Socceroo Awer Mabil has been awarded the 2018 FIFPro Merit Award, receiving global recognition for his work supporting refugees in Kenya. 

The 23-year old Australian national team attacker was honoured on behalf of all professional footballers worldwide at the FIFPro General Assembly in Rome on Thursday evening (AEDT) for his ‘Barefoot to Boots’ initiative.

Mabil was awarded a USD $25,000 cheque from the World Footballers’ Association to provide ongoing funding initiatives for the program, which delivers improved conditions and provides transformational impact for 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 immigrated to Australia in 2006. 

Awer returned to the camp with his brother, Awer Bul, in 2014. They observed that all children within the camp played football barefoot and decided to establish a charity to provide them with boots.

Photo caption: PFA Chief Executive John Didulica (left) and Simon Colosimo (right) receive the Merit Award on behalf of Awer Mabil from FIFPro’s Tony Higgins (middle) at the FIFPro General Assembly in Rome.

Four years later, Barefoot to Boots has developed into an organisation supplying children with boots and jerseys in addition to education and healthcare outcomes. The charity’s offering 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,” Tony Higgins, spokesperson of the Merit Award jury, said. “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 recently made his debut for the Socceroos, scoring in a 4-0 friendly win over Kuwait, said he is considering allocating the money to build a youth centre or to provide scholarships for refugees in the Kakuma camp.  

“I want to help refugees through football, as football has given me so much.”

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.”