Haiti scoring goals for peace


Coaches remind athletes that playing fairly, peace ultimate goal

By Ted Oswald for MCC

What’s the best way to teach peace and nonviolence? For youth in Cité Soleil, one of Haiti’s most underdeveloped communities in the capital of Port-au-Prince, the answer is soccer.

SAKALA, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner for six years, has scored a goal with this concept.

Over time, gangs have broken Cité Soleil into competing turfs and plunged the community into cyclical fighting. Those who live in Cité Soleil’s 34 neighborhoods are stigmatized by others in Haiti, dogged by assumptions of banditry and violence.

SAKALA is working to change that perception and teach peace. The SAKALA center is a safe space that boasts Haiti’s largest urban gardens, a computer lab, art classes and space for a diverse sports program—the centerpiece of which is its soccer teams.

Coaches intentionally combine players from rival neighborhoods on the same team to break down harmful stereotypes, while also teaching conflict resolution and peacemaking principles during practice and play. 

More than 150 boys and girls who range from ages nine to 24 participate in the program annually.

The SAKALA teams are part of a division that holds matches all over Port-au-Prince and even in the countryside. The players are community ambassadors who compete with groups from other disadvantaged communities as well as some of Haiti’s most elite private schools.

“When teams from outside Cité Soleil encounter us, they assume we’ll play dirty because of where we come from,” Coach Karls Jodler Fils-Aimé says, “but they are shocked to find we’re the most respectful players. Whether we win or lose, our players play fairly.” 

Reminders of fair play have become a habit. Players circle up every practice and before every match, and coaches remind them to treat their teammates and opponents well and remember that peace is the ultimate goal.

“Though we’ve yet to win a championship, we’ve been awarded the fair play cup,” an award for best sportsmanship, says Fils-Aimé, who grew up in the community. For youth from Cité Soleil, and SAKALA, this is an achievement worth celebrating.

From 2010 to 2012, MCC supported a peace education project with SAKALA, and now provides school and sewing kits as well as canned meat. MCC also is developing a conflict resolution program with SAKALA, which will include the soccer curriculum.

SAKALA’s name is actually three words—sa ka la—Haitian Creole words that translate loosely to “This can be here.” The program is meant to offer a different vision for what Cité Soleil can be.

Mennonite Central Committee is an international relief and development agency that also works for peace in the name of Christ. Ted Oswald is a policy analyst and advocacy coordinator for MCC Haiti.

PHOTO: During soccer practice, goalie Emerson Pierre positions himself to block an attempt by Justimé Anderson while defender Bosquet Williams tries to assist. MCC partner SAKALA uses soccer to teach peace and nonviolence to youth in Cité Soleil, a very impoverished area of Port-au-Prince. (MCC photo/Ted Oswald)


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