From Refugee Camp to Rio: Rebecca's Story

In January 2016, Erin Hayba, an independent consultant, and Alex Buisse, an adventure photographer, set out to combine their humanitarian and photography skills to share the broader stories relating to refugees and sport to the international sports community.  To do this they used images, personal testimonies and in-depth background stories to document the daily lives of refugee athletes from the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya.  Geert Hendriks, AISTS Head of Projects, joined the project in May and travelled with Erin and Alex to meet with some of these athletes and hear their stories. 

One such story is that of Rebecca Nymal Nyang. 

Rebecca Nymal Nyang, 24 years old, was born in a small village in South Sudan.  As a result of the ongoing conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, her family members are spread between South Sudan, Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya.  Rebecca’s father was killed during the civil war when she was very young and she was separated from her mother 8 years ago.  She studies journalism at a university in Nairobi and runs the 400m in the refugee team training with the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation in Ngong, just outside Nairobi.

Strong traditions within the Sudanese culture dictate that being an athlete or pursuing an education are opportunities set aside for men, and not for women.  Rebecca however has chosen to take on both challenges. 

A lot of people in the camps still do not want the girls to play sports, and still carry on old traditions. Being the only lady who has made it to college from that camp, and now that I am doing sports too, I am a role model for other girls.

Rebecca is one of the few South Sudanese woman to have studied in college and she takes this accomplishment very seriously.  “I want to be a role model for girls my age because they are having kids [at a very young age] and not getting an education”.  Rebecca wants to focus her journalism on sports and other human interest stories and to be an advocate for her people – the refugees, and she believes she can do this by being an athlete.  Running is her talent, which she inherited from her late father, who was recognized in Sudan for his sporting abilities.   

If I succeed in sport, they [women] will start working on their talents and through that they will improve their living standards. [I want to help the South Sudanese or any other refugees to go to school and to nurture their talents. 

Rebecca was not selected to attend the Rio Olympic Games this year, but she will graduate in December.  As part of her ongoing education, Erin and Alex hired Rebecca as an intern in the ‘From Refugee Camp to Rio’ project. This 6-month internship, supported by AISTS, will help Rebecca fine tune her journalism skills through interviews with the athletes training in Ngong, taking additional photos and assisting Erin and Alex in Kakuma refugee camp, where she will serve as a guide, interpreter and transcriber.  

The 'From Refgee Camp to Rio' project has been nominated for a Peace and Sport Special Jury Prize which will be announced tomorrow at the Peace and Sport Forum in Monacco.  AISTS along with Alex Buisse and Erin Hayba have documented the stories of some refugee athletes attempting to compete at the biggest sporting event in the world, through photos and short stories.  They visited refugee camps, training facilities and followed the small group of athletes to the Games in Rio with the purpose to give a deeper understanding and awareness to the general public about refugees and their communities and highlight some positive stories.  For futher information please contact Geert Hendriks directly at

All photos copyright Alex Buisse Adventure Photography

About AISTS: 

The International Academy of Sports Science and Technology (AISTS) was founded in 2000 by the International Olympic Committee and leading Swiss institutions and universities.  A not-for-profit foundation, the AISTS is committed to professionalising sports management through continuing education, applied research and an engaging platform for industry connections.

About Alex Buisse Adventure Photography:

Alex Buisse is a multi award winning expedition photographer.  Travelling around the world and the mountains is where he is most comfortable, and where he thrives as both an image maker and an alpinist. He has sailed an expedition yacht around Cape Horn, climbed a granite spire alone for 4 days, shot the Rio Olympics, skied to the North Pole, climbed high on K2, flown from the summits of snowy peaks, trekked through the wilderness of Tierra del Fuego and kayaked with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands, among many other adventures.  His most recent awards include the Arco Rock Star, 2nd place and the Red Bull Illume, Top 25, Masterpiece.

About Peace and Sport:

“Peace and Sport, L’Organisation pour la Paix par le Sport” is a neutral and apolitical international initiative.Peace and Sport puts sport and its structuring values at the heart of development projects led within communities in crisis around the world. With interventions in post-conflict zones, extremely poor areas and areas lacking social cohesion, Peace and Sport makes sport a vehicle for tolerance, respect, sharing and citizenship at the service of sustainable peace.


AISTS Founders