GOAL! : Playing Soccer for Peace in Haiti’s Largest Slum
What’s the best way to teach peace and nonviolence? For youth in Cité Soleil, one of Haiti’s most underdeveloped areas, 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 into competing turf 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 this 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 twelve and took the goalkeeper position, eventually playing at SAKALA when the program established itself 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 – which in Haitian Creole translate loosely to “this can be here.” The program is meant as a reference point, offering a different vision for what Cité Soleil can be. After ten 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.
Soccer is a proven winner with the youth. Over 150 boys and girls who range from 9 to 24 years old participate in the program annually. It attracts kids from sections all over Cité Soleil and mixes players to break down harmful stereotypes about rival neighborhoods while 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, and SAKALA’s 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, Karls offers proudly. For youth from Cité Soleil, and SAKALA, this is an achievement worth celebrating.
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Ted Oswald is the Policy Analyst and Advocacy Coordinator, and has shared the position with his wife Katharine since July 2014. From California, he continued his studies in forced migration studies in Cairo, Egypt and law in Philadelphia, PA. He is a licensed attorney and the author of the Libète Limyè Mysteries, a series of novels set in present-day Haiti. You can follow MCC Haiti Advocacy on Facebook and Twitter.