Awer Mabil has come a long way - in all senses of the word. Born 19 years ago in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, the young footballer now calls Australia his second home and has represented the Young Socceroos at U-20 level. But he has stayed true to his roots and has certainly not forgotten where he comes from.
“I actually consider myself South Sudanese,” he tells FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “And that, even though I have never actually visited the country.” His parents fled the war-torn region, first for the refugee camp and then with the help of an uncle finding refugee status in Australia in 2006. Although his football skills took a leap Down Under, Mabil's love of football goes back to the camp. “I started playing with my brothers and friends in Kakuma when I was about five or so. We would just go outside and start kicking around. It was not structured and there was little else to do.
“If I wanted to watch football on television, I would have to walk one to two hours to a place where there was a television. I would then have to pay a small amount and sit down to watch the games. When they were finished, I would walk back.”
Watching the FIFA World Cup
All of that changed, of course, when the Mabil family moved to Adelaide. “Suddenly, it was like living a different life. We no longer lived in a small hut, and I no longer had to walk hours to watch a game of football. It was the time of the 2006 World Cup and even though I supported no team, I remember being glued to the television.”
He also started playing organised youth football and his ability was soon noticed as he joined the South Australian National Training Centre and played in the youth team of Adelaide United. He then joined Campbelltown City, who played in the FFSA National Premier League. Again his performances drew the attention of a bigger club and he was transferred to A-League team Adelaide United.
He played his first game for the professional team in January 2013, when he was only 17 and has since gone on to appear regularly for the Reds. He was also invited to play for the Australian U-20 side and was a member of the team at the 2014 AFC U-19 Championship, where the Young Socceroos narrowly missed out on qualifying for this year's FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.
But even if he has achieved a lot in a remarkably short time, Mabil does not take it for granted and has certainly not forgotten his roots.
Going back to Kakuma
Last year Mabil returned to Kakuma for the first time since leaving for Australia. “Even though I was living in Adelaide, I had never forgotten the camp. I still have friends and relatives there and I wanted to go back to show them that they were not forgotten.” His return to Kakuma left such an impression on the young footballer that he immediately decided that he wanted to return again, this time to help more concretely.
“I realised that I wanted to do more. When I told a friend of mine, Ian Smith, what I had witnessed, he immediately agreed to become involved. Together with my older brother Awer Bul and another friend, Rachael West, they worked tirelessly on the project. We collected football boots and other stuff they would need there to play football and I will be going over this week. One of my team-mates, Osama Malik, who also has Sudanese roots, will be joining me on the trip. We are also being supported by Qantas and UNICEF and that will allow us to help even more.”
Mabil does not consider going back to Kakuma and helping out where he can as something special. “I think footballers are often taken only at face value. Like in all spheres of life, I think a lot of footballers are not only willing to do good things, they just do them.”
For the youngster the trip to Kakuma is not about publicity and public relations. It is simply about going back to the place he was born, seeing friends and family and helping out where he can. He will not be accompanied by crowds of television crews or reporters. Instead, Mabil will be going home and giving children football boots, jerseys and balls, children who will see that football dreams can come true thanks to his trip.