Imagine a world where sports are used to settle conflicts instead of violence. Wishful thinking? Not at all. A Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Yambio project in South Sudan has made this a reality. The town of Yambio and the areas that surround it have witnessed conflict and violence since late April due to fighting between the armed rebel groups and government forces. This has led to displacement of the local population. Currently, there are over 178,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area.
In June, a large crowd of 1,000 people filled with boys and girls, both young and old, gathered together at St. Mary’s Park in Yambio town to enjoy a soccer match between the town’s two secondary schools: Abangite College and King’s College. The match was dubbed as Unity F.C vs. Peace F.C.
Even though the event was designed to bring the youth and communities together, it was not all just fun and games. During half time, participants engaged with different peace actors and agencies in Yambio. The participants learned about topics like the causes of conflict, theories of change, and the importance of listening and effective communication, challenges in their own communities, and the core values of love and forgiveness. Furthermore, young people were asked to be peace ambassadors and spread these messages in their communities.
After the game, the response was overwhelmingly positive, “I am happy to have come to listen to the peace message. As youth, we need to be at the forefront to bring peace into our communities. We should also shun criminal behavior and participate in developmental activities for the growth of our country,” said one of the participants.
The JRS Peace Program Coordinator, Benjamin Matondo, stated that the tournament was organized in collaboration with Arise Social-Cultural Foundation (ASF), a local NGO. “The gathering here today shows that we are committed to bringing peace to Yambio and to South Sudan. This event also shows how young people can mobilize and promote peace in the community,” he said.
JRS Yambio recognizes sport as a powerful tool to strengthen social ties and networks, and to promote ideals of peace, fraternity, solidarity, non-violence, tolerance and justice. In post conflict situations, sports have the ability to bring people together.
The realization of a peaceful nation can start with even the smallest step forward: with a soccer game and the determination to create a brighter future for all.