It is happening. With more than two years in the making, this weekend GAME is finally bringing youth from diverse clans together for a capacity building workshop in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The self-declared state internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia, has been chosen, not because of the convenience of their hotels. It has been chosen because it offers a combination of challenges, which GAME offers well-proven solutions for. Lack of opportunities for the youth, lack of gender equality, and lack of public spaces for sports are all challenges GAME has specialized in providing innovative answers for over the last decade.
Will these solutions work in what is often recognized as one of the most unstable places on earth? As with so many other things the answer is, it depends. And in this case, it depends to a very high degree on whether the local young street sports enthusiasts pick up on the idea of using sports to make Somaliland a better place.
First of all, let’s clarify that in terms of security, then Somaliland is not Somalia. While it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the latter civil war-wracked country on the Horn of Africa, then Somaliland is much better off. There are no longer pirates off the state’s coast and the last time terror hit was back in 2008. And while Somalia’s political situation is a mess, then Somaliland carried out a peaceful presidential election in November 2017, marking a proud democratic tradition with the sitting president leaving office.
Back to the young Playmakers. During the first day of workshops, powerfull stories were shared. One of these were from Tasnim, who is studying to become a counsellor. This will allow her to advice families on divorces, something which is much needed as many are unaware of how to move on from a dysfunctional relationship. But Tasnim is also considering becoming a social entrepreneur and start her own initiative. Luckily she’ll have a few years before she has to decide which path to follow. In the meantime she’ll have a chance to test her ability to create social change through street sports, as she will be heading the weekly practices in her community.
Another strong story from one of the 56 participants is shared by Jamila. She is frustrated about the gender roles, which she finds unequal and, for her, confining. Every morning she gets up early and pray in solitude, as only men are allowed to pray at the Mosque. Then follows a long list of chores and responsibilities, including serving breakfast for her siblings, cleaning up, walking to school, working, walking back home, cooking dinner, washing up, etc. The peak of the week is on weekends when she gets to play basketball. That time is her own. But why does she have to be on a schedule all other hours when her male peers can decide themselves how to spend most of their day?
After two full days of training the young role models will receive their certificates and be ready for the next test. Are we at destination “social change” yet? No. The next test will be when the Playmakers take what they’ve learned to street corners of Hargeisa. The hope is, that they will be looked upon as role models with a genuine interest in the lives of the neighborhood kids. By showing them recognition they will slowly earn their respect. And by using GAME’s specially developed compendium with three levels of empowerment they will not only get the participants engaged in a more healthy and active life style, but also create gender equality and prevent conflict along the way.
And the best thing? Well, that was when one of the young men during the evaluation of the eight hour long Day 1 stood up and said that the only thing, that would have made the day better, was if it had been longer. Bear in mind, that this had been a day with several attacks on his gender’s predominant position in society. What more can you ask for? The Somaliland youth may be idle, but they are definitely not lazy. And from the ones I’ve meet, I would even call them progressive.