Football (soccer) is one of the most enduring and popular sports in the world, and Haiti is no different. In Cite Soleil, the most densely-populated part of the country, young people carve out spaces to play in alleys or around abandoned properties. And a few teams and associations have shown that with a little support and mentoring, young Soleyans can become extraordinary athletes and examples of fair play and good sportsmanship. Two teams, Amateur and Inyon, have arrived at the Division 2 Championship levels. Here are just a few of those stories:
SAKALA is one of the pioneering sports-for-peace programs in Cite Soleil. It was founded in 2006 to give young people a safe space to be during a period fraught with inter-neighborhood wars. While SAKALA now offers sports ranging from volleyball to basketball to ping-pong, its first and most popular sport is football. Their 12-17 team, Inyon, plays in Division II championships and is incredibly talented, but is perhaps more well-known for defying people's expectations by winning Fair Play awards in addition to athletic ones. SAKALA combines sports with citizenship, and Inyon team members participate in urban gardening, peace-promotion activities, senior citizen assistance, and other community service.
The Haiti Initiative:
The Haiti Initiative (known as "H&I") was founded by American soccer player Tony Sanneh. They currently have a football program in lower Cite Soleil that has XXX kids currently involved. Every year, they take a select group of young Soleyans on an exchange program with young soccer players in Michigan, USA. Here is a short video about the program:
Metanoia was formed by a group of young people who had graduated from SAKALA's program and saw how much impact it had on their lives - they wanted to bring the idea of sports for peace to their neighborhood, Ti Ayiti. So they formed Metanoia and began coaching and mentoring dozens of young people across their neighborhood.
Cite Soleil used to be a basketball powerhouse, but consistent violence and instability weakened the teams and tournament system that had been set up. In recent years, more people have been forming teams and tournaments have re-started. And even more recently, in XX, the local organization ID-Haiti decided to form the first-ever city-wide team. The Cite Soleil Basketball Team now competes in the Division-2 Champsionships, and has united not only players from across Cite Soleil, but also Cite Soleil's "local Diaspora" - former residents who now live in other municipalities but are still proud to identify themselves as Soleyans.
Here is a short video about the Cite Soleil Peace Prize that talks about the Cite Soleil Basketball Team (team co-founder Sadrack Joseph received the 2014 prize) - go to 3:39 for the beginning of the clip.
Boxing is a sport for the tough, and Cite Soleil creates a lot of tough young men and women. And so boxing is a popular way to channel the energy and aggression of young people into a sport. There are several initiatives for boxing in Cite Soleil, such as the one run by Jean-Bernard Belizaire (see panel to left) and Omega Boxing Club.
And, of course, one of Cite Soleil's most famous sons is Evens Pierre, the current lightweight champion in the region and ranked 8th in the world by the World Boxing Association. Evens also has started a boxing club to teach young people the sport that saved his life and gave him his future.The following is a short film about Evens:
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To learn more about the role that SAKALA's sports program (specifically football) plays in improving young lives in Cite Soleil, read this article in Le Nouvelliste (in French) or go their website (in English).
To learn more about one boxing initiative in Cite Soleil, read this article by Agence France Presse.