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Using Sports to Support Youth

May 7, 2008

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Esteban Huaman for Mercy Corps  </span>
    A boy emerges from the dust of the rubble caused by last year's earthquake in Peru cradling a white dove, a symbol of hope and new beginnings. Photo: Esteban Huaman for Mercy Corps

It's not the classroom, or the doctor's office, or some other site where you might expect to find traumatized children receiving supportive services. Mercy Corps believes that athletic fields and playgrounds can be the place where emotional recovery takes place.

The Moving Forward initiative, a collaborative endeavor between Mercy Corps, NIKE and CARE aims to help youth emerge from the physical and emotional rubble of emergencies by stepping onto the soccer pitches, volleyball courts and dance halls of their recovering communities. The approach capitalizes on the capacity of coaches and teachers to use sport- and game-based methodologies to help youth recover from the trauma they experience during and after disasters.

As part of a pilot project initiated by Mercy Corps in response to the coastal earthquake in Peru last August, two dozen coaches and teachers were trained as mentors to work with kids in the most affected areas. Using sports like soccer, volleyball and dance, these mentors helped more than 300 kids cope with the psychosocial stress that follows losing homes and schools and living in crowded shelters.

Twice a week, youth joined their mentors in community play areas to take part in soccer and volleyball matches and dance instruction to build their self-esteem, trust in others, teamwork and resiliency. Each mentor was equipped with a NIKE-outfitted sport bag containing all the tools of the sport-mentor trade: soccer balls, volleyballs, practice vests, cones, rope and so on.

The experience and tools developed will help the Moving Forward initiative develop a one-of-a-kind toolkit to help child-service professionals engage youth in sports and games after natural and manmade disasters strike. The toolkit will be refined by all of the partners as we learn more about how to best use sports and games to promote kids' psychosocial recovery.

Food, water and shelter are essential to disaster recovery. But the power of sports can't be overlooked in helping youth recover their optimism and hope.