A selection of trainers in Juba's Kids League.
Santo Khamis Laku Gbollo of British Council South Sudan writes about Juba’s nascent Kids League, which is bringing new opportunities to the youngest generation of an even younger nation through sport.
The crowd in the bar watched enthralled as the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games unfolded. They roared with laughter at Mr Bean, chuckled at the Queen leaping out of the helicopter, and wandered home long before Team GB had entered the stadium. In Juba it was well after two o’clock in the morning by that time. It was clear, though, that all the hard work, dedication and meticulous preparation for the Olympics had paid off. And London confirmed her standing as the world’s greatest city.
A few hours earlier here in Juba another sporting event was inaugurated. The Kids League kicked off with an opening ceremony of its own on the grounds of Kator Cathedral, and a very proud moment it was for the children participating.
Football is the most popular game in South Sudan, and a huge crowd gathered in Kator Kids playing field to watch their peers play in the opening match.
Kids League in South Sudan organises teams of 10- to 14-year-olds, some found in schools and sports clubs, others in the street and the markets. It also trains the coaches and referees who will work with the kids. The trainers, who come from a nongovernmental organisation called Sports for Hope, work closely with the community and through their training activities also cover key issues, including health (for example, HIV/AIDS) and care for the environment. And since the teams in Juba are made up of kids from many ethnic backgrounds, there is also an element of intercultural dialogue between youth from all around South Sudan.
Sixteen teams from four payams around Juba City have been training for the league. After the tournament ends the kids continue to apply the skills and techniques they’ve learned to their own teams and matches. The league encourages regular and voluntary participation of both genders in sport. For those boys and girls who do not attend school, it offers an opportunity to experience the support and friendships they might otherwise miss.
The challenge of building a new nation means that children’s sport falls well down the list of priorities. The Republic of South Sudan has just emerged from 23 painful years of hazardous and bloody conflict, which has claimed many lives and displaced millions of citizens, both internally and internationally. Most South Sudanese are living in trauma because of the suffering and aggressions that still manifest themselves in the inter-tribal conflicts in the country.
But for the young shoe shiners and car washers and mini bus conductors of Juba, the opportunity to play on a team and to experience the thrill of the big match is priceless. Just like the athletes in London, whose expressions of delight and disappointment are displayed on our TV screens in exquisite detail, these ambitious and dedicated young people relish the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. They are already asking when the next league will be.
There is no South Sudanese team at the Olympics this year, but the seed of a country’s sporting generation is already being sown on the rich red football pitches of Juba.