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Masisi, 14 September 2012 – Few activities in the world are as effective as sports in bridging differences, building community, or educating young people about peace. The JRS inter-school football tournament, 'Pamoja Tutashinda', or 'together we'll win' in Kiswahili, allowed for students, referees and spectators to forget about divisions between the local and displaced populations, about ethnic differences, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The football competition sent a clear message to the population: a united community is a stronger community.

The tournament. Over a period of four months, from March to July, 54 teams from as many secondary schools weathered muddy pitches throughout the Masisi district giving life to intense games. Despite a few inevitable objections from one team or another, the motto of the competition was fair play and honesty among students on the field.

In the weeks prior to the tournament, JRS staff offered training to coaches, referees and linesmen not only on tactics and offside rules but also on enforcing discipline and promoting fairness among players.

 

JRS provided uniforms, flags and whistles to the more than 50 referees and linesmen who presided over the more than 105 matches, in which 310 goals were scored and 26 red and 176 yellow cards were shown.

Students from Birega institute won the championship, beating their peers from Maanga school with a final score of two-to-one. The winners wore orange jerseys of Côte d'Ivoire national team while their opponents wore the black and white of the renowned Congolese team, Tout Puissant Mazembe (click here to see the video of the final).

The referee. Sixteen-year-old girl Sifa Papay refereed the match with impeccable judgement that was applauded by players, coaches and the fans present.

"I am very happy with my refereeing and with having tried something so different. What was the thing that struck me the most? Feeling that men respected me and held me in esteem as a woman", said Sifa after the match.

Breaking down barriers. Afterwards, local authorities, including Gabriel Bahati, the representative from the national ministry of education (Ecole Primaire Secondaire Professionel EPSP), were invited to the awards ceremony.

"This tournament has given students from various ethnic groups in displaced and local communities to come together and feel like brothers from one community. It is an example of how sport can break down barriers which divide our peoples. These activities also help the displaced put thoughts of the war and suffering in the back of their minds for a while", said Mr Bahati.

Now I can relate to you. Bursting with joy after his team won the tournament, the captain of Birega, Innocent, was nominated as best player of the competition. Speakin after the match, he was eager to emphasise the influence the tournament has had on building community.

"Until yesterday a boy from another school or ethnic group was a stranger to me, a foreigner. Now I know we can live and play together, that we have so much to share and we are all part of the same family".

Parish priest, Théodore Mbuleki, was also keen to underline the importance of organising activities which bring eastern Congolese populations together while promoting integration of and respect towards the displaced.

"This place is full of people who have been displaced by the war. It is essential they don't feel abandoned and are aware that someone will take care of them. Seeing so many people of all ethnic groups participate in this tournament, seeing the fair play and friendship between students who live in the camps has not only filled me with enthusiasm, it pushes me to think we need to repeat the experience as much as possible", said the parish priest.

Formal education in Masisi. The Pamoja Tutashinda competition was organised as part of the JRS formal education project in Masisi and in cooperation with the provincial directorate of EPSP. Initiated in 2010, this JRS project includes the construction and restoration of secondary schools, teacher and management training, and the distribution of educational materials. The project seeks to guarantee access to education, particularly for girls, and the integration of displaced students into the local school population.

Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Advocacy and Communications Officer