Sophina breaks new ground in DR Congo05 September 2008

Football Unites coach Desbon Bushiri has returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help the Football Between Communities project that he established there last year to organise a big Unity Festival, bringing displaced young people and communities together. The DR Congo and surrounding counties have suffered civil war, tribal and ethnic conflict and more than half of children aged over six are orphans. This time, Football Unites volunteer Sophina Hanif has gone to help out as well.

The 21-year-old, who plays for Sheffield Wednesday women's team, signed up as a volunteer with FURD five years ago. She hasn’t looked back and now coaches youngsters and helps run development programmes.

“It’s quite rare to find Asians playing and coaching football and it’s even rarer to find Asian women in the game.” explains Sophina, who lives in Sheffield with her family. Sophina has recently earned her level one FA coaching badge and has coached young women at FURD.

“I’ve been so blessed in my life and I want to give something to the kids who haven’t been as fortunate as I have – around 70 per cent of children in the Sud Kivu area don’t have access to education.

“I’m not your traditional Asian girl. I respect my culture and my family but at the same time I want to break down barriers both in England and in Africa.

“I know this kind of work will be culturally sensitive for me as a woman, and as an Asian woman, but I’m ready for that.”

Whilst based in DR Congo, where 60 per cent of the population still live in displaced areas, Sophina will lead coaching sessions and educate youngsters about HIV, AIDS and malaria.

She’s also looking forward to a festival at the end of the four-week programme.

“I play African drums in a band and we’re going to have a celebration before we come home. I hope I can get some drumming in!”

Sophina is extremely grateful for the opportunities that volunteering has provided and recommends it to any young person.

“I’ve picked up a lot of communication skills and now I’m an ambassador for Football Unites Racism Divides. Volunteering there has given me the chance to make a difference. We can change people’s lives and it’s a tremendous honour to have the opportunity to go to Africa. I expect to learn so much”.