During the fifth National Unity Day celebrations, a series of workshops for athletes were held to promote peace, reconciliation, unity, and social cohesion. These are some of the key messages they are taking back to their communities.

Young athlete painting messages of peace during the workshop. Photo: UNDP South Sudan

27 January 2020, Juba, South Sudan: The fifth National Unity Day celebrations in South Sudan, annually organized by the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports in collaboration with Japan International Development Agency (JICA), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was held over nine days in Juba from 25 January to 2 February 2020. The sporting event drew over 500 young athletes from across the country over peaceful competition in their chosen sports -- football, volleyball, basketball or wrestling.

The theme of this year's event, ‘Sports for peace and national cohesion,’ articulated the Government of South Sudan's mission to demonstrate that the youngest nation can engage in fair play, teamwork, and unity, regardless of ethnic background.

During the event, UNDP, through the Peace and Community Cohesion project, conducted a series of workshops for all participants, including players, coaches and government officials. The workshops provided an opportunity to promote peace, reconciliation, unity and social cohesion among the young South Sudanese. 

Athletes were asked about what peace means to them. Photo: UNDP South Sudan

The sessions were facilitated in collaboration with Anataban, a home-grown artist collective based in Juba. The young athletes were split into three groups and assigned to come up with peace messages through creative forms of expression, such as writing, singing or painting.

As a result, the painting group came up with ten drawings, graphically depicting images of peace and reconciliation. The key messages presented by the group to the participants focused on the importance of unity and the role young people in South Sudan play as ambassadors of peace. One of the messages read, “Sports promote peace and unity. We are one people, one nation”. While another message read, “Peace is the source of life. It can change conflict.”

Footballers representing different regions of South Sudan present their peace message through art. Photo: UNDP South Sudan

On asking the athletes what peace meant, Dani Gatlueng, a footballer from Bentiu said, “Peace is about improving political stability, food security, and development in the country. The spirit of forgiveness amongst young South Sudanese and elders is the key to peace in the country.”

Meanwhile, in a participatory manner, the singing group composed a rap song with a strong message to young people in the country to embrace unity and shun war. An excerpt from the song reads, “Peace is the future, peace is love, we are tired of, we are tired of suffering, we want peace.”

Taking back to their communities’ strong messages of peace, volleyball player Blessing Awal from Pibor shared, “Peace is a wonderful thing where people come together from different places. I learned cooperation with one another, problem-solving together and our role in uniting people. When I go home, I plan to promote peace to other young people like me.”

The National Unity Day was first launched in 2015 as a sporting event to unite the young people of South Sudan beyond tribal, political, and cultural differences, as well as allowing them to get to know each other during the event. The sports played at the event are football, athletics, volleyball, and – for the first time this year - wrestling. Read more here.

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