Nigerian refugee girls train during a session at the football pitch in the Minawao Refugee camp. AFP
Gulf Today Report
Words are not enough to describe the fun and passion in their eyes as Nigerian refugee girls cheer on their side at the Africa Cup of Nations.
The girls, ranging in age from 15 to 20, fled with their families to Cameroon years ago, as Boko Haram jihadists wreaked havoc in their country.
At a refugee camp in Minawao, in Cameroon's Far North region, the girls took up football, forming a team with whatever equipment came to hand.
Last weekend, thanks to an initiative of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the girls got the treat of their lives: they were taken to a match between Nigeria and Sudan.
They boarded a bus on Friday for the 200-kilometre (120-mile trip) and spent the night in a hotel — a totally new experience for them — before heading to the stadium in Garoua on Saturday.
As they left, the girls stopped at the hotel entrance, coquettishly checking their reflections in the glass.
En route to the match, they marvelled at the hordes of Nigerian fans flocking to the stadium.
In the event, Sudan put up little resistance, scoring only one goal to Nigeria's three.
The next day the girls returned to the Minawao camp, greeted as heroines by hundreds of children who had seen them on television.
The camp, the largest in the region, opened in July 2013 at the height of the Boko Haram insurgency, which prompted a massive influx of Nigerians into Cameroon.
Today, housing some 70,000 people, it resembles a little city, with a hospital, several schools, a dispensary and even a market some 50 kilometres (30 miles) away where the refugees sell produce from their farm plots and can buy merchandise from home.
The camp's football pitch is an expanse of compacted earth with blue-coloured goals at either end.
Saratu Yakubu, 19, said that when she arrived in 2013, the players had jerseys and shoes, but they no longer have proper equipment.
"It's become nearly impossible to play even though it is so important for us, for our health and well-being," she said.
A recent donation from the German government financed jerseys and balls for the boys, but there was nothing for the girls.
Never left camp
Luka Isaac, who represents the Minawao refugees, told AFP: "Going to the stadium was an unforgettable experience for these girls. They realise that they can dream too. Most arrived here as children and it was the first time they left the camp."
He regretted that they do not have enough equipment. "Football gives them something to think about besides what they suffered in Nigeria."
UNHCR spokesman Xavier Bourgeois noted that now that the crisis seems to be abating in Nigeria, "the big donors are starting to forget" about the refugees.
Lucy Bitrus, 18, one of the footballers in Minawao, sews sheshias -- headgear worn by local men -- which she hawks at the market. Her mother sells cakes and her father is a monitor at the school.
She sleeps on a straw mat on the earthen floor and does her schoolwork using a solar-powered light. Her "favourite possession" is a biology book. The only decoration in her room is a chemistry chart -- the periodic table of the elements.
"My dream is to become a doctor," she said, speaking wistfully of going to university someday. "We don't just need footballs here -- we also want books."
Bani Yas' Brazilian midfielder Joao Pedro's goal in the 41st minute it was that reduced the margin for Bani Yas and kept them in the match. The scoreline at the end of the first half stayed the same with Al Jazira leading Bani Yas 2-1.
The academy will be built with one goal in mind: accessible youth development. The six-year partnership will focus on training youth football players according to the Ajax philosophy, by three resident Ajax coaches.
World football's governing body FIFA ordered Iran last month to allow women access to stadiums without restriction and in numbers determined by demand for tickets.
Hailing the UAE for delivering a hugely successful event, Infantino said, "I think that it has been a fantastic event here in Abu Dhabi. There has been great organisation and we have loved Abu Dhabi for many years already, so I must thank Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
The event presented Spring/Summer 24 collections by a diverse roster of 25 designers from over 12 countries.
In fact, as we walked, we gradually realized that thousands of Porsche drivers were converging for a convention, one of many luxury-car events the area hosts every year.
Over the weekend and before the celebratory graduation party for 13 women who dared to learn about coffee-making and mixology – that which is about all the wide range of aperitifs and mixed drinks, Fahim Arrif who began as a barrista himself in his native South Africa 18 years back, said: “Over the nine years I have been in the UAE, the consumer palette for coffee has changed drastically. People have learnt to educate themselves about food they consume.