Transforming Mindsets and Lives Through Sports

In 1914, during World War I, soldiers from both sides put down their weapons and consciously decided to put aside their differences to celebrate Christmas Day. The celebration was marked by a friendly football match. This is commonly referred to in history as the Christmas truce.

When sporting activities are deployed in the correct way, they can become vehicles for cohesion, integration and rehabilitation. The activities are not just a unifying tool but are great for team building and provide a foundation for the development and improvement of soft skills like effective communication and conflict resolution. The Skills for Life project has in the past applied the Sports for Development approach to encourage peace and cohesion among inhabitants from the host and refugee community.

‘We have seen several disagreements ironed out as a result of applying this Sports for Development approach and we plan to continue organising football matches to bring the communities together,’ remarked Mr. Alexander Kiptanui, the Skills for Life Project Manager.

Mary Akiru, currently undergoing hairdressing training, normally gets one free afternoon in a week to relax. During this time, she usually meets up with her friends and chats for hours then later goes back home to attend to her household duties. Mary has always found this monotonous and uninspiring as all they do is discuss their husbands and catch up on community gossip. Despite her feeling this way, she was convinced that there weren’t many alternatives for women living in the camp.

One day, she was informed by her Community-Based Trainer that Swisscontact was planning to host a football match and was looking for volunteers from the different learning groups to participate. She laughed it off saying, ‘I’ve always thought football was for men. How is a woman going to go to the field and start kicking around a ball for 45 minutes?’

Mary remembers attending the first match with nostalgia. She noticed that all the players were dressed in clearly marked uniforms which made it easy to follow the game. ‘They all looked like they were having a good time and it didn’t matter if they were male or female. I felt like I had missed on something great. I regretted dismissing my trainer,’ recalled Mary.

She was thrilled when another match was organized for the learning group members. She registered herself for participation and with the guidance of the community coach, was taken through what each position entailed. She played as a midfielder. 

‘It doesn’t matter that we lost to the other team. I had so much fun and went home feeling rejuvenated.  I now see that my perception of the sport was all wrong. Football has brought us together and improved our communication. It is no longer awkward to have conversations with other refugees or members of the host community,’ chuckled Mary.

‘I used to be a spectator, cheering on teams that I felt deserved to win. Today, I am part of a team and my team members and I have become friends. We openly share ideas which was previously unheard of. I have learnt so much from our interactions,’ Mary’s opposing team member, Lilian Egis explained.

I certainly have a new plan for my free afternoon. No more wasting time gossiping. I plan to have a lot of fun and build meaningful relationships. Anything a man can do, a woman can do too,’ said Mary.