Playing their way to a better community

In a sports ground surrounded by the Pejë/Peć mountains, Kosovo*, a group of young people are hard at play. But there is much more to their enthusiastic game than first sight. While chasing their peers across the court, they are learning about human rights.

Separated in coloured vests, students work in teams to understand ideas behind discrimination and help break down ethnic divisions. © UNMIK

Play International, with the support of human rights component of the UN Mission in Kosovo* (UNMIK), hosted a training weekend in which youngsters from across the spectrum of Kosovo* communities came together to learn about human rights laws and principles, much of it through games. Throughout the rest of the year, they will be hard at work as Play International volunteers establishing human rights clubs in their own schools and towns.

UNMIK’s human rights component not only provided financial support to Play International, it also continuously advised the association on how to integrate human rights into reconciliation efforts. Human rights officers led several training sessions on key aspects of the UN human rights mechanisms and how they were reflected in the Constitution of Kosovo*. Further, both organizations developed together a manual on how to create and manage a human rights club with a strong focus on reconciliation.

Sixteen-year-old Marigona Gashi, who lives in Skënderaj/Srbica, was attending her first Play International event to learn more tools to help combat the “many human rights concerns in Kosovo*”.

“I think it is a very good idea that we learn things by doing them in practice and it also helps us relax,” she says.

Gashi’s biggest concerns for her society include high unemployment and discrimination based on education. She says she is pleased with the progress women have made in terms of accessing education and work. 

Asmir Vraneši, 25, is also a volunteer within the Human Rights Clubs project, in addition to his work as a coordinator on a Sport4Youth project in 2015 and 2016, organising activities and training across 12 centres.

Vraneši was initially attracted to the NGO because of his interest in sport – but he quickly realized how useful sport was as a medium to learn about human rights and to bring communities together. 

“After I started working with them I realised how important sporting activities are for children, the fact that I could teach them a thing or two and that I would be someone they could look up to,” he says. “This motivated me to become a volunteer and engage in these activities.”

But it has also been a vital step in bringing together youngsters from a range of different backgrounds, he says.

“A lot of volunteers from different communities never had a chance to meet each other. It helped them understand each other better, understand their culture. It was a huge step for everyone and I believe that all of us … have acquired new friendships in other cities, but also from different communities,” Vraneši adds.

Play International Project Manager Valentina Picaldi says sport and games help the youth foster a common language.

“We believe in the power of sport as a tool to bring people together and bring youth together from different backgrounds. Through the game we can arrive at raising awareness on certain topics … Human rights is a core topic we can discuss through this methodology,” she says.

Play International has a “strong focus” on communities and what it means to be a multi-ethnic group, she points out.

According to Picaldi, the eventual aim is to raise awareness at a broader level and encourage youth to take action on their own, as multi-ethnic groups.

“The final effect should be the more aware society is, the more respectful and open people will be to others. And then more tolerant and respectful,” she adds.

The partnership with Play international has created a new avenue for UNMIK’s human rights component to reach out to youngsters and promote human rights. The plan now is to develop another round of activities that will expand the pilot project throughout Kosovo*.

*Reference to Kosovo shall be understood in full compliance with the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999) and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.

10 November 2017

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