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Gongalas's Story
September 1999
Age: 15 years

Watching "Gongalas" speed around the soccer field like lightening, you would never think he'd survived being shot by militia men just a few years earlier.

Like New Zealand, Somalia is a nation with a soft spot for sport - especially soccer. In every city, town and village children play soccer in the dusty streets.

Fifteen-year-old Abduwahab, or Gongalas as he is known to his friends, is a soccer superstar in the making - and in the soccer-mad town of Waajid in Somalia, that really means something.

However, when he was 12, militia men shot Gongalas in the ankle as he searched their camp for something to eat. He was already popular in the town for being a good soccer player and the town's sympathy for him after the shooting was overwhelming. He has recovered but his ankle is twisted and he walks with a limp.

"I used to play better but now I feel some strain on my leg," he says.

Gongalas' soccer field is rough and rocky. But that doesn't stop him from moving with amazing speed and skill, as he dribbles the ball past much bigger and stronger players. The pebbles in the field occasionally prick his bare feet making him slow down or give up the ball to a rival player, but the crowd cheer him on - "Gongalas, Gongalas!"

Many children had to give up sports to join fighting groups during the war. But parents are now encouraging their children to play sports again. The children were fighters - now they are sportspeople. And for some, the dream of becoming a soccer superstar is still real.

"The coach says people who play at the World Cup become very important. I have no shoes, but I can play," Gongalas says.