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WPDI and the South Sudanese Football Association strengthen their partnership at the UN Protection of Civilians Site in Juba, South Sudan

From Monday 16th to Saturday 21st of October, WPDI and the South Sudanese Football Association (SSFA) gathered 50 young women and men to prepare them as coaches and referees to support WPDI signature program in the camp for Internally Displaced Persons located in Juba at the United Nations-operated Protection of Civilians (PoC) Site 03.

Peace Through Sports was launched in South Sudan in 2014, following a visit of our CEO/Founder Mr. Whitaker to the POC site, where approximately 40,000 people have now taken refuge following the outbreak of civil war in late 2013. Many young people in the camp were growing restless and engaging in destructive behavior for lack of activity, structure and purpose; worse, feelings of hate and revenge were growing. WPDI conceived Peace Through Sports as a way to give young women and men a constructive outlet for their energy while also promoting respect and reconciliation. The program seeks to use sports as a means to start conversations with youths about peace and tolerance and to provide emotional support for the young women and men in the camp.

Peace Through Sports quickly turned into a much valued component in the life of the youth residents and of the whole community of the camp, thanks in part to the excitement created by the various tournaments and Peace engagement days organized by WPDI and its partners. As the program grows – reaching now 4,000 participants distributed into 53 teams, including children’s and women’s teams, WPDI sought the support of such partners as the SSFA to improve the efficiency of the program and the quality of the games.

The 15 young women and 35 young men attending the training went through a comprehensive process mixing theoretical and practical components. The theoretical part addresses such topics as the history of soccer, its rules, the nature of coaching and refereeing as well as elements on conflict resolution, such as the causes of conflict and nature of conflict in sports, the recourse to nonviolent means in conflict resolution and effective communication in sports and teamwork. The other part of the workshop is a learning-by-doing training on fair play, ball possession, warm-up, physical fitness.

One trainee, Samuel Madol commented on the contents of the training: “This training is extremely important for me because of the skills and knowledge the facilitators are giving to us. I will be able to officiate effectively the youth matches here in the camp. With the knowledge of peace and conflict resolution, I am confident that I can help solve problems peacefully, especially with the laws of fair game. I know football brings emotions and stress, but now one can manage these two differently.”

At the end of the training, the trainees took a written test upon which their certification as coaches and referees will depend. Certification will create a whole range of opportunities for the trainees. They will become leading figures in the camp as they train other young people, officiate as referees in competitions inside and outside of the camp and fulfil their roles as mediators and facilitators of dialogue among the communities of the camp. What is more, this certified training allows them to go further on this path and take advance training to become professional coaches and referees courses in South Sudan and abroad. Expressing the purpose of Peace Through Sports as a program promoting the practice of peace as well as sports, Charles Modi, SSFA trainer for coaching, noted that his “role as a trainer is to impart coaching and refereeing skills and knowledge to them so that they become professionals in the near future. Through the training we create an environment for peace through sports, cultivate the seeds of love and mutual respect, tolerance, and hard work.”

The value of the training lies in this dual dimension of being empowered and a first step into a potential career. In this light, it was critical for us to have young women significantly represented among the trainees. The importance of women’s participation in the training was particularly stressed by one of the female trainees, Nyajuok: “In our culture as Nuer, it is forbidden for girls to play football. But I have to thank my parents for understanding. Now, I have this privilege to play football and soon to be a referee for my community as well as South Sudan. I see we have no difference between boys and girls when it is about sports. WPDI allows us to interact and build our confidence as youth through this program. My ambition is to become a recognized international referee from South Sudan and create more equal opportunities for young girls. I will continue to talk to those parents who are refusing their girls to do sports to allow them come and join us. With my other colleagues we will build strong soccer teams in PoC3 and later compete with other communities in Juba.”

Medina Gabriel, another female trainee, insisted on the link between freedom to practice sports and women’s rights: “I am so happy that finally WPDI again offered me an opportunity to be a female coach in South Sudan; probably the first in my community in the near future. When my parents brought us into POC in 2015, I was surprised that only boys were playing football. I was not happy about that – and so were other girls. We were not given equal chance for games and sports. Later through WPDI I managed to convince more girls to join me and form teams. Moreover, we had a tournament a week ago as well. Again today fifteen girls are given chance to be coaches and referees. This is for me as a sport girl a milestone of our rights as women. With the skills and knowledge acquired through this training, I will work hard to better organize and manage girls’ teams in PoCs and the community in the future. “

It is, to us, a victory in itself, that, in the end, the training led these young women to envisage their future as a realm of open possibilities. This one of the very reason why Peace Through Sports was created in the first place.