When sport can give children hope
One of the most important things that I have learned as a sport athlete came from outside of the rugby field, when I began to see the power of sport off the pitch. Few years ago, I began a challenging journey after the establishment of Pachamama, a nongovernmental organization that promotes sport and creates a better education and life for underprivileged children in Madagascar. Since 2006, I had the opportunity to see that sport is usually the only tool children have in escaping poverty, conflict or social exclusion.
After working with children and youth, I started to understand that sport could be a source of hope to those most vulnerable. It provides a safe place for children who want to dream and believe in a better future. When children and youth play sports, it provides significant benefits and offers a pivotal path to inspire and give hope. Through the practice of sport, children can envisage more peaceful world.
In places like Madagascar, sport programs play a role in improving the lives of not only children, but also communities. For example, the participation of girls in sport has increased exponentially in the last few years. Currently, 40% of the children playing Rugby in Pachamama are girls. According to a community leader from Madagascar, Malagasy girls that participated in our sports programs have come to understand importance of education and consequently became sexually active later in life. Today, many of these girls are able to study and appear more empowered with a confidence to resist issues of their country.
A key aspect in the promotion of sport is the role played by the coaches. For most Malagasy children, who practice sport, their coach is an influential element of sport and life experience. Enthusiastic and committed coaches, who are dedicated to the positive growth of children, both on and beyond the field, are playing the role of peace promotors. For instance, I have seen in Madagascar that the best coaches are the ones who serve as advisors, mentors, lifelines, or simply as persons to lend an ear and listen to the children.
I am convinced it is the right time to think how sport can be more systematically included in field projects. It is critical for the organizations that aim at promoting sport in developing countries, to have a holistic approach and to understand the needs and context of children and community. Moreover, it is fundamental to include many actors in the development of sport programs such as parents, coaches, NGO, community leaders and the children. For example, in Pachamama we give a lot of importance even to children’s views in implementing a new sport program.
The final component of the holistic sport program is the long-term commitment. NGO’s and sport programs must have a clear commitment and vision not to disappoint children and the community. It is vital that all actors, who work with children, are aware of and appreciate the trust that children put on them.
The opportunity to work with sport programs in developing countries has taught me that sport is the best school of life for children by teaching the values they need to be a good citizens. As athletes, we cannot stop conflicts or poverty, but we can give some hope to children through the sport values and contribute in the construction of peaceful societies. I am convinced that through sport children can become winners on and beyond the field.