Using traditional sports to empower displaced girls
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protesters hold signs on the side of a dusty sports pitch
In post-conflict South Sudan, the traditional sport of Boruboru is being used to help girls from all different backgrounds build their life skills and participate in sport.

The girls are nervous. They have to play the finals against a team from a different community, a community they often fight with. The leaders, however, ensured them that this sport is for all our daughters – it is important to put aside our differences and unite in sports. And that is exactly what the girls also want – just play the game they all love so much.

Reviving Boruboru

Boruboru is a traditional South Sudanese sport similar to dodgeball. Children and youth played Boruboru in their schools, churches and neighbourhoods. Oliver Marub’u Michael, Program Manager of Help a Child South Sudan, is the initiator to revive and integrate Boruboru in 2015. The new way of playing Boruboru is aimed at using the sport as a powerful tool to empower girls and women and to bring social cohesion in the communities. Today, South Sudan has its own Boruboru National Association with 40 residential neighbourhood and 23 school teams. The game has been officially recognized by the government of South Sudan as one of the national sports. Over 2900 girls and women now enjoy playing Boruboru and use their newly acquired skills.

Boruboru is used by Help a Child as a way to raise awareness about girls’ rights, to empower youth and communities and to bring social cohesion in broken and divided communities. Within the revived Boruboru, fair play is advocated and more focus is put on capacity building. Help a Child has integrated Boruboru in their life skills and protection program for girls. Girls are trained in Boruboru playing skills, teambuilding, conflict management and tolerance, communication skills and leadership skills. In this way, Boruboru creates an inclusive platform for the active participation of girls and women in social life.

Using Boruboru to end child marriage

On 20 November 2020, Boruboru was used to promote the End Child Marriage Campaign during a large Boruboru tournament held in Wau, South Sudan. Teams were not only competing to find out who the best Boruboru team was, but to stand up for their rights and be a voice for the voiceless girls who can’t stand up for themselves against abuses such as forced marriage, unwanted pregnancy and teenage motherhood.

Kelada James Saadalla, a 16-year-old Boruboru team player who was trained in public speaking, stood up to speak to the audience about the challenges facing girls in South Sudan. “I was too nervous and very scared at the beginning when my friends pointed at me to read the speech. I was not confident that I would make it through as a girl. But after getting training and rehearsing for eight hours, I was able to deliver the speech to the best of my ability and attracted the attention of the audience and the media. Thanks to Help a Child and thanks to Boruboru, I am now a different person who can represent my fellow girls effectively and create an enabling environment for children and girls specifically,” she said.

Before the final results of the tournament were announced, girls from the finalist teams displayed critical campaign messages to the audience, asking for protection, peace, care, justice and education instead of marriage and pregnancy. These messages moved powerful decision-makers and the guest of honour. Parents, NGOs and governments officials pledged their support and commitment to protecting children, creating peace and enforcing the existing laws to ensure justice for all children.

Remarking on why he chose to focus on reviving Boruboru, Oliver Marub’u Michael said: “Boruboru caught my eyes out of many other traditional games because it is the only exciting sport that is also played by girls, in the country. The game carries many opportunities for girls to play, grow up as responsible citizens of a nation and feature as women leaders. It is a powerful tool for development and also reduces the existing gender gaps in sports and recreation in the country.” He hopes that, in the future, Boruboru will be further assimilated into humanitarian and development approaches, especially in conflict and post-conflict countries like South Sudan, to create an inclusive platform for the active participation of girls and women in social life and for the stakeholders to promote peace, justice and human rights.

The finals in Jur River County have been an example for what Boruboru wants to promote – a beautiful sport for girls of all backgrounds, showing their talents and playing in unity.

Find out more about Boruboru:


Oliver Michael is a social worker with 17 years of professional work experience in humanitarian and development work in South Sudan. He holds a master’s degree in Environmental Policy, with a speciality in project management and African Studies. Inspired by his own childhood life experiences, his aim is to ensure that every child enjoys their life to the fullest, without deprivation, marginalization and violations of any kind. He established Maridi Action for the Rights of Children (MARC) in 2005 to empower children, parents and community leaders and create enabling environment for children in Maridi County. In 2014, Oliver decided to revive Boruboru to empower girls and women through indigenous sports, which was eventually recognized by government in South Sudan in 2016 as one of the national sports of the country.

sportanddev published this content as part of our partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. For more information on using sport in work with refugees please visit the UNHCR website.


South Sudan
Sustainable Development Goals
5 - Gender equality
10 – Reduced inequalities
Target Group
Girls and women
Displaced people

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