‘It’s your talent and Inshallah’ – The uncertainty of football in the Buduburam refugee camp

BUDUBURAM, Ghana: “Life on this camp is also very difficult. As a teenager, I’m hustling to survive and also trying to succeed in football. It’s just the passion for football that keeps us going.”

The uncertainty of football in Ghana's Buduburam refugee camp

The journey to the Buduburam refugee camp can be quite a hectic one. Aside from the unexplained heavy traffic that stretches about a quarter of a kilometer to the camp, the scene at its entrance is also often uncanny for first-time visitors.

It’s late afternoon here; traders selling all kinds of perishable and non-perishable products are commonplace, the noise is prosaic, while a group of young men with visible tattoos on their arms stand on the side puffing out smoke from what looks like cigars.

The scene is almost analogous as you walk into the inner parts of the camp but, the further you go, the calmer it becomes.


Amidst the chaos of rash movements and unplanned buildings inside the Buduburam refugee camp, though, one of the landmarks that cannot be ignored is the DA Park, named after the Buduburam DA Basic School.

It is one of the few football parks inside the camp. While the pitch is grassless, rocky and not ideal for playing football, it is still very much cherished in these parts. And for the thousands of aspiring footballers who live within and around Buduburam, the DA Park is one of the closest things to a standard football stadium.

The park might not have the classy grass or elegant floodlights of the Allianz Arena, where German giants Bayern Munich play their home games, but those who play on it don’t mind at all.

The Allianz Arena is an iconic ground. It’s surrounded by the symbolic Autobahn, the totemic Romanesque Heilig-Kreuz-Kirche and the Fröttmaning Hill. The DA Park in Buduburam is similarly different.


Its rocky, bare surface is surrounded, in close proximity, by a public school, a wooden structure bar, a small football viewing center, a choked drain and a public toilet.

But despite the gulf in distance and quality between the Allianz Arena and the DA Park, both grounds have something in common – Alphonso Davies.

The DA Park is one of the grounds in Buduburam where it all began for the Bayern starlet, who turned 20 just last week. It was here that the left-back first learned how to kick a ball before developing into one of the most sought-after footballers in the world.

Davies was born here to Liberian parents, who had fled to Buduburam during the Second Liberian Civil War. He was, therefore, raised in the refugee camp, before relocating with his parents to Canada where he cut his teeth as a professional footballer, moving to Bayern Munich via Vancouver Whitecaps FC.


A potential hotspot for talents

While Davies’ story is very inspiring, there are hundreds of other kids like him in Buduburam who aspire to become professional footballers but are lacking the opportunities to realise their dreams.

In the last decade and a half, Buduburam has gone from a refugee camp to a self-surviving community which houses thousands of people from different tribes and countries after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) officially pulled out of the settlement.

Today, you can find Ghanaians, Liberians, Nigerians, Cameroonians, Togolese and Ivorians all coexisting in Buduburam. One thing that brings them together, though, is football.


Buduburam surprisingly houses some of the most passionate football fans in Ghana. And despite the dearth of investment and support, there are those who have made it their life mission to develop football in the camp. If Buduburam were to be a developing country, then football would be one of its exportable resources and Alphonso Davies its global ambassador.

Inside the camp, there are many professional football clubs, football academies, colts clubs and, interestingly, some female football teams. This is more than you’ll find in even the most developed cities in Ghana.

Those who live here believe, with the right encouragement and investment, Buduburam could become a potential hotspot for developing football talents. Bernard Boadu coaches the Virtues Soccer Academy and, having travelled across the country on scouting missions, he swears Buduburam has some of the best talents he’s ever seen.

Virtues Soccer Academy is based in the camp and is one of the most professionally-managed football teams in Buduburam. Despite its limited resources, the academy currently has 48 young players under its care, who make up its U-10, U-13 and U-15 teams.


They also have a Division Two side, where players who excel in the junior teams are promoted to, to continue with their development. But with no residence in place, most of the players stay with their coaches in small rooms in the camp.

“We scouted our players from different areas and different regions,” Boadu tells “We don’t have a clubhouse but we gather the players whenever we have a match. We’re working on getting a residence for the players, though.

“Currently, most of the players are staying with us the coaches. Unfortunately, we don’t have sponsors so the coaches personally cater for all these players under our care. From their boots, jerseys and what they eat, everything is from our own pocket.”

Battling unemployment and the education gap

Like the Virtues Soccer Academy, Winbow FC is another football team in Buduburam which aims to nurture young footballers and give them the needed exposure. Similarly, the club has both male and female football teams, as well as a juvenile side.


“We don’t lack talents in the camp,” says Bismark Okyere, who manages the youth teams of Winbow FC. “Both Ghanaians and Liberians here are very good. If you should organise a tournament here, you won’t struggle to spot many talents.”

But despite the glaring passion for football, Buduburam is not a conducive environment for developing talents. The camp is not excluded from the high unemployment rate in Ghana. As a result, the majority of the people here live from hand to mouth. Those who are lucky get to be artisans, while others are without any jobs at all.

And while there are schools in and around the camp, not many kids can afford to go beyond the secondary school level. One of such is Emmanuel Remmie Monger, whose story is similar to that of Davies.


The teenager was born in Buduburam and is the son of a single mother. Monger is a secondary school graduate and currently plays for Virtues Soccer Academy. Without any support to further his education at the university, he’s banking his hopes on football.

“Life on this camp is also very difficult,” admits Monger. “As a teenager, I’m hustling to survive and also trying to succeed in football. It’s just the passion for football that keeps us going.”

Like many kids in Buduburam, Monger juggles football and work. On the pitch, he’s a creative, versatile winger who can play on both the right and left flanks. When he’s not playing, though, he divides his time between doing carpentry and masonry to make some money.

“I was raised by a single parent and looking at her challenges, I sometimes pity her,” the teenager utters, bowing his head. “I’m growing and how is she supposed to keep catering for me? [That’s why] I have to hustle. The main challenge is combining football with doing menial jobs.

“I’ve completed secondary school but there’s been no help for me. What I do is to go around and if I find anyone who needs a mason or carpenter, I do it and charge a fee. From the little money I raise, I give some to my mother and keep the rest to support my football career.”


Monger is not the only one struggling to make a living in Buduburam. Majority of the teams in the camp are run in a sole proprietorship-like manner, where one man is responsible for catering for the players and financing all operations of the team.

Boadu typifies the aforementioned scenario. Despite housing most of the players of Virtues Soccer Academy, he himself is currently unemployed. And he sometimes depends on the benevolence of others.

“I’m currently unemployed. I’m a full-time coach but I try to use the little money I get to support the players staying with me,” he divulges. “Most of the parents of these kids are not supportive. It’s very difficult to convince parents to allow their kids to join our academy.

“Even when they eventually agree to release the kids to us, they transfer the burden of catering for the kid to us. So we bring the players in, and we try to provide for them.”


Fortunately, though, the Virtues Soccer Academy doesn’t have to worry about financing the education of its players. The academy is keen to ensure that its players are well-educated and has, therefore, moved to secure a partnership with two schools to educate the kids.

“For schooling, we usually assure parents that we will be able to cater for the education of the kids,” said Boadu. “Luckily, the academy is affiliated with two basic schools – Almighty International School and Borderless International School – so we enroll the kids in these schools without them paying anything.”

A coach’s worst nightmare

While the passion and drive to carve careers in football is so high in Buduburam, the circumstances for many footballers here are just not ideal. Okyere says there’s not a worse nightmare for him as a coach than having his best players miss games due to avoidable circumstances.


According to him, there have been times when some players of Winbow FC have missed division three games because it coincided with a menial job they had been booked for. The coach explains that there is usually nothing he can do, since almost all the players are currently playing without salaries.

The players who play for the Division 3 side are not paid,” reveals Okyere. “We’re unable to pay them because it’s a one-man show. One person runs the juvenile and third-division teams.

“But the players too have to eat, so most of them are part-time workers. Some are masons, painters, carpenters and plumbers. But they are very good at football, too.

“As a coach, there are times when we need them for a training session or an important game but they don’t report because they have to work to feed themselves and their families. All these challenges make it difficult for the team to compete.


“Sometimes training is ongoing and a player comes to me and says ‘Coach, I’ve been called for a job somewhere and I urgently need to leave’. You can’t stop him because he needs the money.

“Other times, you have a serious game to play and a player will tell you he’s on the afternoon shift so he cannot feature. Imagine if you already have the player in your plans for that game, how do you go past that as a coach? It’s really difficult.

“We’ve been playing in the third-division for four seasons now. Last season, we finished fifth in our zone.”

Replacing crime with football


Since the withdrawal of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) from Buduburam a decade ago, the camp has become a hotspot for crime and all forms of social vices.

The UNHCR used to provide shelter, protection, healthcare and emergency relief to persons living in the camp. However, all that has stopped, although a few Liberians have been granted exemption from the UNHCR’s Cessation Clause.

Cases of armed robbery, prostitution and murder have been high in Buduburam in recent years. Last year alone, 10 murder cases were recorded in the Buduburam area.

In September 2019, a joint team of police and military officers stormed the camp to arrest 354 suspected criminals involved in the killing of two traffic police officers.


And, early this year, two persons believed to be Nigerians were stabbed to death following a cutlass fight between two rival factions.

The above incidents have earned Buduburam an unwanted reputation of being a hub for criminal activities. In August, there were even calls for Buduburam to be closed down after a Cameroonian national stabbed a Ghanaian colleague to death on suspicion that the latter was a police informant.

However, there are those who believe giving kids in the area a purpose will draw them away from crime.

For coaches Boadu and Okyere, the hope is that football can systematically replace crime in the area. Both men are determined to guide the young ones under their care to grow to become model professionals.

Their frustration, though, is that their contributions are yet to change much due to the lack of support. In recent years, very few players from Buduburam have been able to progress to become professional footballers, except for Bayern’s Davies and another young midfielder who currently plays for Ghana Premier League side Liberty Professionals.


“We used to have three teams training on this very pitch. We are the only team still in operation now, as the other two have collapsed,” a disappointed Boadu said.

Okyere, though, is more frustrated by the fact that the efforts of teams in Buduburam are being stifled by unscrupulous football agents and clubs. While juvenile teams are supposed to earn a part of the transfer fees when a player they nurtured signs a professional contract, Okyere says some teams have in the past tried to rip them off.

“I found myself in such a situation with one of my players. We trained him here since he was young but one of the bigger clubs took him on our blind side and registered him as their player.

“Because we don’t have the resources, we enrolled the boy in a school, so that he could have some education in addition to his football career. All of a sudden, the boy stopped training with us.


“I later got to know he had been signed by a Division 2 side. When I confronted them, they said another team gave him to them. Nobody admitted to taking the player from us but he had been stolen just like that. After all the investment we put into his development, we didn’t even get a penny when he joined a division two team.”

But despite their struggles, those in charge of football teams here say they aim to use the sport to rid Buduburam of its criminal elements.

Alphonso Davies-inspired

While not many footballers from Buduburam have been able to make a breakthrough, the success story of Alphonso Davies is one that continues to inspire them.


The conditions within the camp may not be conducive for football, but these guys are not yet ready to quit.

“I knew Alphonso Davies when he was here and he has been an inspiration to many young footballers around here. He was well-behaved, humble and sociable,” says Boadu.

“For us, his success inspires us to have hope, keep going, and to know that nothing is impossible. We are not giving up because he didn’t give up despite being born here. He fought hard and today, God willing, look at where he is.”

Like Boadu, Okyere believes giving up is not an option but doesn’t see a future for these kids in the camp if the situation does not improve.


“Currently, it’s just your talent and Insha Allah,” the pious Okyere notes. “The boys here love football, they have the passion but the environment is no conducive for developing talents.

“When we say Insha Allah, we simply mean we have some of the best young talents in the world but that extra push to make them progress is just not there. So the talent is there, but the rest is in the hands of God. Only His intervention can get us a breakout star from Buduburam.”

For the hundreds of aspiring footballers in Buduburam, though, there’s still hope that their big break will eventually come.

Monger strongly believes his talent will take him to bigger platforms than the DA Park. As a Liberian born in Ghana, his mind is already made up on which among the two nations he wants to represent, should he become a professional footballer.


“There’s nowhere like home,” he smiles, as he positions himself better to give his answer. “But Liberian football is not as developed as Ghana’s. So I think I’ll go far if I choose to play for Ghana because most Ghanaian players are playing in Europe’s best leagues.

“Therefore, even though I identify as a Liberian, I’ll have to pick Ghana.”


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