Sports transform Yambio suburbs from frontlines of conflict to springboard for peace
With catchy chants like “Viva sport, viva sport - we need peace, we need peace to cultivate our land” thousands of young men and women from Yambio town and the nearby villages of Yabwa, Sawra and Li-Rangu showed up to participate in activities organised by the UN peacekeeping mission aimed at promoting social cohesion through sports.
For the past five years or so, Western Equatoria has witnessed fierce fighting, forcing many youths to either join a warring party or seek refuge in neighbouring countries. For members of the four youth teams that participated in this joyous event, however, the football pitch was the only battleground in sight and their stamina and technique the only tools allowed and available as they sought to prove their superiority.
“We came here today to declare our commitment for peace, because we really suffered from the conflict,” said Gomgba Isaac, a young man from Li-Rangu. We, the youth of today, must work hard and together to achieve harmonious reconciliation among our communities,” he added sagely.
The people participating in the friendly activities of the day thoroughly enjoyed the festive yet peaceful occasion, and for understandable reasons. Yabwa and Sawra used to be frontlines of the conflict, while Li-Rangu was a stronghold of the armed opposition. All villages were mostly deserted, and their schools closed.
“I am happy about this peacebuilding sports initiative. It has brought together all the youth, many of whom have been internally displaced. Today they are at home as one,” said 17-year-old Wilson Manas from Yabwa village with a smile on his face. He revealed that he hopes to resume his studies now that peace has come – if it turns out to be durable.
Girls from these villages have suffered as much as, if not more than, their male peers. Some had no choice but to drop out of school, others were forcibly married and often prematurely impregnated.
No wonder, then, that they were relishing this day of communal commemorations and team spirit.
“I am overwhelmed with joy to see such a massive gathering of youth here today,” said one of them, Flora Moses.
To honour the day, Christopher Murenga, head of the UN peacekeeping mission’s field office in Yambio, was at his sparkling, wittiest best when he addressed the jubilant crowd.
“By playing today, you have shown that peace is here and that you are all for peace so you have won. Murenga said.
“Sawra was on the frontline of conflict between brothers and sisters. Today it moves from being a frontline of conflict to a frontline of peace. By playing today you have shown that peace is here and that you are all for peace, which means that you have all won.”
And such a sweet, sweet victory it was.