What’s the best way to teach peace and nonviolence? For youth in Cité Soleil, one of Haiti’s most underdeveloped communities, the answer is soccer.
SAKALA, a partner of MCC’s for six years, has scored a goal with this concept. Gangs have broken Cité Soleil, located in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, into competing turfs and plunged the community into cyclical fighting. To the rest of Haiti, people from Cité Soleil’s 34 neighborhoods are stigmatized, dogged by assumptions of banditry and violence. SAKALA is working to change that perception and teach peace.
On a humid Monday afternoon, two teams — the 13- and 15-year-olds — come together for practice just as the sun is beginning to set. They are coached by Karls Jodler Fils-Aimé, a 28-year-old born in Cité Soleil who is equally passionate about soccer and SAKALA’s peacebuilding mission.
He fell in love with the sport when he was 12 and took the goalkeeper position, eventually playing at SAKALA when the program was established in 2006. He loves giving back to the kids on his teams and seeing the progress they make on and off the field.
SAKALA’s name is actually three words – sa ka la – Haitian Creole words that translate loosely to “this can be here.” The program is meant to offer a different vision for what Cité Soleil can be. After 10 years of existence, the SAKALA center is a safe space that boasts Haiti’s largest urban gardens, a computer lab, art classes, and space for a diverse sports program – the centerpiece of which is its soccer teams. From 2010 to 2012 MCC supported a peace education project with SAKALA, and now provides material resources, including school and sewing kits as well as canned meat. We are also developing a conflict resolution program with SAKALA, which will include the soccer curriculum.
Soccer is a proven winner with the youth. Over 150 boys and girls who range from nine to 24 years old participate in the program annually. It attracts kids from all over Cité Soleil, mixing players to break down harmful stereotypes about rival neighborhoods while also teaching conflict resolution and peacemaking principles during practice and play. Players circle up every practice and before every match, and coaches remind them to treat their teammates and opponents well and remember that peace is the ultimate goal. The SAKALA teams are part of a division that holds matches all over Port-au-Prince and even in the countryside — the players are community ambassadors who compete with groups from other disadvantaged communities as well as some of Haiti’s most elite private schools.
“When teams from outside Cité Soleil encounter us, they assume we’ll play dirty because of where we come from,” Coach Fils-Aimé shares, “but they are shocked to find we’re the most respectful players. Whether we win or lose, our players play fairly.”
“Though we’ve yet to win a championship, we’ve been awarded the fair play cup,” an award for best sportsmanship, says Fils-Aimé. For youth from Cité Soleil, and SAKALA, this is an achievement worth celebrating.