When I mention my work with i-ACT and our efforts to get the Darfur United Soccer Academy established in the refugee camps for children and youth, people often respond with, “Wow, cool” and then, “but why soccer when there are so many other needs in the camps?”
Well, “good question!” is what I usually respond and then I begin to try to put together a convincing argument that is short enough not to lose their attention. Today, I thought I’d put together, a still brief, but more thoughtful response for all the possible doubters out there.
First, I’d like to take you back to your childhood. Think about how important whatever sport or extracurricular activity you participated in was in your life – physically, emotionally, and socially. Think about the joy you felt, the accomplishments you were proud of, the friendships you made, the memories you created, and the skills you learned. Why shouldn’t the Darfur refugee children and youth be offered the same opportunity to experience these benefits?
Second, imagine a generation of children exposed to daily trauma, instability and insecurity. Well this year marks the tenth anniversary of the violence in Sudan, meaning an entire generation of children has been born and raised in isolated and overcrowded camps, among deprivations, an uncertain future, and a disrupted community scarred by violence. The game of soccer can enable this generation of children and youth to develop life skills that are critical to peace-building, including cooperation, teamwork and tolerance. It can provide them with a stable social network and a something to share with their peers. And it can provide them with a safe environment to simply act their age and leave their worries at home, if only for a few hours.
Third, for those who care more about health and education, well, according to the United Nations, sport serves as a powerful, low-cost tool for many other needs and development goals – such as health, education and empowerment of girls and women. Sports programs have shown to expand health education, increase school attendance, and challenge gender norms. The DU Soccer Academy plans on doing the same. The Academy coaches and volunteers will be trained to provide basic health and hygiene education to the participating players, each participant will be required to attend school (and we will be checking!), and girl players and women coaches will be provided an equal opportunity to participate, in fact we’ll be campaigning for their participation and leadership.
So in conclusion, I’d like to say that just because these children and youth are refugees living in camps, does not mean they should only be given the basic necessities to survive. They’ve been surviving in these camps for a decade now. I think its time we move beyond that. Let’s move beyond providing just enough basic support. Let’s focus on their spirit. On each individual dream that lives inside each child and youth in the camps. On their need to play, to run, jump, laugh, grapple for a ball, fall over and have some fun.