In 2014 two brothers and former South Sudanese refugees at Kakuma, Awer Mabil and Awer Bul, returned to the camp they grew in determined to give back.
Their parents fled their motherland in 1992 during the Second Sudanese Civil War. “I was seven years old when we came to Kakuma,” Bul says. Mabil was born in the camp in 1995.
Mabil grew up to become a footballer, which turned his life around. He was four years when he discovered his love for the game.
“I would kick or run with everything that moved. My grandmother always says I was born to play football,” Mabil says.
He however realised football was his talent when he was between eight and nine years old. “I trained with one of the organised teams in Kakuma, I think under 10s. The coach, in an effort to [discourage me], told me in order to play I had to collect red shirts (to use as uniforms) from everyone that I knew,” Mabil says.
“I walked for hours from home to home asking if I could borrow a red shirt. I ended up collecting about six to seven shirts but I didn’t even play in that game I collected the shirts for. I was disappointed but that’s when I knew I would do anything to play football.”
When Mabil was 10, the family relocated to Australia, where his football talent was noticed and nurtured. “I was noticed by football scouts playing in Adelaide’s northern suburbs,” he says.
Mabil, who is the first South Sudanese to play international football, credits his success to, among others, Tony Vidmar, who he says picked him at 14 and taught him all that football pertains.
Mabil played his first professional game at 17. “I started my professional career at Adelaide United (Australia), played for FC Midtjylland (Denmark) and have been on loan at Esbjerg (Denmark) and recently PaÃ§os de Ferreira (Portugal’s First League before they were relegated). I’m now playing for FC Midtjylland,” he says.
His dream is to play in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
During his off season, Mabil and his brother Bul return to Kakuma to give back to society and build football talent.
They have set up an NGO, Barefoot to Boots, through which they help their people.
Since setting up the NGO in 2015, they have visited the camp three times, bringing clothes, boots, medical supplies and, above all, hope, each time.
“We have many willing donors back home and they have been very supportive,” says Bul, who runs the day-to-day activities of the NGO.
The siblings say Barefoot to Boots was created by refugees for refugees. “We do everything through football, we [promote] health, gender rights, art, visual art, verbal art and education through football,” Mabil says.
He says football has changed his life “...and through football my brother and I will change other lives right her in Kakuma.”