Some 50 boys aged 10 to 16 were selected to join the newly opened football school in the Virunga national park, a natural treasure famous for its mountain gorillas and volcanoes but also plagued by armed groups.
The stadium was built in Rumangabo, a village in North Kivu that is home to the park’s headquarters and a military base.
The region is close to the battle zone of the rebels of the “March 23 Movement” (M23), an old insurgency that regained strength late last year with the support of neighbouring Rwanda, according to the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Here, young people, born into chaos and violence, without hope or plans, are easily recruited by armed groups or poachers.
Wide shot young footballers from the academy entering the stadium
Virunga Park Headquarters and the football stadium erected within it
Boyongo, is the coordinator of the Virunga Youth Football Training project.
"The area in which we have set up this project, in the middle of Virunga Park, is where young people can be tempted to join or be manipulated by the multiple armed groups that we have here in the park. We think that this pastime is positive to prevent these young people from feeling manipulated or used" he said.
In Virunga National Park, several youngsters are kicking a ball around in the hope of becoming professional footballers, rather than ending up in one of the militias that have been bloodying the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo for decades.
Gloire Gashagi, is a young football player at the Virunga Academy.
"With this, I can't have the idea of joining armed groups. I want to do what is legal. I want to play football and my biggest dream is to become like Cristiano (Ronaldo, Portuguese football player, ed.), because before he got to this level, he also start ed in the same way I am today" he expressed.
Boyong, the coordinator envisions the young recruits becoming professional footballers and traveling the world, away from the war. he added that it is also a way to spread a message of peace and educate children about park conservation.