By Katie-Jay Scott Stauring

I remember the very first game of soccer I played with the Darfur refugees living in the camps of Eastern Chad. It was Gabriel, me, and two other kids against ten young boys. I scored in the first minute, as the crowd laughed hysterically at the team who let a girl score. Since that 2008 trip, our team has returned seven more times, and established programs that create mutually beneficial relationships between the refugees and communities here who are willing and able to act. Each time we visit, we play soccer.

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Although most of our focus has been on education, last year we decided to collect new and gently used soccer and volleyball equipment from families and soccer clubs in Manhattan Beach, California.  It became apparent when we began delivering the equipment that playing sports was a necessity to which the refugees had little access. Quickly the idea evolved into creating a refugee soccer team that could represent Darfur refugees in an international competition. When Darfur United and the possible involvement in the 2012 Viva World Cup tournament for nationless people was introduced to the refugees, one man said “now we are part of the world.”

In March, the best soccer players from the twelve Darfuri refugee camps will come together for tryouts and team selection. In May, Darfur United players, coaches, and the i-ACT team will travel to Iraqi Kurdistan to compete for the Nelson Mandela Trophy. i-ACT is documenting the entire process, uploading video shorts and photos, and we will create a feature-length documentary to tell the story of Darfur. For many of these players, Darfur United is more than a soccer team – it’s a way to participate in the world and represent a part of Sudan that has long been sidelined.

Follow Darfur United’s journey at www.darfurunited.com and www.facebook.com/DarfurUnited

The author is Director of Community Programming at i-ACT (interactive-activism).

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