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February 3, 2019

Fostering Young Peace Ambassadors through Sports: The Fourth "National Unity Day" Sports Event

Hope for peace and necessity of unity

In 2011, South Sudan became independent from Sudan as the youngest nation in the world. However, security of the country deteriorated after the clash between the government military and force supporting Vice-President in December 2013. Because of continued violence and prolonged conflict, more than 4 million South Sudanese became refugee or internally displaced person (UNHR, Feb 2019; IOM, Feb 2019), while mistrust and hatred among citizens had been intensified especially based on tribal and ethnic differences. To address this situation, the Revitalized Peace Agreement was signed in September 2018, and the people's hope for a lasting peace has been getting stronger. Toward sustainable peace, it is surely important for South Sudanese to accept each other regardless of tribal differences, and unite as one nation.

Peace promotion through sports

In order to create an environment conducive to promote peace through sports, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports (MoCYS), supported by JICA, hosted the Fourth "National Unity Day" sports event (NUD4) from January 26 to February 3, 2019. The theme of the nine-day festivities is "Sports for Peace and Social Cohesion," and over 300 youths with age of under 20 competed in games of football, volleyball and athletics. They also participated in peace and cultural activities. JICA has been supporting the event since the first edition in 2016, in order to promote interactions, friendships and unity among youths, which contribute to peace and social cohesion of people in South Sudan. In the fourth edition of NUD, a number of organizations, such as UNIMISS, IOM, UNDP, UNAIDS, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and private companies, supported the idea and importance of NUD, and joined as partners.

In NUD4, young athletes were selected from preliminary selection contests all over South Sudan, through collaboration amongst the government, state ministries and sports associations. Although there was a challenge of movement on roads due to insecurity, we made the process to be fair and inclusive as much as possible, so that more boys and girls can be included in the initiative. In the competitions of NUD4, these young athletes competed and played with fair-play spirit based on their daily practice and efforts.

PhotoParticipants raise their state flugs in opening ceremony

PhotoFinal race of female 800m athletics


Encourage youths to be peacebuilder

In the opening and closing ceremony, the young athletes marched and carried message boards showing their messages for peace and unity to spectators. During NUD4, youths from different tribes and regions talked, dined and stayed together, and became friends. They also learned in peacebuilding workshops and gender and HIV/AIDS sensitization activities in order to become "Peace Ambassadors" after they go back to their own communities. In addition, we hosted three neighborhood events to spread words of peace and unity among communities in Juba, and talked about NUD4 and its purpose through radio programs, which have listeners all over South Sudan.

One of the participants said, "I want to share my experience of making friends regardless of tribal and ethnic differences with people in my community. I believe sharing such experiences with others will lead to total peace in South Sudan". Another person also said, "During the National Unity Day, sports made players forget their differences and stay together for peace, unity and social cohesion". Likewise, we received a lot of voice that participants are willing to spread peace initiatives at their home. The event has provided indispensable experience to the youths for promoting peace and unity in their country.

PhotoOne of the peace messages written by athletes

PhotoUNMISS Civil Affairs Officer facilitated Peacebuilding workshop


Expand opportunity for women

Sports can be catalysis for expressing words of peace, but it can also be an opportunity to change the perception of people with regard to gender related issues. Since last year, we have added women volleyball games in addition to women athletics games, aiming to create an opportunity for women and girls to demonstrate their talents, strengths and courage in public, and to tackle and address gender stereotypes. Although there is less chance of competition for female athletes in South Sudan, NUD allows them to play in the nationwide-level matches, and they can change the perception of citizens toward gender to "not only men but also women can participate in sports and social activities". In the future, we hope that these female players will compete in international level and further promote the movement for mainstreaming gender perspective. To promote such movement, MoCYS aims to increase the number of female athletes next year, and further, it aims to solve the issues of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV), early marriage and pregnancy, low literacy rate of women among others.

PhotoMany female athletes participated in volleyball and showed great games


More citizens started to know about the meaning of "National Unity Day"

After disseminating information of NUD4 through radio, TV and SNS, a number of people sent us messages for welcoming the initiative, and more than 55,000 people visited the playgrounds during the NUD and neighborhood events. There is no other occasion, which attracts such a big number of people except for NUD in the country. Mr. Edward Settimo, Director General of MoCYS says,

"National Unity Day started to gain publicity year by year not only in Juba but also in other areas, because we have been hosting this event every year. Many people join the event as player, staff or spectator, and they bring back their experience of spending peaceful time together to their own community. This will enable people to have good attitude towards peace, and to unite and create culture of peace."

From the perception survey which we conducted, there was a lot of voice that supports the concept of the "sports for peace" initiative. From children to adults, regardless of tribes, culture and gender, people enjoyed watching sports matches in a peaceful atmosphere at the playgrounds.

PhotoThousands of people came to watch the final football match

PhotoOn 'Peace and Culture Day', athletes and audience enjoyed tag of peace、dance and suck race


After the event

Although it has passed only one month since the event brought youths together, we have received happy news from youth athletes. First of all, four athletics athletes were invited to the international competitions in Djibouti, Uganda and Tanzania, because they performed very well in NUD4. The NUD is becoming, not only promoting peace and unity, but also becoming a great opportunity for South Sudan athletes to proceed to international stage. Furthermore, there is possibility that NUD athletes participate in 2020 Tokyo Olympic, and therefore, we expect to see Olympic related movement along with hopeful atmosphere for peace in South Sudan. In addition, several youths reported that they started to join football teams outside Protection of Civilian (POC) site, and started to enjoy playing sports with people from different place and tribe. Indeed, it proves that NUD4 enhanced peaceful co-existence among the youths and communities. In order to disseminate such good impacts of the event, MoCYS and JICA are determined to make the event better, and initiate a number of grass roots initiatives of "Sports for Peace".

PhotoYouths built trust each other and they will become peace ambassodor

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