Manchester Calling

The Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute

In January, a group of masters students from the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute presented 18-year-old South Sudanese footballer Joseph Muyang with signed Manchester United gear, provided by the Manchester United Foundation.

The following post is written by MSc International Disaster Management student Olivia Blinn.

The group met Muyang at Kiryandango refugee settlement in Uganda during a 10-day research trip facilitated by the university’s Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. Muyang shared about fleeing violence in his home country and the role that football has played in his life.

In a life marked by conflict, Muyang finds hope through his love of football. Muyang was born a refugee, as his family had fled their home country fearing for their lives. Having spent his early years in Kiryandango, in 2007, Muyang’s family repatriated to what is now South Sudan. From a young age, Muyang loved football and played on club teams before eventually being moved up to the Eastern Equatoria state team.

His commitment to the game and skills on the pitch continued to propel Muyang forward. Recruiters signed him to a club team in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. He became the lead scorer and helped carry the team to the South Sudan cup final. In 2016, his years of hard work seemed to be paying off, as the national team of South Sudan selected him to join their ranks.

However, in July of that year, conflict once again broke out in the world’s youngest country. Muyang and his teammates lived in a football camp in Juba, and eventually Muyang was one of two players left. Far from his family and seeking safety, he began to travel to the Ugandan border without knowing where he was going.

Muyang met a man with a car who offered him a ride to the border. Staff from the UN Refugee Agency directed him to a reception centre for South Sudanese fleeing the violent conflict. Soon, Muyang found himself back in Kiryandango refugee settlement, less than a decade after having left. His family was in their home village when the war broke out, but he does not know where they are now.

Muyang plays for a local club, and often plays football with young children in the camp. However, he worries that his skills are not being challenged enough and he may lose his edge. A Ugandan football scout reached out to him, but he is unable to play at a higher level without a national identification card in Uganda. Such an ID is nearly impossible for him to obtain, because of his status as a refugee.

Muyang told the group of students that his favourite football team in the UK is Manchester United — to which the entire group breathed a sigh of relief. He was delighted to the point of being speechless as the students presented him with signed gear from the Manchester United Foundation.

Muyang maintains a deep love of football, as he believes it has the potential to change his life. His football skills are his favourite thing about himself, and as a person of faith, he believes that they are a gift that he has received.

“One good thing that God has given me is the talent for playing football,” Muyang says.