Run for peace and South Sudan

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(LWI) – Until a year ago, Rose Nathike Lokonyen, 23, barely knew the talent she had. She had never competed. Rose fled the war in South Sudan when she was ten years old.  Today, she is one of ten refugee athletes to compete at the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rose came to Kakuma 2002 with her parents. The parents left 2003 and Rose stayed in Kakuma, where she is also taking care of three younger siblings. Like many other children, she studied in the refugee camp schools managed by ACT member The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and studied up to her O level exam.

It was in one of these schools that her talent was discovered: A teacher suggested that she run a 10-kilometre race in a school competition. “I had not been training. It was the first time for me to run, and I came number two,” she says, smiling. “I was very surprised.”

In 2014 Rose, who is also taking care of her three younger siblings, came to the LWF youth office, to leave her application for a job. She wanted to, as she says, keep busy. She was employed by LWF as an incentive staff in the youth department, working as a girls’ trainer.

Training for Rio

In June, International Olympic Committee announced the selection of 10 refugees who will compete this August in Rio de Janeiro, forming the first-ever Refugee Olympic Athletes team. They include two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a marathon runner from Ethiopia and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan. Rose Nathike Lokonyen is one of them.

The initiative comes at a time when more people than ever – 59.5 million at last count – are being forced to flee their homes to escape conflict and persecution. The squad representing them in Rio hopes to give the world a glimpse of their resilience and untapped talent.

“Their participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity and building a better future for themselves and their families,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi. “UNHCR stands with them and with all refugees.”

“Represent my people”

Rose has since moved to a training camp near the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where she is preparing to run the 800-metre event at the Olympics. “I will be very happy and I will just work hard and prove myself,” she says. She says she will run for her people in South Sudan, because “they are my people and my parents are still there. I will run for peace in Africa”, she adds.

She sees athletics not only as an avenue to earning prize money and endorsements, but also as a way to inspire others. “What I want to achieve in Rio? To win, win, win… but above all to do my best so that I can help many girls who have talent but less opportunity.” she says.

“I will be representing my people there at Rio, and maybe if I succeed I can come back and conduct a race that can promote peace, and bring people together.”

She thanks LWF Kakuma, UNHCR and the Tegla Lorupe Foundation for the opportunity to participate.

Kakuma refugee camp is home to about 180,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan. LWF is providing primary education, early childhood development, child protection and sustainable livelihoods programs.

With contributions by UNHCR communications. Compiled by LWF communications.