A Football Academy in a Warzone
Virunga Academy School of Football has opened in the Eastern region of Congo DRC. The school is designed to give young boys a chance at a future in football, rather than being initiated into military groups, who are fighting in the same radius.
Around 50 boys aged 10 to 16 from the Virunga National Park area, have been selected to join the newly opened football school.
Virunga National Park is a natural treasure in the Congo DRC; famous for its mountain gorillas and volcanoes, you might remember this famous photo taken by a ranger with a couple of the rare mammals.
Although it is an area of true natural beauty, it's been plagued by armed groups, and so the region is hardly ever without conflict. The stadium was built in Rumangabo, a village in North Kivu that is home to the park’s headquarters and a military base. The region is close to the battle zone of the rebels of some 120 militia groups, with the “March 23 Movement” (M23), primarily a Congolese Tutsi group being a huge concern as they are operating less than 6 miles away from the site. M23 is an old insurgency that regained strength late last year , the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) claims that the group resurfaced with the support of neighbouring country Rwanda.
Young people, born into chaos and violence, without hope or the option of aspirations, become easy-pickings to be recruited by armed groups or poachers. The image below displays young footballers from the academy entering the stadium in the Virunga Park Headquarters.
Dieu Boyongo, the coordinator of the football project, hopes it will be a beneficial alternative for the youngsters - "we think that this football school, situated in a conflict zone, is a positive occupation for them", Boyongo told France24. He went on to add:
"The area in which we have set up this project, in the middle of Virunga Park, is where young people can be tempted to join or be manipulated by the multiple armed groups that we have here in the park. We think that this pastime is positive to prevent these young people from feeling manipulated or used"
Gorilla's look on, as several youngsters are kicking a ball in the hope of becoming professional footballers, rather than ending up in one of the militias that have been bloodying the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for decades. The children follow the top teams in European football, and express dreams of wanting to play for some of the world's biggest clubs such as PSG and Real Madrid. Gloire Gashagi, is a young football player at the Virunga Academy. He expressed to France24:
"With this, I can't have the idea of joining armed groups. I want to do what is legal. I want to play football and my biggest dream is to become like Cristiano (Ronaldo, Portuguese football player, ed.), because before he got to this level, he also start ed in the same way I am today"
Boyong, the coordinator envisions the young recruits becoming professional footballers and traveling the world, away from the war. he added that it is also a way to spread a message of peace and educate children about park conservation.
What are your thoughts ? Sounds like a great initiative, but is it sustainable?
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