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Peace and reconciliation through sport

Sri Lanka, February 15, 2011

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The decades-long civil war in Sri Lanka finally ended in May 2009, leaving 80,000 dead, many thousands more dislocated, and a legacy of mistrust, tension and lack of communication between Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities. With feelings of insecurity still high, individual incidents between members of these communities can escalate into community-wide violence; building and rebuilding connections between these communities is essential to preventing disintegration into a continued cycle of violence.

Mercy Corps’ Enhanced Capacity for Relationship Building through Sport program was designed to strengthen the ability of youth to act as a force for peace and reconciliation. Working with the Ampara District Football Association in Eastern Sri Lanka, we trained youth association leaders, community facilitators and coaches to use sports and games to teach lessons about conflict management and peace building.

Supported by funding and product donations from Nike, we worked with nearly two thousand youth from 12 villages in the district, over a period of 12 months. In addition to peace building workshops, multi-ethnic sports tournaments strengthened ties between the communities, with our evaluation showing that positive relations between participating youth increased by 20% over the course of the program.