Awer Mabil used to make footballs from plastic bags. Now he’s an Australian hero

Awer Mabil this month helped Australia qualify for the FIFA World Cup and only this week signed for Spanish top-division club Cadiz.
In other words, his childhood dreams have become a reality.
But in his first sit-down interview since scoring a crucial penalty after extra time in the qualifying match against Peru, the Socceroos winger says he isn’t fazed by the spotlight.

Instead, he says, he makes sure to stay humble — a lesson he learned during his childhood spent in a refugee camp.


“Obviously, it was the foundation for me. It gave me a lot of values that I still carry to this day,” he says.
“One of the main things is humbleness — to always be humble — that’s what I learned from being in that environment from that age.”
Mabil’s parents fled civil war in South Sudan in 1994 and he was born in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya the following year. He spent the first 10 years of his life there and says it taught him valuable life lessons.
He later came to Australia and went on to play for Adelaide United and clubs around the world including FC Midtjylland in Denmark and Kasımpaşa in Turkey.

But he first learned to play football on the dirt pitch at the Kakuma refugee camp, barefoot, where he and his friends would make footballs from plastic bags and balloons.

Awer standing with arms around kids

Awer Mabil with members of Adelaide’s South Sudanese community. Source: SBS News

“We made balls out of plastic bags, and sometimes out of our clothes and balloons. If you want to get a ball to bounce, you rip up clothes, blow up a balloon and tie it,” he says.


“If you want just a normal small ball, you get plastic bags and wrap them around, burn it a little so it glues, and that’s what you use to play.
“If you look at my toes you would be scared, mate,” Mabil says laughing. “My nails have come off so many times because of the rocks.”
He says now he’s “lucky” to play football in boots and get “spoiled” with the number of balls there are at training.
But about how he doesn’t want “pity”, or for his sporting achievements to be “downgraded”, due to his background.
Awer with friends and family

Awer Mabil with his friends and family in their family home in Adelaide.

Mabil and his family came to Australia when he was only 10 and he says integrating into society at that age and not speaking English was difficult at first. He wasn’t able to speak with local children at school, so he used football as a way of communicating, one which surpasses culture or language barriers.

“It was tough at the start, because we came here and didn’t speak any English at all.”
“I like to talk to people but I couldn’t communicate with anyone, so it was weird and I was an angry kid at the start and short-tempered.
“If I didn’t play football, I wouldn’t listen and didn’t care who was talking. So football was like a saviour for me and it was a way I could communicate.”

Football was like a saviour for me and it was a way I could communicate.

Awer Mabil, Socceroo

Mabil made his senior debut for Adelaide United in 2013 against Perth Glory.

Ian Smith, who sits on the board of Adelaide United FC and chairs Barefoot to Boots, an NGO that supports refugees living in camps and their neighbouring host communities, says Mabil has the “courage of a lion”.

“He is an extraordinary young man. He has the courage of a lion and the heart of an angel,” he said.
“When they see a young man achieve what Awer has done it brings their dreams to reality. It’s a way out, it’s a way forward. You can’t understate its importance.”

Mabil has previously tried to make clear that he’s an Australian with an Australian passport, but with the World Cup around the corner, he also hopes to be the first footballer of South Sudanese origin to play in the tournament — and his friends and family are backing him every step of the way.

Awer Mabil and his mother Agot-mayom Dau

Awer Mabil with his mother.

At the weekend, Adelaide’s South Sudanese community embraced him with traditional Dinka dancing.

“I’m so happy, I’m so happy to see Mabil in the World Cup with his teammates,” Mabil’s friend, Deng Mading Maye, said.
“I’m asking if there’s any way I can go to Qatar? Take me, I’ll be there!”
Australia’s first match at the Qatar 2022 World Cup is against defending champions France on 23 November.
Adelaide’s South Sudanese community — and the whole of Australia — will be watching.
Ajak Deng Chiengkou is the executive producer of .
File source

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