Burundi walked tall at the Street Child World Cup on Tuesday, with their team crossing ethnic divides and showing the power of sport to rise above decades of racial strife.
"We have different ethnic groups in our team, which just goes to show we can all live together," coach Dieudonne Nahimana, himself a former street child and founder of the New Generation charity group in 1998, told AFP.
Nahimana, a member of the Tutsi ethnic group whose organization runs a home for street children in the capital Bujumbura, pointed out that his assistant Teddy Harumana is from the rival Hutu grouping.
"We came together in this New Generation project which is all about unity, reconciliation and forgiveness," said Nahimana, who lost his own father to ethnic unrest which cost around 300,000 lives between 1993 and 2006.
"Our task is to bear witness to what is possible and this tournament gives us a voice," Nahimana told AFP ahead of a 4-0 victory over a Philippines selection on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.
"Young people have come together here to say to no to violence and exclusion, to mold, we hope, the leaders of the future," he added.Nahimana acknowledged recent months have seen political tensions on the rise in his country which have tested an increasingly delicate power-sharing arrangement between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.
The government indicated last month that President Pierre Nkurunziza is targeting a third term in office in elections due next year, despite parliament having voted to preserve a constitutional two-term limit.
"We are in a delicate period as the 2015 election nears," Nahimana said.
"We of New Generation want to help ensure that people do not fall into the trap of those who would reawaken the demons of racial hatred," said Nahimana.
Also flying the flag for Africa were a Kenyan select, who likewise have given young street children a focus and a place of refuge.
The captains from Pakistan, Brazil, Egypt, Brundi, …
The captains from Pakistan, Brazil, Egypt, Brundi, Nicaragua and Mauritius line up during the second …
"I feel so good to be in Brazil, learning from others, from their experiences," said 14-year-old Gilbert Azango.
"When I go back I shall put great efforts into my studies," said Azango, an orphan who lived at the Kibarani landfill site on the outskirts of Mombasa before Henry Otieno's Wema Centre and the Kenyan arm of the UK-based Gladshouse charity took him under their wing.
Azango, a keen Manchester United fan, rattled off former Old Trafford star Cristiano and current strikers Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Chicharito as his favorite players.
Avidly awaiting the professional World Cup after his own taste of soccer in Brazil he predicted the hosts would lift the trophy.
"I'm very sure Brazil will win. I think they're the best."
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