors for peace into action. The International Day of Peace on 21 September 2004 provided one such opportunity for the boys to play football and to talk to their communities about peace.

Since the trip, discussions between Real Madrid and UNICEF’s headquarters in New York and UNICEF Somalia have been held with a view to providing more support for youth development in Somalia. If all goes well, the partnership laid with the Real Madrid trip could lead to further development of sports initiatives to benefit more Somali youth.



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