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Junior Handwalla Bwana plays soccer for Seattle Sounders Academy

Living the dream

Junior Handwalla Bwana has begun his first season at the Seattle Sounders Academy where they are currently ranked 2nd in the nation.

Junior Handwalla Bwana has begun his first season at the Seattle Sounders Academy where they are currently ranked 2nd in the nation.

Ella Tanaka

Ella Tanaka

Junior Handwalla Bwana has begun his first season at the Seattle Sounders Academy where they are currently ranked 2nd in the nation.

Alessandro Molinari and Ella Tanaka, Staff Reporter and Yearbook Reporter

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Given the chance, any high school student will complain about something; the homework, the teachers, the never ending rain. However there is an exception to this rule: Junior Handwalla Bwana, who knows hardships beyond most.

Bwana, 16, is known for his superb soccer skills and friendly demeanor, but behind his positive attitude lies a past heavy with struggle. “We used to go six to seven miles to get water,” Bwana said of his life in Kakuma, a refugee town in the Northwest region of Kenya. After spending his early years in Mombasa, Kenya, Bwana and his family moved to Kakuma, seeking refuge and a new beginning in the United States, as Kakuma was the only place his family could go in order to get to the U.S. “That’s the only way to get to America, was to go to that place,” he said.

“The reason why we were trying to come to America was because my country had a war, and my mom wanted us to get an education,” Bwana said, recounting that he “did not go to school” in Kenya. When Bwana arrived in Seattle in the seventh grade he found not only an education, which he calls “the key to life,” but also an additional family: his soccer team.

“I didn’t know I was good enough to make varsity,” Bwana said on his initial apprehension of joining the team. “Everyone was bigger and stronger than me, but then the captain [of the varsity soccer team] told me I could definitely make varsity.”
“I started playing soccer basically when I started to walk,” Bwana said. His many years spent playing the sport are evident in his persona – he carries himself in the way only a true athlete can: tall, proud and strong.

Despite Bwana’s obvious talent, he stays true to his humble roots. Bwana does not look up to soccer greats such as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, but someone much closer to his heart: his mom. “We have everything, she’s a great person just keeping up with us – it’s amazing,” Bwana said.

Even with Bwana’s sense of humility, he still has big dreams for himself. “I would love to go to UW, Seattle University, or Seattle Pacific University, anywhere I can play soccer,” he said of his plans after high school. With the passion, talent and leadership Bwana shows, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in a professional league.

Last month, in fact, he was playing in the semifinals of the State Cup with his club team, Seattle United. “I played very well,” Bwana said.

“Well” was an understatement – he played so well that one of the Seattle Sounders Academy coaches came up to him saying that he was on their team. “He didn’t even ask,” Bwana said. “I was very happy, also because we won the cup.”
The choice for him wasn’t hard. “I wanted to challenge myself to the next level and in the academy there are more opportunities. You gotta do what’s best for your future,” he said.

Playing for the academy means that Bwana will not be able to play for Ballard’s soccer team, but he feels that the decision he made was the right one. Now it’s been three weeks that he’s been practicing with the Academy. “It’s the best team that I ever played with,” he said.

Even though he’s really excited for the season, the relationship between him and his high school team remains strong. “I will definitely miss Ballard soccer, my teammates and my coaches. The last years were really fun,” Bwana said. “I’m definitely going to Ballard’s games to support my team on the bench. I love those guys.”

Now Bwana has an even clearer vision for his future and his dream to play college soccer. “I have been contacted by a lot of big colleges, but I keep telling them that I’m not interested,” Bwana said. “I want to stay in Seattle. I want to stay at home. That’s why University of Washington is one of my first possible picks.”

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Junior Handwalla Bwana plays soccer for Seattle Sounders Academy