The Great Lakes Friendship Games as a seedbed for changemakers
Last weekend, 180 youngsters from 9 to 16 years old were protagonists at the 7th edition of the Great Lakes Friendship Games. During three days youth from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo gathered around friendly sport competitions that allowed them to get to know each other, discuss and overcome prejudices through the values of sport.
As director of the Youth Centre of Bugarama, I was pleased to host the jointly held annual Friendship Games for a second time in our sporting center in Bugarama, Rwanda. Since 2007, the Games, an initiative supported by Peace and Sport, have emerged as a major event in the sport diplomacy that youngster and local population welcomes with great enthusiasm.
It is extremely inspiring to see how year after year the border region of Rusizi is beneficiating from the power of sport, particularly during the Friendship Games. In the last few years this event has fostered conditions for sustainable peace and reconciliation in the Great Lakes region. It has also been a useful platform for a great number of young people to exchange ideas and forge bonds of friendship.
Sports diplomacy events can significantly contribute to the sustainable development in post-conflict countries as they have the potential to strengthen community cohesion and regional cooperation. The Friendship Games, for instance, are bringing a number of benefits to the region. This sporting event generates a positive impact on youth within the region as it forges compelling peace messengers.
As young people become shapers of their own future, they also can play a key role in building social change, and in engaging others in the change process. In addition, they have the capacity to play key role in peace initiative aimed to provoke deep dialogue, reconciliation, and public understanding in their communities. For instance, youngsters from Congo or Burundi, who participated in the Friendship Games, went back home and spread a more positive view of people from Rwanda.
At the international level the Friendship Games are currently a catalyst to strengthen inter-cultural, inter-ethnic and international dialogue. In 2016, Peace and Sport, six youth centers and Ministries of Youth and Sport from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda collaborated with five national and international sporting federations and athletes such as Jean-Francois Tordo and Emmeline Ndongue toorganize this successful event, which benefited more than 3,000 spectators.
Considering the Friendship Games have ended, I would like to thank all the participants, spectators, Peace and Sport and organizers for being a part of such an important event. I also want to invite more organizations, sporting bodies and civil society to join our efforts in promoting sports, sporting talent, and help to build more sport facilities in the Great Lakes region. We can do more to harness sports’ ability to be an agent of social change, to shape our societies and region for good. The motivation is already here. There are so many talented young athletes in the region, who are extremely motivated to keep training. I believe that more than ever is necessary to invest in their future and help them to stand out as potential changemakers.
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.