Football Unites coach Desbon Bushiri has flown out to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help the Football Between Communities project that he established there last year to organise a big festival to bring people together. This time, Football Unites volunteer Sophina Hanif has gone to help out as well.
The 21-year-old, who plays for Sheffield Wednesday women's team, signed up as a Millennium Volunteer with FURD five years ago. She hasn’t looked back and now coaches youngsters and helps run development programmes.
"It’s quite rare to find Asians playing and coaching football and it’s even rarer to find Asian women in the game." explains Sophina, who lives in Tinsley, with her family.
Sophina studied for her level one FA coaching badge and has enjoyed a stint as a paid development worker.
The DR Congo was ripped apart by civil war, tribal and ethnic conflict and more than half of children aged over six are orphans.
Now FURD wants to use football as a tool to encourage peace and reconciliation.
"I’ve been so blessed in my life and I want to give something to the kids who haven’t been as fortunate as I have," said Sophina, who will start a bio chemistry degree at Sheffield University when she returns.
"Around 70 per cent of children in the Sud Kivu area don’t have access to education and that’s incredible.
"I’m not your traditional Asian girl. I respect my culture and my family but at the same time I want to break down barriers both in England and in Africa.
"I know this kind of work will be culturally sensitive for me as a woman, and as an Asian woman, but I’m ready for that."
Whilst based in DR Congo, where 60 per cent of the population still live in displaced areas, Sophina will lead coaching sessions and educate youngsters about HIV, AIDS and malaria.
She’s also looking forward to a festival at the end of the four-week programme.
"I play African drums in a band and we’re going to have a celebration before we come home. I hope I can get some drumming in!"
Sophina is extremely grateful for the opportunities that volunteering has provided and recommends it to any young person.
"It’s helped me confidence and I’ve got stronger and stronger," said Sophina, who also works part time as a carer for a young woman with cerebral palsy.
"I’ve picked up a lot of communication skills and now I’m an ambassador for Football Unites Racism Divides.
"Volunteering has given me the chance to make a difference. We can change people’s lives and it’s a tremendous honour to have the opportunity to go to Africa. I expect to learn so much. "
Anyone wishing to donate to the Football Between Communities project and help make a difference can donate through NatWest, Football Between Communities, Account number 22280286.