Updated: Jan 1
Sports have been long-known for the ability to transform communities, alter perceptions and breakdown barriers. Sports can build bridges where boundaries exist, provide opportunities for experiential learning, and promote the development of empathy and respect. In fact, it's been suggested that the life skills developed through sport may actually be more beneficial than the physical activity itself.
Since opening in 2013, the Pamoja Tunaweza Boys & Girls Club (PTBGC) has hosted an annual soccer (fondly called football in Tanzania) tournament, The Pamoja Cup. "Pamoja" is the Swahili word for "together". The Pamoja Cup uses sports as a tool to bring children and youth together to participate in workshops on social issues. From environmentalism and recycling, HIV/AIDs, to children's rights and inclusion, the Cup uses sports as a medium for increasing social awareness. Each year roughly 150 footballers play to over 400 spectators with the aim of winning the, now prestigious, Pamoja Cup.
Along with educating on social issues, the Pamoja Cup works to bring marginalized communities together. Teams from the impoverished areas of Moshi town play against teams from affluent areas. New teams are formed with children and youth from all walks of life. Using sports as the focal point of this social bridging, socially contrived boundaries are broken down as soon as the first goal is scored.
Morgan Amani, Co-Founder of PTBGC, Manager of the Street Outreach Program and Founder of the Pamoja Cup, once shared an anecdote of the power of The Pamoja Cup. A team was created by bringing together footballers from the streets. Young men who work, eat and sleep on the streets, and participate in the Street Outreach Program when they have time. There is a hierarchy on the streets, dependent upon the type of work one does, where they sleep, and how long the person has been on the streets, to name a few of the criteria. One particular footballer was the outcast of this team - he was new to the streets, worked at the local dump, and was still highly transient. It was apparent that he was not warmly welcomed on the team. The first game of the tournament, this young man was the first to score against one of the top rated teams. It no longer mattered he was new or that he had a less-than-desirable job, he instantly become 'one' with the rest of the team. Fast-forward to months after the tournament and this same young man had been taken under the wings of more established street-connected youth, was promoted out of working at the dump, and had a safer place to sleep with friends. Because of football.
Soccer, or football, is the cornerstone of PTBGC's Street Outreach Program. PTBGC is One Ndoto's flagship project in Tanzania, and the Street Outreach Program is a core component of the project. Targeting young men between 14-24 years old that call the streets of Moshi-town home, a game of pick-up football runs every day. Just across from the market where many of these young men work, a dusty field becomes a stadium. The deal? If you play football, you have to participate in the workshop after the game. Workshops include teachings on respect, self-care, personal hygiene, emotion regulation, just to name a few. After football and the workshop, the team walks to a local stream where they wash-up to refresh for the rest of their day. In just 2 weeks of this routine, there was a marked improvement the level of hygiene the participants achieved at the stream. Day 1 was a quick wash to remove some of the caked-on dust. By week 2 it became a thorough clean with soap. The power of football, linked with life skills teaching and mentorship, elicited a significant change in just 2 weeks. It's fair to say that the increase in self-care can be linked with an increased in self-esteem and self-value. Those are significant outcomes from something as "simple" as soccer.
Undoubtably, sports are a powerful tool to promote social inclusion. It doesn't hurt that they're pretty fun to participate in as well ;)
This post was written by Emily Molzan, Executive Director of One Ndoto Canada.