Sports for Peace in South Sudan

How sports is changing the lives of refugees with disabilities and helping achieve peace at the same time
Man works on building a house within the Sports for Peace programme

In an interview with Light for the World to mark World Humanitarian Day, our head of the Sports for Peace programme in South Sudan, Jiji Stephen, speaks about how the programme has developed over the years and why it is important to build up a community spirit.

What’s the background to founding the ‘Sports for Peace’ programme?

There are 2.25 million people internally displaced in South Sudan. I work in one of the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps, which is situated in Mahad, near Juba.

With 12,000 residents from different tribes, rivalry and violence we were witnessing violence break out on a regular basis.

In 2014, we decided to intervene by launching our ‘Sports for Peace’ project. We wanted to unite the kids of the camp to set an example for the whole community. Given that most people in the camp didn’t know each other, violence and hostility was a big issue.

How is life at the IDP camps for people with disabilities?

The IDP camp life is hard enough for people without disabilities but having a disability  makes things even harder when it comes to accessibility or being part of a community.

Before Light for the World’s ‘Sports for Peace’ programme or other NGO projects most people with disabilities in the camps got no support and were mostly sitting at their shelters with no opportunity to do anything else or interact with others. Given that the shelters are built by the people in the camp themselves, people with disabilities often used to sleep on the mud with no shelter.

Programmes like ours make sure that there is a community spirit with the aim of helping and supporting each other. In difficult times and crisis situations, the most important thing is to be there for one another rather than fighting or keeping to yourself.

Tell me about the programme in more detail.

The ‘Sports for Peace’ programme is a youth club with a football team and volleyball team, also offering other indoor sports. The idea was to unite the youth, including children with disabilities, creating a community spirit to help others in the camp too. For example, our football team often helps people with disabilities to build their shelters and patrol the neighbourhood to make sure crime is kept to a minimum.

It took us about a year to establish what we have achieved now. It was difficult at the start given the rivalries of the different tribes but the kids eventually got to know and like each other.

It’s amazing to see how far we have come. Violence was omnipresent in the camp and it wasn’t an easy feat to create what we have now. I’m proud that we managed to launch something that special that other NGOs want to replicate our concept in other camps around the world.

What’s your favourite success story?

There are so many. But I will tell you about two!
I’m proud and happy that we helped Jundith with our programme. In the 2013 crisis, Jundith was hit in the leg by a bullet during the fighting. Light for the World made sure he was sent to Uganda for surgery.

Back in the camp, we ensured that he attended school. He is now a big part of our sports programme and youth community. He’s involved in the safety patrols and helps people with disabilities with day-to-day issues.

Another story that’s close to my heart is the one of David. He was working on the road in the IDP camp and was sadly involved in a motorbike accident where he severely broke his legs. He had to stay at his shelter for about a year because there wasn’t any opportunity or help for him.

After helping him medically, we also signed him up for our football team where he is now our referee. He really enjoys joking around with his friends and wants to become a successful international referee when he’s older.

It’s seeing their faces that keeps me going every day. It’s inspiring to see the difference from before we founded the programme. We really made a difference in these people’s lives.