Socceroo Awer Mabil has been awarded the 2018 FIFPro Merit Award in global recognition for his work supporting refugees in Kenya.
The 23-year old attacker was honoured by professional footballers worldwide at the FIFPro General Assembly in Rome last night for his ‘Barefoot to Boots’ initiative.
Mabil was awarded a $34,000 cheque from the World Footballers' Association to provide funding for the program, which changes the lives of young African refugees.
“My aim is to make refugees’ lives easier, to make them realise more that their dreams can come true,” Mabil said via video message during the presentation of the Merit Award in Rome.
“They (refugees) just want an opportunity to be seen and not be isolated.”
Mabil, who is currently playing at Danish champions FC Midtjylland, was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, currently home to more than 185,000 refugees.
His parents fled to Kakuma from Sudan in 1994. In 1995 Mabil was born in Kakuma, before his family emigrated to Australia in 2006.
Awer returned to the camp with his brother Awer Bul in 2014. They noticed all children in the camp played football barefoot and decided to establish a charity to provide them with boots.
Four years later, Barefoot to Boots has developed into an organisation supplying children with boots and jerseys as well as education and healthcare help. The charity now arranges laptops, incubators and sanitary kits for young women, as well as other equipment.
“Awer Mabil’s Barefoot to Boots is a brilliant program,” said Merit Award jury spokesman Tony Higgins. “He is doing a tremendous job in trying to bring hope and improved life quality to unfortunate people from many African countries who reside in the Kakuma camp.
“People do not voluntarily choose to become a refugee, most of them are forced to flee their homes due to life-threatening circumstances for themselves or their family.
"Next to that, living in a refugee camp is extremely difficult and sad. A simple thing such as playing football can already bring much needed happiness.”
Mabil, who made his debut for the Socceroos and scored in October's 4-0 win over Kuwait, said he may use the money to build a youth centre or to create scholarships for refugees in the Kakuma camp.
“I want to help refugees through football, as football has given me so much,” he said.
To encourage more professional players to follow in the footsteps of Mabil, the PFA will also establish a Community Leadership Program designed to give players the skills and tools to harness the transformative power of football within their own communities.
“Awer’s achievement is an incredible example of the impact our players are making in communities all over the world and highlights the positive impact they can make both on and off the pitch,” PFA National Manager Player Development Beau Busch, said.
“Our hope is that through education, training and creating a network of community partners, our Community Leadership Program will provide a vehicle for more PFA members to emulate Awer’s achievement.”