“I only thought about staying alive”: Nadia Nadim’s journey from the refugee camp to the PSG star… and back


While best known for being a prolific goalscorer in a career that has taken her to Portland Thorns, Manchester City and, currently, Paris Saint-Germain, Nadim spends much of her time performing charity work, ambassadorial work for the United Nations, and language learning – she is currently fluent in nine.

She has also been incredibly successful in finding time to train to become a reconstructive surgeon and will complete her qualification once she retires from football.

Nadim’s latest off-field project saw her team up with PSG and KLABU, a charity that helps set up sports clubs in refugee camps around the world. It is hoped that this new partnership will initially reach 10,000 refugee children through sport.

It is a cause that is particularly close to Nadim’s heart. Born in Afghanistan, she was only 11 when the Taliban murdered her father and, along with her mother and four sisters, was forced to flee through neighboring Pakistan on a fake passport, before finally arriving in Denmark. , the country she now calls home. .

“The only thing I was thinking about was staying alive, you know, surviving until the next day,” she told CNN Sport. “I was just looking, ‘Okay, what’s going to happen? What’s going on right now? How do I survive until the next morning?’

“And I think that’s the case with a lot of people who are in these camps. You know, it’s in the moment and then you try to make the most of it and then try to stay alive and d ‘hope for the best for tomorrow. ”

Nadia Nadim has represented the Danish national team since 2009.

When Nadim arrived with her family in Denmark, they started living in a refugee camp, and it was here that she discovered her love for football.

In some fields near where she was staying, Nadim remembers seeing other children “playing with that round ball”.

“I was like, ‘Sounds really cool, I want to do the same,'” she said. “Since then, I have never left football and look where it has taken me, at Paris Saint-Germain.”

It’s fair to say that Nadim’s first exposure to football was not quite like the version she is playing today.

“At first, it was a little more informal,” she laughs. “It was just, like, everyone was scrambling, everyone was following each other, it was everyone against everyone.

“But slowly I found out how football is supposed to be played because there was a football club near the refugee camp, and I could see that in fact there are formations and you are supposed to do it when the ball came out and then little by little I wanted to play like we played football. “

“I could become a child again”

Nadim describes human beings as “curious” and thinks that they will probably want to try something new if they see it, especially children. For her, this is why giving children who grow up in refugee camps the opportunity to be exposed to sport is so important.

“Imagine, I don’t know, the million refugees who are in Cox’s Bazar [the world’s largest refugee camp] – imagine if there are two, three, four football players who could arrive because of these projects which are starting, “she said.

Nadim says people are always surprised when she describes her time in the refugee camp as “one of the funniest times of my life”.

Coming from war-torn Afghanistan, Nadim missed out on a real childhood, but says that changed once she reached Denmark.

Nadia Nadim has been a prolific goalscorer throughout her career.

“Suddenly, I arrived in a refugee camp where there was access to sports, to reading and I had the impression that I could become a child again,” she recalls.

“So I have very, very fond memories of the refugee camp. I know it sounds strange, when I say to some people they say to me, “Oh, what? But that’s how I felt then, you know, and that’s why I think KLABU and PSG are trying to do the same.

“It’s a tough time, it’s not the best situation for a child, but we are trying to make it into something positive.”

Nadim believes that the perception of refugees is far from reality. As the news segments attempt to show what the conditions look like for those displaced from their homes, those who watch them will not be able to understand the gravity of the situation.

“They have a much worse situation than you can imagine,” says Nadim.

There are now 80 million refugees in the world, according to KLABU, the highest number since the end of World War II – and nearly half of them are children.

Most of them, like Nadim, were “deprived of an education and all the other aspects that constitute a normal childhood,” writes KLABU.

The partnership’s first project will be based in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where KLABU and PSG will build a “Club Center” which will serve as a sports library, provide access to kits and equipment, as well as training sessions and tournaments for children to participate.

Nadim hopes the project can also help refugee parents. In the years after her family left the camp in Denmark, she learned how difficult it was for her mother and how their uncertain future was “physically hard, but mentally … well, much harder”. .

Nadia Nadim plays for PSG against Arsenal in the Champions League last season.

Once her career is over, Nadim would rather be remembered for her humanitarian work than for her achievements on the ground, and being involved in this project – helping those who struggle like she did – is something she is extremely fond of. proud.

“As a human being, it is sometimes very difficult to understand things that you really, really haven’t experienced about your own body,” Nadim explains.

“That’s why it’s easier to relate to people you have something in common with, just because, yes, we hear about the news, we see footage of what’s going on in these camps. refugees or people displaced from their homes by climate change or whatever, you name it, but do we really understand them? I don’t think so, really.

“If you’ve ever been to a refugee camp, you know how harsh and difficult the environment can be. I know, I’ve felt it with my own body, but I’ve seen it now too. If you travel to Kenya, Bangladesh, Cox’s Bazar which is one of the largest refugee camps in the world, this is no joke.

“They really live in crazy circumstances and bring sport to these places, bringing, I say hope, because it could be your escape from reality for an hour or two or maybe your chance to create a future for you. yourself is an amazing thing. “

History in the making

It seems trivial in comparison, but Friday sees the culmination of a biting season in France and the opportunity for Nadim and PSG to make history.

With a point ahead of eternal champion Lyon before the last day of the championship campaign, PSG know that a victory over Dijon will give the club its very first league title.

It would be a remarkable feat to end Lyon’s 14 years of dominance over the national crown – and end the heartache of eight finalists in the past nine seasons.

Nadia Nadim consoles her teammate after losing the Coupe de France final to Lyon in 2020.

“I’m a person who always has dreams, you know, even before I signed with PSG and we were talking about my move to PSG, one of my dreams was to win the championship with them,” Nadim said.

“It would be an amazing and amazing day and a great achievement for the team, for the club because you’ve been chasing something for so long and you’re finally so close again.

“You’ve taken all the steps, this is just the last step you need to take. It will mean a lot, really. You know, this is one of my biggest dreams right now. It will mean my dream has come true.

“I think Lyon have immense respect for what they have done for women’s football. I think they are an incredible club and have been on top for a very long time, but I think they are also a It’s a change of era right now, we have a lot of young players in the French national team, and I think PSG have made this team someone who will hopefully beat Lyon to their throne.

“And if this is what we want, these are our ambitions, I think now is the time for it to happen.”

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