‘You always find somebody who is willing to help’

Footballer Setonji Ogunbiyi playing soccer with another player
Soccer Player Setonji Ogunbiyi © C. Wolff

The DAAD scholarship holder Setonji Ogunbiyi came from Nigeria to the Ruhr region to study Development Management – and to play football. The 29-year-old trains at Fortuna Düsseldorf, together with other foot amputees. In September 2021, he was nominated for the ‘Goal of the Month’ award of the ARD TV programme Sportschau. He came second with just under 30 percent of votes.

Congratulations on being nominated. How did your friends and your family react?

Everybody was super excited for me. I received lots of messages from other athletes, from students here in Bochum and also from my folks in Nigeria. At first, nobody could believe I had been nominated. I was overwhelmed, also by the support I received from others.

How did you get into playing amputee football?

When I was three years old, my mother noticed that my left leg was not growing as quickly as the right one. The doctors performed surgery multiple times, but unfortunately they made the problem even worse. To this day I do not know, whether I had polio or a neurological condition. When I was seven, I started playing football with my friends in the street, nevertheless. I was the only one to use crutches then. One day I saw other athletes play at the national stadium in Lagos. I was surprised to see that some of them were also playing on crutches. So I got in touch with them. They were happy to hear from me, because they were looking for more players for their team.

You are very fast on the pitch. How did you achieve this?

By coordinating my thoughts, movements and the crutches as best I can. I manage this thanks to years of practice and because I followed my trainers’ advice. When I trained in Nigeria, I focussed on playing powerfully and for a long time. In Germany I spend more time refining my technique. This is extremely helpful.

How did you get in touch with Fortuna Düsseldorf?

In amputee football we are like one big family. I have been in contact with German athletes via social media for many years, and have been following their activities. When I was accepted for the DAAD scholarship, I wrote to Fortuna Düsseldorf. They invited me for a training session right away, and just a few days after arriving here in September 2020, I took part for the first time. I now train on my own three times a week and once every two weeks with the team.

F95-Highlight | Sentoji Ogunbiyi beim "Tor des Monats" nominiert

F95-Highlight | Sentoji Ogunbiyi beim "Tor des Monats" nominiert
F95-Highlight | Sentoji Ogunbiyi beim "Tor des Monats" nominiert ©

How did you learn about the DAAD?

The name is well-known at Nigerian higher education institutions. I had been following the activities of the DAAD online for a long time and eventually I applied. This is my first stay in Europe. I expected the weather to be the same as in Africa, so I was very surprised. At the beginning I wondered, how I could possibly endure the cold. You are enrolled at the Ruhr-University of Bochum for a master's degree in Development Management.

In which way is this linked to the work you did in Nigeria?

I initially studied Demographics and Statistics at the Obafemi Awolowo University. Here I dealt with population growth and public health care, which are very important issues in Africa. The topic of my bachelor´s thesis was how risky behaviour contributes to people getting ill or unintentionally pregnant. As a staff member of Delta State University I continued to do research and to publish my work in this area. My master’s thesis in Bochum will address similar issues.

In which way?

I just returned from a two month study stay in Nigeria. I visited the countryside there, and asked mothers, whether they are having their children vaccinated against polio. I also asked, who or what encouraged them to do so, if they did, or what was stopping them, if they did not. It made a strong impression on many of them that somebody who may have suffered from polio himself spoke to them about this. They saw my crutches and seemed to trust me very much. A large number of infectious diseases occur in Africa. This makes it enormously important to understand about reservations against vaccinations.

You arrived in Bochum in the midst of the pandemic, and you are living in student accommodation on your own – with a disability. How did you handle these aspects?

Covid-19 caused chaos in Nigeria and many people died. I did not know how to get a visa. I turned to the DAAD which quickly got me an appointment at the embassy. The original plan was for me to start the German class in Bochum in June 2020, but I did not step out of the plane until October. I was in contact with other scholarship holders even before I left, and this helped a lot. Many of my lessons are still taught digitally. I am handling this well, also attending university with my disability. There are a lot of people who support me, also in everyday life. When I go shopping, I struggle to push a trolley because of my crutches. So far, I always found somebody who was willing to help. I am very happy to be able to study in Germany.

How are you going to benefit from the things you are learning in Germany in the future?

After a year in Germany, my approach to research has become more structured and precise. In my master’s programme I am continuously encouraged to look at things from different points of view. One example is health care. If we want to organise it more effectively, we need to take the perspective of individuals into account, as well as of policy makers and academia. I think we can achieve good results.

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