The Winning Combination

I wake up. It’s dark, but the air is warm around me. I feel around for my head torch, turn it on, slip on some clothes and walk outside. Quiet… until Amos turns up. He rushes out the door panting as he ties up his trainers. A ray of orange light catches my eye. The sky is a pinhole camera with more light seeping through as we start jogging, every step purposeful on the loose sand and dirt beneath our feet.

‘Umelalaje?’ (How did you sleep?) Amos asks me reflecting his upbeat nature with his intonation.

‘Salama’ (peacefully) I respond.

We chat more fluently as we become more sure in our strides. The birds and frogs also join in the conversation.

‘Fantastic.’ The even blue shadow of the Serengeti stretches out to my right, softly punctuated by silhouetted hills.

Having heard of Julius Nyerere (the first president) during my time spent in Tanzania, I ask Amos why people saw him as so influential and as such a role model.

‘He was a man who cared for the people. He was a man of unity. This unity is part of our culture. Surely this could have great benefits for our country.’

The breeze delicately cools us as it brushes our faces. We approach a group of school children and as we get closer they begin to jog. They giggle excitedly, drawcord backpacks swinging behind them. We run side by side. One of the schoolgirls looks at me smiling, to see if mzungus (Europeans) also have a sense of humour. Her smile brightens as she realises I was already chuckling myself.

As we approach home, we scamper down the winding tree covered path. ‘I like running,’ Amos says as the path flattens. His remark has renewed conviction. I agree wholeheartedly.

In the long run

I’ve run most mornings with Amos, our local translator, during my 3-month Tearfund Go placement here in Tanzania. This simple sporting activity has fostered a strong friendship and brought a number of moments of understanding between myself and the local people – like the strong sense of unity I had with schoolchildren. Having experienced this kind of connection through sport in a small way, I can understand how it’s ability to cross cultural and language boundaries can be harnessed for good in development projects around the world.

A game changer

A fantastic example of this comes from the city of Medellín in Colombia. Through football, young people are offered an alternative to violence, delinquency and other risks. Such risks include enrolment into illegal armed groups, injury, death, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and natural disasters. In the late 1980s Medellín was the murder capital of the world with around 20 young men being killed there a day. But Christian Union Sports Club (CUSC) has seen the power of sport in bringing about change.

Through fellowship between young people and coaches, these young people benefit not only themselves, but also their community. As a result of football, psycho­­logical and academic support, mentoring, and a con­stant pro­motion of Biblical principles, some of the players have gone on to become leaders, trainers and evangelists in their own neighbourhoods.After nearly three decades of ministry, CUSC now has 40 coaches, over 3,000 children and youths represented by 130 football teams from 24 areas of greater metropolitan Medellín. 

This has been possible because of the power of sport. Through sport, thousands have been drawn in and unified together. And because of this young people have received the message of the Bible and worked together to achieve fantastic things.

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