UNHCR – ‘It’s in our hands’, says NBA star Wayne Gabriel during his visit to his native South Sudan

Winin Gabriel, a UNHCR supporter, former refugee and Los Angeles Lakers player, with his mother Rebecca (right) and brother Komut (left) at the Mangala camp for displaced people in South Sudan. © UNHCR / Rohan Ali

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

Two years later, he and his family still live in what has become the Mangala IDP camp in Central Equatoria State. “We were among the first to reach this site,” he said. Since then, it has grown to accommodate nearly 40,000 people who managed to escape the floods.

Winin Gabriel met Daniel during her visit to the Mangala camp for internally displaced people with UNHCR last month, where she learned more about the fate of the displaced and why they need support. “People are not here by choice, just as my choice was not how I became a refugee before being resettled in the United States. It just happened to me.” “We are all victims of our circumstances.”

South Sudan and the broader East African region are on the front lines of climate change, suffering from the impact of extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts. Seasonal rains and floods are normal, but in recent years the waters have not receded, making vast tracts of land uninhabitable. Currently, an estimated two million South Sudanese have been displaced within their country due to conflicts and natural disasters.

In addition to internal displacement, the refugee crisis in South Sudan remains the largest in Africa, with more than 2.3 million South Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries. Meanwhile, South Sudan itself also hosts more than 340,000 refugees, mostly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia, as well as from Kenya, Sudan and Uganda.

Mangala is one of eight locations in South Sudan where UNHCR, along with partners, UN agencies, NGOs and the government, is coordinating humanitarian aid for those forced to flee, consisting of food, clean water, housing and medical care, as well as projects to strengthen long-term resilience. .

Gabriel wants to use his platform and influence as a professional athlete to help his country by building basketball facilities for people who have few opportunities to play sports or recreation. During his visit, he organized a three-day basketball camp in the capital, Juba, for young people, including 20 displaced children.

Wenen Gabriel meets with two local soccer teams made up of displaced youth in Mangala IDP camp.

Wenen Gabriel meets with two local soccer teams made up of displaced youth in Mangala IDP camp. © UNHCR / Rohan Ali

“Sports can provide opportunities for young people, especially if you can reach children in their early stages of development,” Gabriel said. “It can help prepare them for life, and perhaps some young people can become professional athletes, while others may have alternative paths.”

“There are a lot of talented people in South Sudan,” he said. However, they do not have the means to succeed. I want to help with that.”

For Daniel, sport is more than an exercise, or even an opportunity. “Sports can really bring us together,” he said. “It can help you forget about 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, celebrated Gabrielle’s return to South Sudan. “Nothing can change your country of origin. Your parents were born there, and you will have to return one day. I am very happy to receive Wennin Gabriel as a citizen. Welcome him, he is one of us.”

This message was supported by Gabriel, who hoped his own story would inspire him to conquer others. “We are all sons of this land. I declare that its construction is in our hands.” I am proud to be South Sudanese and I want to do my part and help my people, including the displaced. Basketball can help with that.”

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