Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Sports: The Counterattack, As Children Fight Bullets With Balls

There were times- sometimes frequent and, sometimes, far between- when, as happens to people stolen in energy-supping activities, the kids paused on the dusty sports grounds to draw breath and regroup.

The children, gathered in their droves at Makata Primary School ground in Blantyre, are so sure that the impact of their seemingly little, local deed will be global in nature, and are here to commemorate the ‘Global Peace Games for Children and Youth 2012’. This is part of the global community’s efforts to destroy the seeds of war before they germinate into full-blown chaos.

In Malawi, activities marking ‘Global Peace Games for Children and Youth 2012’ are being spearheaded by Play Soccer Malawi, a grassroots’ educational programme that united children, youths and communities by promoting health, physical and social development through recreational sport. The organization is commemorating the event from September 21 to November 15.

Drawn from Makata, Chitsime, Namwalimwe, Nyambadwe, among other primary schools- each of the children’s teams wears a similar set of uniform to symbolize their unity in purpose.

“You see,” says Play Soccer Malawi executive director, Patricio Kulemeka, “children are the best agents of positive change in the world and, through sports, we can join hands with them to promote peace and meet Millennium Development Goals such as Goal 1 (eradicating extreme hunger and poverty) by connecting vulnerable individuals to community services and supports through sport-based outreach programs; Goal 2 (achieving universal primary education, by providing sport-based community education programs that provide alternative education opportunities for children who cannot attend school.

“Through sport we can also promote gender equality and women empowerment, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV and Aids, malaria, and non-communicable diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and facilitate the development of global partnership for development.”

Kulemeka banks his optimism on the ‘innocent’ nature of children who, unlike a man who has been dying for many days, and has become numb to the stench of the world, their minds are free from the corruption all-around.

On this ground, the kids- aged between five and 15- fought gallantly for a trophy they could not see on Monday, 9 October. Their trophy, peace, is more felt than seen.

“It is possible to win peace through sport. Fair play is one of the principles people can adopt to maintain world peace,” Kulemeka says.

His line of thinking is shared by the children who are here. For example, 15-year-old Maria Damisoni says she believes that sports’ balls and courtesy are more deadly in effect than military weapons! In her unconventional wisdom, she believes that there are so many ways of countering a war, and that the plan for war is not merely military.

“It can be through sports, too,” Damisoni says.

No wonder, some of the kids read messages whose gist is that the sacred land of the earth should not be the abode of war-mongers. War, they enthused, is more expensive than peace, and holds a vague terror for all people, the bravest included.

“Sport is key to unity. Even United Nations statutes mention sport as one of the most important tools in global development. That is why U-Sport signed an agreement with the African Union to employ sporting activities in the promotion of peace. Then, we also have Fifa Day, Fair Play Day.

“While we sometimes fail to come together, we are hoping that our children can learn to reconcile. To this effect, other mother body Play Soccer has for the past 12 years been engaging children, youths, community members to promote peace,” Kulemeka says.

That is how the local, Ndirande activities turn global. What’s more? They have the backing of the United Nations system. For instance, Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, Wilfried Lemke, acknowledges sport’s uniting power in this year’s message.

“The Global Peace Games for Children and Youth are a special opportunity to …strengthen the circle of friendship and solidarity for the ideals of peace and nonviolence within and among all nations and peoples.

“I strongly encourage you to practice the lessons of friendship, respect, and tolerance, which you learn during these Games to help to build peace and unity everywhere and to educate yourselves to learn how to make the world a better and healthier place. Sport can be a powerful vehicle to help teach the lessons and values that are needed. Sport brings you together to have fun, be active--- it helps you learn how to work together, and to grow healthy bodies and minds that can make you strong and educated leaders,” Lemke says.

Kulemeka cannot agree less: “For Play Soccer Malawi, this is what we try to achieve. Our programming combines education, sports, culture, citizenship and social inclusion. When we talk about sports, we automatically think of education. Sports and education are intrinsically linked and are of primary importance to the formation of children and youngsters.

“And it is precisely this synergy between sports and education that serves as the main foundation for the annual global peace.”

Indeed, the local organisation’s programmes show that there is more to sport than balling around as they address an array of issues, including nutrition, introduction to healthy bodies, immunizations, water, caring for the environment, fairness, sportsmanship, dealing with anger and frustration, rules of the game, friendship, teamwork, solidarity, self esteem and positive attitude, honesty, rights and responsibilities, respect and honour differences, basic first aid, respect for rules, leadership, equal opportunities, support for others, common illnesses, substances that affect health, among others.

For Fifa president Sepp Blatter, there is no teacher in tolerance than football. “I hope you will continue to use the games as a special opportunity to focus on all that football can teach us- the life skills of winning and losing with grace and dignity, of showing respect for others, practicing fair play, tolerance and understanding, learning team work and how to make your bodies healthy and strong”.

Blatter also asks people to “take action to improve health and education”.

Blatter, like Kulemeka, hopes that the children’s little deeds at Makata and around other dusty grounds in the world, will serve as a crying voice that, gradually, does not get swallowed up in the distance but acts as a silencer that will cover the violent crack of bayonets. Yes, a vibrant silence made more intense by the universal, peace trill of a millions of world children!

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