Rounds of bitter fighting between Christians and Muslims in the West African nation of Nigeria continue to kill hundreds, but a group of young people say they have a plan to stop the bloodshed.
Their recipe for peace includes some simple ingredients: a few soccer balls, some playing fields, and a little teamwork.
They insist that the next generation of leaders – in Nigeria and throughout the world – could learn a lot about peaceful co-existence by joining forces to score a point or dunk a basket.
What happens in Peace Club?
Abdulmalik: Most times we meet once a month and we get down to discussions before we take on sports – which we use as a way of bringing people together. Peace Club deals with youth and helps them face their problems. It shows everyone how to relate to one another in a peaceful society, and how to co-exist with one another.
Sandra: It works very well. It has worked for me. You might not really like other people around you because of one reason or the other – but this club is comprised of people from different places, different ethnicities and they are brought together in the same room to be part of Peace Club. We attempt to share ideas amongst ourselves, our culture, about Nigeria and the world as a whole.
How do you think the lessons of Peace Club could relate to the current conflicts in Nigeria?
Abdulmalik: Presently the conflict in Nigeria has to do with religion and tribalism.
Sandra: It’s between Christians and Muslims. They feel they are superior to each other. One person wants to rule, one person wants to govern. One person wants the other person to bow forward.
Abdulmalik: We live in a society where everyone has a religious or cultural background. We need to use sports to show the young people the benefits of co-existence in the areas where conflict is happening. We need to show them sports where they all come together and work as a team. And probably that would be a starting point to stopping the crisis. Let them put down their weapons and then we can tell them the ill effects of what they are doing. That is the essence of working as one group – to show that we are all from the same nation. And I think this needs to spread to other parts of the nation.
Why are sports a good way to learn about peace?
Abdulmalik: We analyzed every possible way of how to spread the word of peace in our community. And we realized that the only possible way we can actually do that is through sports, because sports are kind of a center for bringing people from different backgrounds together – people from north, south, east, west, people from different religious backgrounds. So that’s why we actually decided to pick sports. Because it brings everybody together.
What particular lessons can sports teach you?
Sandra: During a volleyball game, you select your team members based upon their abilities in the game and what they can offer. You have people from all different areas, and you have to play with them as a team. You don’t work single-handedly. You throw the ball to the next person, he catches it, and you have communicated something – you have communicated the fact that I can not stand on my own without you. If there’s a mistake and you hit someone, you must say, ‘I’m sorry. That was a mistake.’ The person doesn’t just stand up and yell at you. As long as you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ to the person, the matter is solved.
Abdulmalik: We also engage in basketball, football (soccer), handball, Scrabble and other games. And on any kind of sports field, there’s a challenge. We learn about our differences, but we all work together toward achieving a particular goal. You are not divided. You work with different people from different religions toward the common goal.
What religion are you?
Sandra: I am a Christian
Abdulmalik: And I’m a Muslim. We come from all different religious backgrounds.
What did you learn about another religion that you didn’t know before?
Abdulmalik: I learned to see things from their point of view. When you compare the religions, they’re both tended toward serving one God. We are all focusing on one thing. We are all worshipping the same God. I’ve made a whole lot of friends, but one – Dayo – she’s from the western part of the country and I myself am from the northern part of the country. We started together, we joined Peace Club together. And I got to learn a whole lot about the people of the west, and she also learned a whole lot about people from the north. We’re different, we’re all living in the same country, but we have so many wonderful things to share.
How do you think Peace Club will impact your life and your future?
Abdulmalik: Everything starts small, and from Peace Club now we are getting to learn about each other even though it is still a small group. We are getting to know people from other places, other continents and learn about their place. And through that, you get to learn about your own place and it helps make the whole world a smaller and more peaceful village for co-existence.
Sandra: It’s helping me now, already, with my interactions with people. I didn’t really used to socialize, but now I find it so easy to blend amongst people. Even if I don’t know them. Even if we come from different areas or different religions, we can get to know each other and appreciate their beliefs and try not to step on each others’ toes. As long as there is peace, anything goes.
[Photos via the Peace Initiative Network].