Ethiopia: Refugee team narrowly defeated but players leave inspired
17 May 2011

The two teams before the first ever match between Ethiopian university students and refugees from four different countries in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Neway Alemayehu/JRS)
The Ethiopian students emerged as the winners of the game, but the refugees did not leave empty handed; they left inspired to be university students one day.
Addis Ababa, 17 May 2011 – Although the refugee football team lost the match against the university students, they left with a greater understanding of their host society and a desire to further their education.

Thanks to Meseret H/Michael, a former Jesuit Refugee Service beneficiary from Eritrea – now a first year social work student at Addis Ababa University – fellow refugees from neighbouring countries were given an opportunity to get a taste of life at the highest levels of academia, if only for a day. Meseret is one of 250 Eritrean refugees granted permission by the Ethiopian government to undertake higher education in the public university. 

More than the match itself, most of the young players were really surprised by the beautiful campus buildings and so much green everywhere. JRS hopes that promoting contact with university students will encourage refugees to aspire to greater things.

"The invitation to play against the students has really motivated us to study hard to try and go to university”, said Olame Simon, a Sudanese refugee living in the Ethiopian capital.

A worth while experience

This latest JRS initiative, organised in preparation for World Refugee Day, 20 June, is one of many psychosocial interventions facilitated by the JRS Refugee Community Centre, promoting the physical and mental wellbeing of the refugee beneficiaries. It also encourages refugees to socialise among themselves and with their host communities.

The 11-May match with the university students was a friendly. In the lead up to 20 June this year, one local and three refugee teams will take part in a football competition. It was an exercise to see how much the refugee team had improved physically and tactically. From now on the young refugees are expected to train twice a week for six hours to be ready for their future encounters.

"More than just providing entertainment, such matches have a positive effect on the physical and mental well being of refugees in urban areas. They also develop closer relationships among refugees and with their host communities, and narrow the gap that otherwise exists between them”, said Project Director of the JRS Refugee Community Centre in Addis Ababa, Mulugeta W/Eyesus.

A narrow defeat

The refugee team opened well. Within two minutes of the first half Meron Solomon, an Eritrean refugee, scored the first goal. However, Mkiyas Abebe, Addis Ababa University, soon levelled after unwittingly deflecting in free-kick.

The refugee team immediately went on the counter attack and took the lead again when Olame Simon snatched a goal at stoppage time of the first half.

Unfortunately, second half substitutions by the refugee team coach, Eteffa G/Michael, did not prevent the Ethiopians from scoring two goals within minutes of each other. In the last minute of play, refugee Meron Solomon failed to equalise when he shot narrowly wide.

The Ethiopian students emerged as the winners of the game, but the refugees did not leave empty handed; they left inspired to be university students one day.

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