You are here

Sport brought me back to Burundi

Sport brought me back to Burundi

The Burundi sitting volleyball team return to EAC 2012 to defend their championship title, but for Benjamin Nzobonankira, his return to Tanzania is a reminder of the 12 years he spent as Burundian refugee before sport convinced him it was time to return home.

Refugee camps in Tanzania

Benjamin and his family fled a series of civil wars in the East African region from 1992-1996, moving from Burundi to Rwanda and then Congo, before finding refuge in Tanzania, where he stayed until 2008.

In the refugee camps in Tanzania, Benjamin was exposed to sports activities through Right To Play (RTP), using games that included all ethnic groups. “These camps contained the different refugees who were completely separated, but games meant children could play together, even the Internally Displaced People could play,” he recalls.

“RTP were playing with refugees using games that had a meaning, training children with social messages,” he said. 

Through sport I could laugh
His mother died whilst fleeing from Congo and his family were subsequently forced to leave his newborn sister with a host family. “Throughout this time, I thought I was lost. I could not sleep for three years thinking about the countries we had traveled, but through my participation in sport, I could laugh,” he said.

Benjamin then started volunteering and assisting the volunteer sports leaders until eventually, “Step by step, we could organise games and invite parents to join. It is about education, not discrimination, after games with children, we incorporated parents to sensitise them to what we were doing.”

Deciding to return home
“Sport means there is support for people, so I took the decision to go back, but when I returned in 2008, it was a strange country, it was completely different. But with this [sport and development] education and by participating in these trainings, I learned how to connect with people, how to communicate how to act towards someone to do something fro you. 

I learned games and activities I and other leaders could take back to Burundi. With the experience we got, we had to organsie activities and discuss how we will start integrating ourselves back into the community, as we were now considered Tanzanian."  

Giving back what sport gave me
"When I was in the camp, I learned about how to cope with others and give back. I had enough experience of training volunteers," said Benjamin. He is now an integral part of the RTP team and holds the position of Training Officer. 

The impact of his experiences
"Many of the children taking part in RTP's programmes are victims of war and for those who were left physically disabled, they now had the opportunity to interact with other community members and become active through sitting volleyball," said Benjamin. 

Last year the sitting volleyball team from Burundi won gold at the East Africa Cup


Article type



Mel Paramasivan


Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 23:00