Phocas Mpezindagano
Great Lakes Program Coordinator, Peace and Sport

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20/08/2020 par Phocas Mpezindagano

In Burundi, Students are Learning Peace through Sport

“My life and my career have always been paced by sport. My sport is judo, and I’m the Secretary General of the Burundi Judo Federation. I also worked for a long time with the National Olympic Committee of Burundi, as Course Director. But my life and sporting journey took a new direction in 2017. The Burundi Olympic Committee already had a partnership with Peace and Sport. This partnership particularly focussed on organizing the Great Lakes Friendship Games, where children and young people from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda meet up to celebrate sport and its values.

In 2017, the Burundi Olympic Committee appointed me as Coordinator of the Friendship Games. This experience made an enormous impact on me. It was also decisive in my involvement in sport, because the following year I became the national coordinator of Peace and Sport’s programs in Burundi. I concentrate on the three Great Lakes countries, a region that has constantly suffered conflicts, internal struggles, as well as social and economic crises.

Together with Peace and Sport, we have chosen to concentrate on schools. In Burundi, as in the rest of the region, schools remain indispensable places for learning. As Venuste Niyongabo – Burundi’s first-ever Olympic Champion, Champion for Peace and sponsor of the Great Lakes program – says: “In Burundi, as often in Africa, children are introduced to sport at school.”

We have been developing the Peace and Sport Methodology for a year, as an extracurricular activity in schools in three regions of the country: the provinces of Gitega, Makamba and Bujumbura. We are still in the pilot phase and we are advancing cautiously, without trying to skip steps. Even so, the program currently concerns 21 schools and 45 teachers, involving a total of 700 students, boys and girls, aged 12 to 15. And I can say it’s already making a difference.

The program’s approach and implementation are intended to be concrete and accessible. The teachers (all trained by Peace and Sport) have a battery of physical exercises. For the moment we are focusing on one sport: football. We have modified the exercises to give them an educational and peaceful dimension. Beyond their physical benefits, they enable us to instil the values of respect, solidarity, discipline and inclusion into young people. For example, we have introduced a rule to promote equality between boys and girls on the football pitch. It states that a goal can only be awarded if at least one girl has hit the ball in the last three passes.

After just one year, I can already see that the program is paying off. Teachers are asking for the program, because the Peace and Sport Methodology give them tools to teach lasting peace through specific sport activity.  This original program is more global, oriented towards the values of peace and development. The students, for their part, have quickly grasped the additional dimension of the activity. They’ve understood the impact that sport can have on society. We’ve explained our approach to parents. And we have the support of the Ministry of Education.

The first year has been very encouraging, but we are looking further ahead. In the short term, the objective is to be able to extend the program throughout the country. Then we will seek to introduce it into the DRC and Rwanda. For this, the new Peace and Sport by My Coach application should help us. Teachers are very smartphone-savvy in Burundi and in the Great Lakes region. They use their mobiles a lot. The application will accelerate the implementation of the program in the country, by allowing each of them to have access to the exercises, to share them and to lead physical education sessions. The coronavirus pandemic has slowed down our efforts to equip teachers and train them in the application. But it hasn’t stopped us.”

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