January 2018 - Chad

Champions of Cohesion


(“Like the colours of the rainbow, we are all different and this makes our opulence and greatness”)

Reads the big banner visible from almost every corner of the vast game field that is carefully cleaned and prepared to host one of the most anticipated events of the year in Goré, in Southern Chad.

Under a tender, almost merciful sun that’s months away from the scorching heat of African summer, two groups of youth, girls and boys dressed in coloured sports gear, congregate. This is Goré’s only sports field situated next to the famous Cathedral of Goré. The groups of young people wearing blue and white shirts are the rival handball and football teams waiting to vie.

At the grandstand, authorities, including the Prefect and the Mayor of the town, the Chief of the Canton of Goré, SENA Delegate and representatives of religions and communities, start to fill the seats reserved for them, while spectators from every part of the area begin surrounding the field in eager anticipation of the event to unfold.

The rival teams bear the colours of blue and white for boys’ football and yellow and red for girls’ handball. All four teams include both refugee and host community members. Any shade of a separation on grounds of roots or background, is carefully avoided and replaced by a commitment to the cause of social cohesion, that never forsakes the spirit of fraternal but awe-inspiringly fierce competition.

When the camera is directed to the girls who are waiting on the edge of the handball field, shyness gives way to expressions of mirth and gratitude. It is the first time they will be playing in an inter-zone event and they are eager to make friends from other communities.

Boys, grouped together right next to the girls, emphasize the preciousness of the opportunity of playing together and, during the interview, don’t refrain from dropping the names of their favourite European soccer teams; names such as Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund which are celebrated not only on the football field, but also in writings that appear on the streets of Goré and even on the walls of classrooms where RET’s Literacy and Numeracy classes are held.

Excitement simmers as the announcer accompanies the authorities to the handshake ceremony. The guests of honour and the Country Director of RET in Chad walk toward the lined-up teams, shake each player’s hands and wish them luck.

As of now, the atmosphere is calm, the players are rubbing their lucky charms and the audience is waiting for the kick-off whistle. The presenter of the match is unaware that the game which is about the start will be as breath-taking and as demanding as a professional league match.

This long-anticipated event is a crown jewel in the long list of sports activities launched by RET, aimed to bring together the refugee and the host communities. Since the inception of the “Peaceful Communities through Effective Youth Engagement” programme, funded by the Federal Foreign Office of the Republic of Germany, RET has organised 23 “Sports for Hope” events participated by multiple teams.

Two of them were inter-community sports activities and today’s match marks the inter-zone event, where communities inhabiting the two zones will come together. Attracting a large public audience whose number exceeded 5000, the event, like other activities saw everything is done by professional standards, from the gear and bags RET provided to the referees who were trained by the Ministry of Sports’ licensed referees. Of course not every RET Sports Activity unfolds in formal and pre-meditated settings. Entertaining activities such as the tug-of-war, sack races, throwing contests and obstacle courses complement football, handball and athletics competitions. Every event, given RET’s specific emphasis on young women and girls, is carefully designed to include a maximum number of participants across gender and age divides.

The immense excitement sports activities generate is understandable. For the duration of the Phase I of the Peaceful Communities project successfully mobilised the power of sports, alongside other means, to bring together communities. Where theatre productions utilise the power of the self-expressive appetite and the attraction of the ‘stage’, sports activities, with their various categories, generate excitement across zones, age groups and gender divides.

The President of the Women Council Benedict Korndoh’s words, stand witness to the fraternal spirit born out of sports events abolishing borders, divides and prejudices. “The refugees and the members of the host community, the youth, one Sunday they play (football) in Beureuh, and the next week they play on the field of Amboko, there is collaboration and exchange. One week the refugees become the host and the next week, it is the host community. It is brilliant.”

A teacher of English from the Central African Republic, Professor KN’s observations, support the notion that sports opens the path to dialogue, if not functioning as a dialogue in itself: “Sports activities fall into the category of mingling together. Before the sports activities, we were apart. The refugees were staying in their camps and the host community, in their villages. Now, with the sports, we have the chance to rub shoulders with each other, with everyone. And with the competition, everyone gets the chance to know her or his capacity.”

Halftime in the football game, the loudspeakers placed across the field to broadcast the commentator’s voice start blasting songs, played by a local boy-band. Tunes as young and energetic and as the country itself and as full of soul and hope as the youth RET addresses, mark the spirit of the occasion as well as that of the land.

The second half begins even fiercer and the tensest moments in the game are marked with the crowd of spectators cheering in joy. Each attack, each clear, pass or fake is applauded by the audience; each skilful tackle drives the narrator to dig deeper into his vocabulary, to find the correct words to describe,  an attempt that often fails. Yet the real moment of ecstasy, for both the winning Blue team and the spectators come when a goal is scored. The audience takes no heed of the security guards’ warnings and flood into the field euphoric; carnivalesque celebrations interrupt the game for minutes.

When the game ends and the awards ceremony begins, the excitement is multiplied. The photo-call in the end is nothing less rapturous and picturesque than a Champions’ League Final, continuing for minutes with the cup changing hands and players posing with the guests of honour. What is raised to the air by the triumphant, is not only a trophy of a very special day, but also a seal of hope and the promise of a new, fraternal life.

Updated, January 24th, 2018