Integrating sport in peace building efforts in Timor-Leste
It is often said that the hope of a country is its children and youth. In that sense, Timor-Leste has much to be hopeful about, as it is still a new, fragile and post-conflict nation and with the highest proportion of youth in the Southeast Asia region. In this country, which gained independence in 2002, more than half of the population – 55 percent – is under 18, while more than third – 35 percent – is between 10 and 24 years of age.
The youthful population of Timor-Leste represents a great potential for the future of the nation as long as young women and men have the opportunity to learn, to grow, and to lead healthy and productive lives. However, available data points out that there are immense challenges in order to achieve that. In that sense, sport can contribute to tackle development challenges faced by Timor-Leste’s young people over the next decade.
Today, it is rare the equal access to sport in this post-conflict country. Therefore, Many Hands One Nation (MAHON) an organization based in Dili integrates and offers access to sport to Timor-Leste’s children and youth. Through the Sport for Development and Peace Project youngsters from underprivileged communities have the opportunity to practice sporting activities in order to increase their self-confidence and resilience while developing positive and stronger social relations.
The idea behind the initiative is simple yet powerful: MAHON aims to combine the practice of sport with peace-building and capacity building efforts. For instance, beneficiaries see sport not only as a physical practice but also as a platform to learn important values and to engage in teamwork and cooperation with their educators, parents and friends. Through practical and theoretical sessions inside and outside the sporting field, children gain some skills and values that will be replicated at home.
Back in 2010, Timor-Leste government banned all martial arts clubs and activities due to the poor understanding of the martial arts values and following deadly gang violence. Due to historical backgrounds, martial arts students became rivals and began killing each other in the streets as happened within 2006-2012. Within this framework, the Sport for Development and Peace Project also works with martial arts members from three districts through seminars about the role of sport in shaping attitudes and providing models of good conduct.
In recent years, the Sport for Development and Peace Project has introduced new sports such as Badminton, Athletics and Ping-Pong to children and youth from the most remote areas of Timor-Leste. This approach has helped to strengthen communication and leadership skills of young people, forge new friendships and create more inclusive communities. For Timor-Leste, wounds from the past are still raw, but a new generation is rising up full of hope and willingness to create the conditions for sustainable peace.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in Peace and Sport Watch are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of Peace and Sport.