UN peacekeepers support local football club to foster inter-ethnic cohesion in Rajaf
Until just a few days ago, only the most determined and passionate of footballers would dare practice their fancy footwork and last-ditch sliding tackles in Jondoru village in Rajaf County near Juba.
Its Peace Square, which saw the light of day some four years ago, was a rough and thorny piece of land, sprinkled with frequently water-filled potholes of varying shapes and sizes.
Fast forward to mid-July 2019 and Tartisio Lodu, executive chief of the village, describes the very same field as a major crowd pleaser.
“It is already a pull factor for the youth who had left the area due to boredom, including internally displaced persons,” he says, a beaming smile on his face.
This transformative twist of fate is down to the recent hard work of Nepalese and Thai engineers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. Together, and with some support of local residents, they have filled gaping cracks and holes, levelling an area which is now a fully functional playground for fans of football and volleyball alike.
Members of the Kor Romla Football club are understandably jubilant, and ready to do their part to foster harmonious inter-communal relations.
“I do hope that our club will help our multiethnic community to unite and chart a future of social harmony and peace,” says Ohuru Peter Okimo, who wears his team’s jersey number seven with pride.
“We are going to mobilize our various communities [and encourage them] to form their own clubs. That way we can begin inter-community football competitions to help mend the broken social fabric left behind by years of war,” he explains, adding that sports is also a great way of combatting boredom and hence reduce criminality.
His friend, 20-year-old Simon Sunday, is equally convinced of the benefits the multi-sports facilities will bring.
“In addition to hosting sporting events the playing ground will be used for other recreational activities, including festivities, to attract people from within our village and beyond,” he says. “It is this social interaction, seeing new faces and meeting old friends and enemies, that can help break the habits of hatred and foster unity between communities.”
These potentially harmony-inducing effects of sports are also the reason why UN peacekeepers make efforts such as the one in Rajaf.
“The role of the army is not only to carry firearms but also to do things that can help build peace and unity amongst the civil population. This is a part of our civil-military relations activities,” explains Brigadier General Eugene Nkubito, commander of the peacekeeping mission’s Juba Sector.
Apart from turning the field into a proper ground for sports, the engineers have also set up goalposts and a volleyball net. As the icing of the cake, footballs, volleyballs, jerseys, whistles, plastic chairs and other handy accessories were donated as well.