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“Building Connections through Sports!” – Working Towards Refugees and Local Residents Living Side-by-Side

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Kenia
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AAR Japan
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Since 2017, AAR Japan has been active in Kalobeyei, which borders South Sudan in the Turkana District in northwest Kenya, working towards a peaceful coexistence between the local residents and the refugees.
Rei GOTO from the AAR Kakuma Office in Kenya reports on the Sporting Event that was held in April.

Reducing the friction with the local residents

The Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement was established in 2015 after the Kakuma Refugee Camp, 40km away in the Turkana District, became overpopulated. Many people in this region live a nomadic lifestyle, and with the semidesert environment not suited for agriculture, this area is also one of Kenya’s most impoverished regions. The area often experiences droughts and faces many issues such as the lack of food, water, infrastructure and opportunities for education.

There are local residents in Kalobeyei who feel a sense of unfairness at the support being provided by aid organizations to the refugees that have flowed into the area. As the civil war stretches on and their lives as refugees is prolonged, there is a need to reduce the friction between the refugees and the local residents and keep it possible for the two communities to live side-by-side.

As part of this effort, AAR Japan is assisting with the building and managing of a community center where both local residents and refugees can use and interact with each other. Representatives from the local residents and the refugees are elected democratically to be closely involved with the planning of the community center. From planning out what type of facility will be built, to managing it once it’s completed, they are involved throughout the entire process. So far, a multi-purpose hall, an internet café, a cafeteria, and a commissary has been built and is being used by both communities.

There are local residents in Kalobeyei who feel a sense of unfairness at the support being provided by aid organizations to the refugees that have flowed into the area. As the civil war stretches on and their lives as refugees is prolonged, there is a need to reduce the friction between the refugees and the local residents and keep it possible for the two communities to live side-by-side.

As part of this effort, AAR Japan is assisting with the building and managing of a community center where both local residents and refugees can use and interact with each other. Representatives from the local residents and the refugees are elected democratically to be closely involved with the planning of the community center. From planning out what type of facility will be built, to managing it once it’s completed, they are involved throughout the entire process. So far, a multi-purpose hall, an internet café, a cafeteria, and a commissary has been built and is being used by both communities.

Sporting Event with Joint Teams of the Refugees and Local Residents

On April 6, AAR Japan held a sporting event to encourage interactions between the communities. During this event, joint teams, comprised of both refugees and local residents, were assembled to play matches of basketball, volleyball, and soccer. At first, the players were not used to playing with each other, but as match would go on, it was clear that they were slowly opening up to each other as teammates. During half time, teams strategized together, and when they won, they shared their joy irrespective of whether they were local residents or refugees.

The power of sports to bring people together

Lokiru, a Kenyan who participated in the women’s volleyball, and Mesfin, a refugee who participated in the men’s soccer matches expressed to us, “we have previously had opportunities to play matches against each other, but it was the first time to play together as teammates. It was new and refreshing and a lot of fun.”

Both in volleyball and in soccer, you cannot score by yourself, so it is important to work together and cooperate with one another. By playing together on the same team, those who have otherwise not had the opportunity to do something together were creating bonds with each other. This reaffirms the idea that sport has the power to overcome differences of ethnicity and circumstance to bring people together. We will continue to have events like these and work towards the local residents and the refugees living together, side-by-side. *These activities / efforts are done with the support through all of your donations in addition to the support of UN-HABITAT.

After graduating from university, she worked as a middle school English teacher. After specializing in Education and Development studies at a graduate school in England, she interned with an education aid project in Ghana. She joined AAR Japan in March 2018. She is from Iwate Prefecture. (Profile as of the date of the article.)

Japanese-English translation by Mr. Yasuhiro Kusakawa
English editing by Ms. Alice Chee

This article has been translated by volunteers as part of the AAR Japan's Volunteer Programme. Their generous contributions allow us to spread our activities and ideas globally, through an ever-growing selection of our reports from the field.