Sports brings South Sudanese youth together on National Unity Day

30 Jan 2018

Sports brings South Sudanese youth together on National Unity Day

Francesca Mold

The many diverse cultures that make South Sudan special were celebrated in song and dance as hundreds of young sports stars gathered in the capital for the launch of National Unity Day.

The annual event brings together teenagers from across the country to compete in football, athletics, and volleyball under the theme of Sports for Peace and Social Cohesion. It is an opportunity for the young people in this war-torn country to develop new skills and learn from each other.

“Those people who are looking, they will admire the way you are playing. They will say, see this fellow of ours is playing well, let me play like him. I want to play. So it will bring people together,” said football player, Taban Johnson.

The tournament is also a chance to build life-long friendships and join a shared movement for peace.

“You know it’s all about uniting ourselves to make it better,” said footballer Buay Stevens. “You cannot just think of the problems. We, the youth, we can leave the problems to other people. As the young people coming up, we shall bring a voice to stop them from doing certain things and to promote peace together.”

Bangladeshi engineers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan supported the event by rehabilitating four football fields for the young players. They shared in the celebration at the event by performing music and cultural dances as well as a magic show.

UNMISS is also holding workshops with the young participants to encourage them to show leadership in the peace process.

“Peace like any team sports requires commitment and certain key ingredients. It requires a unity of purpose to work together,” said the Head of UNMISS, David Shearer. “It requires respect and confidence of each other in each of the teams irrespective of what your background, ethnicity or political persuasion might be and it requires team spirit. Good teams are always inclusive and encourage tolerance. So regardless of where you come from, your ethnic background, you are all part of team South Sudan.”

The event is organized by the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sports, which says that young people must be empowered to lead the nation forward in peace. 

“We are searching for peace,” said the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Nadia Arop Dudi. “The international community has done their part to bring peace to South Sudan. It is now our role as South Sudanese. We need peace.”

This message is echoed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which has supported the event for the past three years.

“Japan sincerely hopes this wonderful event will continue every year to remind all of us that sports is an effective means to bring people all together to embrace peace and unity,” said the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Japan in South Sudan, Shigeru Hamano.

For the young sportspeople, it is a chance to put aside the challenges of growing up amidst ongoing violence and focus on the prospect of a brighter future.

“In the future, I hope to work, to be happy, and then to be in peace. We need peace in South Sudan so we move forward together,” said goalkeeper Mario Toby.

United in their love for sports and desire to build a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan.