Refugee athletes see Rio as chance to call for peace
By Isaack and Omulo
NGONG, Kenya, (Reuters) - Angeline Nadai Lohalith's wish is to see peace in South Sudan so that she can represent her war-torn country of birth at the Olympic Games.
But Lohalith will be marching under the banner of the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) when the 2016 Games start in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5.
The refugee team, set up by the International Olympic Committee, is the first of its kind and it will march with the Olympic flag just before host Brazil at the opening ceremony.
Five of its 10 members were drawn from the Kakuma and Daadab refugee camps in northern Kenya. They will act as a symbol of hope and bring attention to the plight of refugees worldwide, the IOC says.
"Some years to come, I will like to represent South Sudan," Lohalith, who will run in the 1,500 m, said in an interview.
"If there was peace in our country, at least the youth could have been able to develop their talent and represent it in the Olympics just like other people,” the 22-year-old said.
She was speaking at the Anita Children’s Home, a Catholic Church-run institution 20 km south of Nairobi, which has been the athletes' home since they relocated from Kakuma.
The IOC gave Kenyan marathon legend Tegla Loroupe the task of identifying talented athletes and training them for the Olympics.
Others who made the cut from the Kenyan camps are Pur Biel Yiech (800 m), James Nyak (400 m/800 m), Rose Nathike (800 m) and Paul Amoton (1,500 m) – all from South Sudan. Five more were selected from refugee camps across Europe.
"There is no shame to be called refugee," Lohalith said.
"I can pass a message to the world that, refugees can also do what other people can do. They should not be looked down upon."
Her parents, two sisters and brother are still in South Sudan and do not know about her involvement in the Games as she has had no communication with them.
"My dream is to train hard and, maybe, win a race. But I cannot compare myself to other champions who have trained for many years," she said. "However, being named in the team means a lot. It is amazing because I didn't expect to go that far. Right now I am very happy because I will represent the ORT."
Manager Jackson Pkemoi could not hide his happiness that they were heading to the world’s most prestigious sports competition.
"Five people who are not elite athletes and only trained for eight months. It is amazing and it's an opportunity which we are not taking for granted," he said.
The team will go to the Kenya Olympic trials which will be held from June 30 to July 2, where they can compete against top Kenyan athletes.
"Our 800 m runners, Pur Biel Yiech and James Nyak, will stand with (Olympic champion David) Rudisha in the line so that they get the feeling of what awaits them in Rio," Pkemoi said.
Most of them lost their relatives in the war and came to Kenya when they were young, he said.
"You will know that these are people who suffered and we thank God that they now have opportunity to go and show the world what they are capable of doing," Pkemoi said.
Paulo Amoton Lokoro, who will run the 1,500m, said people in Kakuma were very proud of the team.
James Nyak sent a message to warring factions. "Fighting is not the right way for people to solve issues. The more people fight, the more young people who have talent run away from home. So those countries who have conflict have to sit down and see where the problem is because this affects so many countries," he said.
(Reporting by Isaack Omulo, Editing by Angus MacSwan)