July 6, 2022 – Last month, WPDI ran the latest edition of its signature sports event, the “Whitaker Peace Cup” at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement, Uganda, an event that is designed to lift community spirit and encourage people to come together. The Cup is the crown jewel of WPDI’s Peace through Sports initiative, a program aimed at tapping into the power of sports to promote sustainable peace and reconciliation within the refugee community at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement as well as surrounding hosting communities in Uganda. 

Every week, teams engage in practice sessions that include awareness raising workshops on issues of peace, tolerance and nonviolence. Every month, a mini‐championship is organized, featuring short, fast‐paced games between the different teams at the camp, as well as friendly matches and competitions involving teams from the settlement and host community. Back to school tournaments are also organized on a termly basis which aim to encourage students to return to school on time. During such occasions, community sensitization and awareness campaigns are held alongside pre-match talks that precedes the active football games. These are run by community leaders/officials in order to encourage community members and youth people to foster peaceful co-existence, resilience and reconciliation within the community.

A high point in this calendar, the “Whitaker Peace Cup” is organized once a year, bringing together WPDI teams as well as teams from surrounding districts for a month-long competition that draws an important public from the refugee and host communities.

Last month, the Whitaker Peace Cup brought together a total of 40 football teams (30 male & 10 female teams) from within the settlement and host communities to compete for the camp cup. The event directly serves our global strategy that aims to restore communal social cohesion and peaceful co-existence, promoting talents and bringing with it the spirit of unity for young refugees who often have real cultural differences.

Bull Deng Gai, a 16-year old participant in the Peace through Sports initiative, recognized the benefits of the program: “I am South Sudanese and living at the Kiryandongo refugee settlement. I am so proud of the person I have become from the time I became part of the WPDI as a beneficiary in the Peace through Sports program; through the opportunities given to me by WPDI coaches to participate in the various soccer competitions, tournaments and friendlies. And because of this, life has never remained the same. I have made friends from different walks of life and tribes too. I am so grateful and happy that WPDI gave me the chance to re-discover myself.”

Such energy and enthusiasm are organic to our program, through which WPDI also works to promote psychosocial wellbeing, helping young women and men from the refugee community increase their capacity for resilience. This involves running communal awareness campaigns focused on thematic areas such as gender-based violence and the inclusion of persons with disabilities through the holding of pre- or post-match talks, dialogues with the teams, and activating sports and games referral pathways. The program’s potential was fully underlined during the COVID-19 crisis as our trainers and volunteers reached out to participants to inform them about the virus and protective measures, which made a significant contribution to preventing the spread of the virus at a local level.

The Whitaker Peace Cup and the other components of our sports program have proven life-changing for participants, notably the many girls and young women who have really benefited from the Peace Through Sports initiative in order to become more autonomous and gain opportunities to shine. Auma Scovia, 16, from South Sudan, described what the activity meant to her: “I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to be part of the Peace through Sports program at WPDI. This has been a turning point in my life. I was very happy when WPDI made me believe in myself that I can do more than I thought through participating in daily training at the CLC (Community Learning Center), tournaments, competitions and mini-championship games. During the holidays, we participated in the Whitaker Peace Cup where my team won a trophy and above all made so many friends. The messages before and after the games have been so encouraging. Am so happy and grateful for WPDI for the opportunity I got through the peace through sports program.”

The power of sports to foster sustainable peace, tolerance and provide an arena for the healing of deep-rooted traumas cannot be overstated. Behind the 213 football matches for 40 teams and 3,200 players that we organized at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in 2021 alone, we know that there are dozens of individuals who could tell us stories of the empowerment and confidence that they have subsequently gained. Through these individuals and through the events that we organize throughout the year, including the Whitaker Peace Cup, the communities at Kiryandongo become more peaceful, open and tolerant, a lasting transformation that is at the heart of the Peace Through Sports program and of our work at large.

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