The refugee football team in worn-out shoes scoring success in Zambia | Football #refugee #football #team #wornout #shoes #scoring #success #Zambia #Football

Meheba, Zambia – Gift Mukanya waits as Mr Fidel stitches a zig-zag path across the side of his orange football boot – part of the only pair the young striker owns.

At the shoe repairman’s outdoor stall in the main marketplace in Meheba refugee settlement in northwest Zambia, Gift eyes a pile of second-hand shoes for sale. But none of the cheap, plastic options available in the camp will do.

His refugee football team, Meheba Academy FC, has made it to Division One of Zambia’s provincial league. It has a major game against a top rival team in two days, so a hand-stitched repair job is the only choice the 24-year-old has.

Mr Fidel pushes his needle through the last line of black stitching, ties off a knot and hands the boot back. “10 kwacha ($0.40),” he says.

But Gift is running low on cash. Knowing the game is important, the vendor agrees to give it to him on credit. And if the team happens to win on Sunday, he won’t have to pay him back at all.

A football player wearing worn-out boots that have been patched together
Player Gift Mukanya managed to get his damaged soccer boot hand-stitched at the local market in Meheba refugee settlement [Helene Caux/UNHCR]

Gift carefully packs the boot away in a small, zipped pouch, his sock-clad feet in flip-flops. Beside him, also wearing football gear and slip-ons, is 25-year-old Nathan Mulimbi, Gift’s teammate, friend and nephew.

The two – one the team’s captain and a skilled defender, the other its highest-scoring striker – chuckle as they agree that football must be in their blood.

Nathan’s mom is the eldest of 12 children born to parents from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gift is her youngest sibling. Though years of conflict separated some of the family members from each other in the 1990s, by the mid-2000s they found themselves reunited in Meheba, but this time as refugees.

Gift and Nathan stroll through the narrow, sandy alleyways of the market – past small shops selling basics, trestle-table vendors and kiosks for mobile phone data. Metres away, the main gravel road passes the primary school football grounds that serve as Meheba Academy’s home field, the offices of the United Nations refugee agency, and Gift and Nathan’s homes.

The same road meanders out toward other parts of the settlement where some 40,000 people live. It’s a community that mirrors the team Gift and Nathan play for — mostly refugees, but also Zambians, living, working, surviving and playing together.

#refugee #football #team #wornout #shoes #scoring #success #Zambia #Football

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