“Please draw a picture or symbol that represents you.” That was the short instruction I gave the group of twelve educators who had come together from three continents for the course, ‘Educating for the 21st Century’. As I introduced myself, I looked at the football/soccer ball I had drawn and felt happy to know that I was in a room where people would understand the importance of playing.
I shared with the group that I love bringing together people from diverse backgrounds to get to know each other, dialogue on important issues, and learn. Just as a football facilitates connections between people who otherwise may not interact, I like to see myself fulfilling a similar role. Bill Clinton, who’s been an active spectator at the World Cup in South Africa, would agree – he was quoted on FIFA’s website saying, “Football connects people.” It certainly does!
Football is also used in a number of peace initiatives, from bringing Arab and Jewish children together to helping reintegrate child soldiers. So you can imagine my excitement at being asked to join a UPEACE effort to evaluate a TV drama series about a football team. “The Team” (as the series is called in Kenya) was created in response to the post-election violence in 2008 in Kenya and shows how members of a new Kenyan football club learn to deal with their tribal, ethnic, social, and economic divisions. UPEACE’s nine-month evaluation process showed that this engaging series was leading to real changes in attitudes and practices in Kenyan society. What an innovative use of football in helping build positive peace!