The First Of My Kind

Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi was established in 1994. Plan International Malawi (PIM) has been providing protection services to refugees and asylum seekers in Dzaleka refugee camp since 2014 when it partnered with UNHCR. The population of refugees and asylum seekers in Malawi currently stands at 50,615 individuals. Most of the new arrivals are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, specifically from the province of Sud Kivu.  

Dzaleka refugee camp has 15 football teams, with some teams participating in national and regional football leagues and tournaments. PIM runs a football tournament on peaceful co-existence for host and refugee communities. Marie Solange is an 18-year-old football player - her family was originally from Rwanda.

Can you introduce yourself and tell us about your football life?

My name is Marie Solange. I am Rwandan but was born in Malawi and currently live in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. My parents fled Rwanda due to the Genocide and other conflicts. I am 18 years old, born into a family of six children, and the only girl. I currently go to school at a boarding school outside the camp.

What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning with the photos?

The photos were taken at our football pitch and some were taken at home with children from my neighbourhood. Their innocent souls deserve a better life than what they are getting now. As such, I take the initiative to help, advocate for, and transform my community through football so that other girls in the community should not face the same challenges I went through.

Despite how happy children, especially girls, look from the outside, it is not the way they feel on the inside. I am a young female advocate, standing up for other girls. Girls are able to take over and control things like boys do.

I was trying to show that I can also get to the peak of life and achieve everything regardless of who I am, and that I am not just a child refugee. 

What is your favourite photo? Why?

My favourite photo depicts equality among boys and girls. Many people in my community are against equality between boys and girls. My community is not the type that supports women and girls becoming footballers, but I have defied that by being the only girl in the squad. It is not easy and risky to overcome this culture but it is the best way to grow. I feel like I am a female fighter, a self-army. 

Why is football important to you and your community?

Football is very important to me and my community because it keeps my hope alive and also serves as a means of entertainment.

What role does football and Plan International play in your life at the moment? Who do you play with?

Football and Plan International Malawi play a very important role in my life because it helps me to advocate for bringing equality to boys and girls using football. I am able to interact and share the same team spirit with boys. We work together to reach a common goal. 

Plan International is a child-centred organisation which gives me the opportunity to bring change in my community.

What ambitions do you have for the future?

I aspire to become a professional female footballer, the first of my kind and an example to other girls.

This article was first published by Goal Click

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