Sport might seem an unlikely activity to feature on the International Day of Peace (September 21). However, it is recognized as an excellent peacebuilding activity with its own annual UN International Day and an entire UN Office dedicated to Sport for Development and Peace. By promoting peaceful exchanges between members of a community, sport helps overcome poverty and boosts economic and social development. It is referenced in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that will be adopted this week at the UN General Assembly.
In the Province of South Sudan and Sudan, sport is fostering a glimmer of peace and hope amidst war-ravaged despair thanks to the dreams of young people living at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, temporary home to thousands of South Sudanese. Michael Puot Rambang, a Nuer university student in journalism in Nairobi, attended an intertribal peace and reconciliation training workshop there and envisioned following up the training with sports tournaments for young men and women, with opposing teams from mixed ethnic and tribal backgrounds. Partnering with Hope with South Sudan, a California-based nonprofit founded by the Reverend Jerry Drino, Michael and other young people raised funds and formed the Kakuma Sports for Peace Committee. The UN camp coordinators officially recognized the Kakuma Peace Institute (KPI) as the tournament organizer and designated some land so it could build a center. The very first Sports for Peace Games were held in August. Jerry’s report was jubilant:
The weary but happy team of five leaders of the Kakuma Sports for Peace committee are now back in Nairobi having spent most of yesterday traveling.
They report that the success of the games was more than they had hoped for. They were greatly assisted by the Presbyterian leader of the Nuer community, who saw that things moved smoothly and brought his own youth leaders to the training. The peace and reconciliation sessions saw 80 youth coming together from 7 tribes.
The games, with mixed teams, were a challenge because the various venues for men’s and women’s tournaments were in different parts of the camp, which is large – it can take 30 minutes by car to get from one place to another.
The Rev. Michael Bul Tor, one of the leaders, said that when people came to the games, they were at first confused, because they didn’t know who to cheer for: if you were from the Nuba Mountains you found that your tribe’s people were on the same team as Dinka, Nuer, Murle, etc. The tournament caused a paradigm shift. The United Nations, Kenyan Police and the Sports Authority said that this was the first time that a tournament was held and that fighting didn’t break out. What a success and affirmation of these young people’s vision, effort and work. When you look at the picture of the seated players, we don’t see the difference, but there are seven tribes represented in the mix.
Grant funds provided for the whole nine-day event, including the new uniforms and shoes. They did run short because so many participants were starving – five people died while they were there –but none of the participants. They were forced to travel all day by bus since they did not have funds left to take a plane from Eldoret to Nairobi.
Our team did an amazing job. The UN wants to promote it and asked that they return in December to put on another training…
We are very, very proud of what they accomplished.
Loving God, on this International Day of Peace,
we thank you for your provision and blessing in our lives,
and for the gifts of dreams, creativity, vision and hope
to imagine your peace and bring light to the darkness.
May your blessing of peace quickly take root
for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan. Amen.