“It's up to us!  »

“It’s up to us! »

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Wenyen Gabriel, UNHCR supporter, former refugee and LA Lakers basketball player, with his mother Rebecca (right) and brother Komot (left) at Mangalla IDP camp in South Sudan. © UNHCR/Rohan Ali

When floods forced Daniel, 28, to flee his flooded village in Jonglei State in South Sudan, he hoped to be able to return soon. He boarded a crowded boat on the flooding White Nile, and found refuge in the south, far from home.

Two years later, he and his family are still living in what has become the Mangalla camp for internally displaced people in Central Equatoria State. “We were among the first people to arrive on the site”, he said. Since then, it has grown to accommodate nearly 40,000 people who have narrowly escaped the floods.

Wenyen Gabriel met Daniel during his visit to Mangalla IDP camp organized by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, last month. He learned more about the plight of uprooted people and why they need support. “People are not here by choice, just as I did not choose to become a refugee before my resettlement in the United States. It just fell on me”he explains. “We are all dependent on the events we experience. »

South Sudan and the wider East Africa region are on the front lines of climate change, experiencing the effects of extreme weather conditions such as floods and drought. Seasonal rains and floods are normal occurrences, but in recent years the water has not receded, rendering large areas uninhabitable. Today, an estimated 2 million South Sudanese are internally displaced due to conflict and natural disasters.

Besides internal displacement, the refugee crisis in South Sudan remains the largest in Africa with more than 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees present in neighboring countries. At the same time, South Sudan itself hosts more than 340,000 refugees, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, but also from Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

Mangalla is one of eight sites in South Sudan where UNHCR is coordinating humanitarian assistance for people forced to flee, together with its partners, UN agencies, NGOs and the government. This aid comes in the form of food, clean water, shelter and medical care, as well as projects aimed at building people’s resilience over the long term.

Wenyen Gabriel wants to use his fame and influence as a professional athlete to help his home country by building basketball courts for those who have little or no access to sports or recreation. During his visit, he organized a three-day basketball camp for young people, 20 of whom were displaced children, in the capital, Juba.

Wenyen Gabriel meets the two local football teams formed by young displaced people in the Mangalla camp. © UNHCR/Rohan Ali

“Sport can provide many opportunities for young people, especially if you can get them there from an early age”explains Wenyen Gabriel. “Sport can prepare them for life’s difficulties, and maybe some young people can become professional athletes, while others can follow different paths. »

“There are so many talented people in South Sudan”he adds. “But the population does not have access to the necessary means to succeed. That’s why I want to help them. »

For Daniel, sport is more than just exercise, or even an opportunity for the future. “Sport can really bring us together”he says. “It can help you put aside your stress and make you happy. I believe that sport can bring unity to South Sudan. »

Blessing, a 19-year-old camp resident and volunteer teacher, welcomes the return of Wenyen Gabriel to South Sudan. “You can never forget your native land. This country was the birthplace of your parents, and you must return there one day. I am very happy to welcome Wenyen Gabriel as a compatriot. We welcome him, he is one of us. »

This post was echoed by Wenyen Gabriel, who hopes his own journey will inspire others. “We are all children of this land. It’s up to us to build it! » he throws. “I am proud to be South Sudanese and I want to help my people, including those who are displaced. Basketball can help with that. »

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