News / Africa

In South Sudan Camp for Displaced, World Cup Soccer Brings Hope

Young men watch sport on a small television in a makeshift viewing hall in UNMISS's Tongping Protection of Civilians site in Juba.
Young men watch sport on a small television in a makeshift viewing hall in UNMISS's Tongping Protection of Civilians site in Juba.
Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

In a corner of the U.N. Mission in South Sudan's (UNMISS) Tongping camp in Juba, men sit on plastic chairs, watching soccer on a small television screen in a makeshift cinema.

David Rajor Konyi, who worked as a driver before he sought shelter at the UNMISS compound when South Sudan plunged into conflict, set up the cinema "...to help encourage some youth. Young men need to watch films and other sports, like wresting and soccer,” he said.

Rajor used the few thousand pounds that he was able to save before fighting broke out in Juba in mid-December, to buy a TV set, chairs, mats, lights, a sound system, and a small generator. He put the equipment in a four meter by eight meter tent and opened for business.

At first, Rajor showed a lot of wrestling, which has a large following in South Sudan. The cinema got quite full for the wrestling shows, and after paying his expenses, Rajor was making a daily profit of 30 South Sudanese pounds – enough to buy food and clothing for the seven family members who are with him in the camp.

David Rajor Konyi writes the day's program on a whiteboard outside the makeshift cinema that he set up and runs in an UNMISS camp for the displaced in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.
David Rajor Konyi writes the day's program on a whiteboard outside the makeshift cinema that he set up and runs in an UNMISS camp for the displaced in the South Sudanese capital, Juba.

But when the World Cup kicked off, Rajor says his fortunes changed dramatically. His cinema was overwhelmed by clients. Sometimes, the 100 seats in the viewing hall were not enough to accommodate everyone who showed up for a match. 

'I forget about everything'

Michael Koang Khan, 38, says coming to the cinema to watch football helps him to forget the awful situation that he and more than a million other displaced South Sudanese are in -- living in cramped, squalid camps as peace talks grind on without producing much in the way of results.

When you go to watch a game, there is no difference between you and other people. You watch together and there is not anyone who can say this one is from this tribe or that tribe.

“When I am watching, I forget about everything," said Khan, who had just returned to Juba from Kenya, where he earned a university degree in business management, when the fighting broke out.

"It also gives me time to rest when I watch. It is also helping me to remember what I was doing before, when I was young. I was also a footballer," he said. 

Ruei Ter Koul, 27, said he feels a sense of unity when he sits with other football fans in the tent and watches World Cup action unfolding on the small television screen.

“When you go to watch a game, there is no difference between you and other people. You can watch it together and there is not anyone who can say this one is from this tribe or that tribe,” he said.

The World Cup has also been a learning experience for Koul.

"There is a country called Chile -- I had never heard about it until I saw it in the World Cup," he said.

Even though the five African nations that qualified for the World Cup -- Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria -- are out of the running for the gold-plated trophy, Rajor says he still expects a full house at his cinema to watch the final matches.

  • Algeria's goalkeeper Rais Mbolhi taps the ball away during the game between Germany and Algeria at the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, June 30, 2014.
  • Greece's Sokratis Papastathopoulos, left, fights for the ball with Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba during their match at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza ,June 24, 2014.
  • Ghana's goalkeeper Fatau Dauda denies Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo with this tremendous save at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia, June 26, 2014.
  • Ivory Coast national team midfielder Ismael Diomande plays with a ball during practice at Castelo Stadium in Fortaleza June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake (BRAZIL - Tags: SPORT WORLD CUP SOCCER) - RTR3VD8O
  • Ghana's Mohammed Rabiu, left, and United States' Kyle Beckerman struggle with each other to head the ball during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. (AP Ph
  • Algeria's national soccer players celebrate their team's fourth goal by Yacine Brahimi at the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, June 22, 2014. Pictured are: (counter clockwise from top) Algeria's Islam Slimani, Rafik Halliche, Madjid Bougherra and Yacin
  • A fan of Ivory Coast cheers before the start of the match against Greece at the Castelao arena in Fortaleza, June 24, 2014.
  • An Algerian fan smiles for the camera before the match between Germany and Algeria at the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre, June 30, 2014.
  • A Ghana fan waits for the 2014 World Cup Group G soccer match between Ghana and the U.S. at the Dunas arena in Natal June 16, 2014.
  • A fan of Cameroon's team cheers before their 2014 World Cup match against Croatia in Manaus, Brazil June 18, 2014.
  • Fans arrive for the Nigeria - France game at the National Stadium in Brasilia, Brazil, June 30, 2014. (Nicolas Pinault/VOA)
  • Algeria's Abdelmoumene Djabou celebrates with his teammates after tying Russia at the Baixada arena in Curitiba, June 26, 2014.
  • Brazil's Fernandinho (R) shoots to score past Cameroon's Nicolas Nkoulou during their 2014 World Cup Group A soccer match at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia, June 23, 2014.
  • Brazil's Neymar, right, controls the ball in front of Cameroon's Allan Nyom during their match at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia, June 23, 2014.
  • Nigeria's Kenneth Omeruo, left, and France's Laurent Koscielny go for a header during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between France and Nigeria at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, June 30, 2014.
  • Nigeria's goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama seems to defy gravity in the net for Nigeria at the Brasilia national stadium in Brasilia, June 30, 2014.

But like his clients, his most fervent hope is that he will be able to shut down his cinema hall in Tongping camp because peace will come to South Sudan and it will be safe for him and everyone else to go back home.

More than 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled their homes since the fighting began. Around 100,000 of them are living in U.N. compounds that have been turned into camps for the displaced, and in spite of the government assuring South Sudanese that it is safe for them to leave the camps and return home, they are staying put in the U.N. Protection of Civilians sites.

 

 

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