Football was my ticket out of a refugee camp
When David Majak, 18, heard his team would be travelling to London for a week for a football training camp, he couldn’t quite believe it.
He was getting the news while at Bukhungu Stadium, Kakamega County, and it was so far removed from his wildest dreams. But the good news didn’t stop there; he’d also been scouted to play in the Kenya Premier League.
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You come to understand why this news seemed otherworldly for David when you realise that when he first came to Kenya, he was a famished seven-year-old, fleeing what is now South Sudan.
Back then, he didn’t think his feeble limbs would do much more than get him to safety.
“I only stopped running once I got to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya. Over the past 10 years, I’ve moved from place to place, but I’ve always found my way back to Kakuma. It was the only place I called home. Until recently.”
David doesn’t quite recall the details of what prompted his escape from South Sudan, but he remembers overhearing his elder brothers and cousins plotting their own escape.
“I heard them talking about going to another country, and then they suddenly disappeared from home. I think that’s when my young mind conceived the idea to go away, too,” he says.
Now 18 and a KCSE candidate, David’s memories of leaving home and the toll the journey to Kenya took on his body are hazy.
What he does remember is that a short while after he got to Kakuma, a man who identified himself as a distant relative took him to Ngundeng Primary School in the camp, where he was admitted into Standard One.
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“But I found it difficult to survive the harsh conditions there, so I left. I found my way to Nairobi’s Zimmerman area where I found a home with a South Sudanese family.” David would later trace an uncle in the Kikuyu area who took him back to school. His Kiswahili, however, was wanting, so the school wanted to move him a class back.
“I didn’t want to be the oldest in my class, so I decided to go back to the refugee camp.”
He would later complete his primary education at Kalobeiyei Primary School at the camp, where he scored 276 marks out of a possible 500.
But aside from helping him get admission to Chewoyet High School in Kitale, his move back to Kakuma kickstarted his football journey.
“I discovered an interest in football while in primary school, and participated in the Lodwar County games, playing against much older people, yet being able to hold my own,” David says.
He played on the school team as a striker, and took his team to the regional competitions.
And then in 2016, he was selected to play for the Kapenguria Heroes, a West Pokot County team. That’s when he caught the attention of national football officials.
“I’m a striker on the team, and we got into the Chapa Dimba na Safaricom tournament.”
The tournament, which is open to boys and girls across the country, is a gruelling competition, with knockout stages at the county, sub-regional, regional and national levels.
Kapenguria Heroes emerged the overall winners, beating Gor Mahia Youth in the finals. For their efforts, they received Sh1 million from Safaricom, as well as the opportunity to travel to London for a week-long training and mentorship camp.
The team left for the UK last week, and while there, they’ll interact with Tottenham Hotspur midfielder and Harambee Stars Captain Victor Wanyama, who’s also the Chapa Dimba brand ambassador.
David, however, didn’t travel with his teammates as he doesn’t have a passport. But he’s not beating himself up over the missed opportunity.
“It would have been great to travel to London and meet Wanyama, but I know I’ll get other opportunities. Also, what has happened in my life so far has been so incredible, so out of my idea of what’s possible, that I’m not too disappointed,” David says.
Top on the list of all the good that’s come his way is his being drafted into the Kenya Premier League as part of the Kakamega Homeboyz team after he was scouted by the Football Kenya Federation.
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“It was such an honour. However, I’ll sit my KCSE exams first before joining the team.”
And then during the Chapa Dimba tournament, he was singled out for being the top scorer and most valuable player (MVP) a number of times, recognition that came with cash prizes.
“I was awarded Sh30,000 for being the top scorer in the Narok leg of the competition, as well as another Sh30,000 for being the MVP,” David says.
And in the national finals, he was crowned MVP, and for this was awarded Sh50,000.
“Even though my trajectory in football has been phenomenal, I still consider myself a novice. To succeed in this field, you have to be disciplined.”