The stars of the refugee camp

THEY survive on about 43 cents per day, their childhood was spent mainly on the run as their parents fled the war torn Democratic Republic of Congo but they seem to have found comfort at this refugee camp which is home to 10 000 immigrants from across Africa.
Now opportunity has come knocking; something that could transform their lives and prove there is hope beyond Tongogara Refugee Camp.

Tshipampa Babadi (22) and Francis Lukonde (20) are the two refugees who have impressed Dynamos coach Lloyd Mutasa who is speaking glowingly about the Congolese duo.

Babadi and Lukonde, both attackers who turn out for Tongogara Select, lit up the annual Gibson Marwa tournament held in Chipinge District last December and left Mutasa the guest coach at the tourney drooling.

“Father, I didn’t know such talent could be found in a place like that (refugee camp),” said Mutasa.

“The boys are immensely good and they are capable of lighting up Stadiums in the Premiership.

“We will make enquiries about their availability given their status but definitely I want them at DeMbare,” said the gaffer upon his return from the tournament.

Curious to know more about this “special duo”, The Sunday Mail tracked Babadi and Lukonde to Tongogara Refugee Camp, situated in the Chipangayi area of Chipinge District.

The impression most people have of a Refugee Camp is that of a place where you find traumatized adults who have run away from different kinds of conflicts in their countries of origin.

But, upon arrival at Tongogara Refugee Camp, one is surprised to discover that there are educational facilities right from the Elementary up to High School.

Sport is vibrant at this camp with basketball and volleyball among other more popular sports.

They also have a women’s soccer team that competes in the Chipinge District League.

However, it is football that unites these refugees from various countries such as Cote d’Ivoire, Central Africa Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia and Syria.

Football enthusiasts gather at the camp’s popular watering hole Nakayama Sports Bar and scramble to watch soccer on television set that is tucked in a corner.

It is at Nakayama Sports Bar where DeMbare target Babadi, whose family came to Zimbabwe in 2008, fell in love with the Glamour Boys.

“We have the opportunity to watch both international and local games but Dynamos is my favourite team.

“When they (Dynamos) lost 0-1 to Caps United in a league match last season it was a sorrowful day for many who support Dynamos in this camp,” said Babadi, before asking his father to bring several of his soccer medals from their house.

His face lit up when he started talking about the opportunity to play for the country’s biggest club.

“The fact that Dynamos coach Lloyd Mutasa spoke about me gives me the courage to soldier on and it proves that there is more to life than just being a refugee.

“He (Mutasa) attends many tournaments, meets a lot of talented players and just to hear that a coach like him has been impressed by my talent gives me the urge.

“It also shows that we have talent in this camp…regardless of our situation we are also capable and if I am to get a chance to showcase my talent at Dynamos I will perform to my best,” said Babadi.

Babadi hails from a family unit of 14, his mother passed away in 2015 and his father Pastor Alphonse Babadi feels Tshipampa’s talent could finally bring happiness to the family.

“My son is talented, he also won medals in some junior tournaments he played in Johannesburg before we came to Zimbabwe.

“You see, we fled the DRC in 2004 and went to South Africa where we stayed for four years before relocating to this refugee camp.

“Unfortunately my first wife died in 2015 and I had to remarry. However, we have settled well here and in my son Tshipampa Babadi I can see light at the end of a dark tunnel,” said Babadi’s father.

Just a few metres away from the Babadi homestead is Lukonde’s house and the latter’s mother was a bit under the weather when the news crew arrived at the

Lukonde almost cried as he imagined how football could change his life.

“Ever since I was a kid I always dreamed of becoming a big football star and I feel my dream could finally come true.

“The Dynamos coach talked about us a bit when we saw him at the Marwa tournament but I didn’t trust his word.

“But when I heard that he had mentioned us in a newspaper article I realised with God everything was possible.

“We are a less privileged lot here at this camp but I have got this gut feeling football could be our savior,” said Lukonde in fluent English, although Swahili is the official language at the camp.

Already, football has earned this duo scholarships at St Noah High School in Mutare where they are both doing Advanced Level studies.

As Dynamos’ preseason shifts into top gear at Motor Action Sports Club in Harare, about 450km from the capital in the heart of Chipinge, Babadi and Lukonde can only hope that their dream can come true.

DeMbare coach Mutasa reaffirmed his interest in an interview with The Sunday Mail during the week.

“Clearly the boys have talent, they are the calibre of players I am looking for and we would want them in Harare.

“We will see how the logistics go about because their case is a bit unique,” said Mutasa.

Tongogara Refugee Camp Community Services Officer, Rudo Manyara, said nothing should hinder Dynamos from getting the duo if “they just write a letter of request.”

“They (refugees) have temporary permits that restrict them but if Dynamos write a formal letter to the Commissioner of Refugees the players will be given authority to work in Harare,” she said.

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