South Sudan, a land beset by violence since the 1960s, where generations have been caught up in one civil war after another, and living in a refugee camp is the only way they know how to live. There were a few souls who were not only wise enough to know that there is a better way to live but also brave enough to break free and cross the border to Kenya. And 5 of them are runners in this year’s first ever Refugee Olympic Athletes team
. They are: Yiech Pur Biel, James Nyang Chiengjiek, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, Paulo Amotun Lokoro, and Anjelina Nadal Lohalith. Their war stories are heart-breaking. James shared that even at 10 years old, he was already being recruited to be a soldier which is why he ran away. UNICEF reported last year that 12,000 child soldiers are involved in the conflict. At a very young age, these children are being taught not just to toughen up but to engage in violence. Just think of how this will affect them in their adulthood. The 5 athletes are currently living and training in Kenya. And they are all grateful because they know they have come a long way from how they lived in the refugee camps. They shared that, in the camps, there is no food, no clean water or toilets. They just ate fruits and didn’t even have any shoes. They also recalled that the generation before them, their generation, and the generation after them, did not have a normal childhood because of war.
What does the Olympics mean for them? Well, they see the Olympics as a sign of hope. They are happy to be recognized like other people even if they have no citizenship. They are excited to travel and learn how other people live. And they hope to go back to their land of origin to impart their learnings. Yiech also said that being a member of the team carries with it a big responsibility as they know they represent all other refugees in the world.
Even at a young age, they had the wisdom and foresight that they can have a better future elsewhere. And their courage to leave their war-torn country is very inspiring. Now, their confidence is back and they can start dreaming again. Yiech says, “As a human being, you must have an objective in your life. Competing in Brazil is something I can share with my children and even grandchildren.”
And it seems there really is hope for South Sudan, having been recently signed as the 206th country to join the international Olympics. As this newly formed country puts their turbulent past behind them, their leaders want the Olympics to be a vehicle for them to encourage repatriation. They also realize that sports is a better way to form their youth, and not through violence.
Kudos to the International Olympic Committee for advocating equality through sports.
And may the Olympics truly bring unity and restore world peace, once and for all.
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