By Gale Julius Dada
Despite a horrific civil war dividing the people of South Sudan, nearly 400 athletes just participated in a week-long peacebuilding event.
Young South Sudanese athletes from around the country participated in a national sports competition from January 27 to February 4 to promote peace. Athletes under the age of 20 competed in the government-run event, playing football, volleyball, and competing in field events.
"Sport can bring peace because in football there's no one – there's no tribe there, people cannot be separate," said athlete Emmanuel Tobi. "In football, people can be together."
Athlete Sarah Adeng agreed. "As we are there, in the compound, we just see ourselves as brothers and sisters,” Ms Adeng said. "We don't see ourselves as coming from different regions – I just see myself, we are just in one country – a peaceful country."
South Sudan’s Minister of Education Deng Deng Hoc Yai stressed the need for unity in his speech at the competition.
"We have seen how happy we can be together – and this is a great thing,” Mr Hoc Yai said. “We can always be happy if we choose to be happy, so unity is very important."
"One day peace can come to South Sudan,” said athlete Melo Ateny, “but peace is going - the way that peace is going to come - we must be together as South Sudanese, we must put our aims together, stick together, talk together, eat together as South Sudanese. We can forget we are [from different tribes] then peace can come."
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General David Shearer also addressed the crowd, emphasizing what the athletes participating represent for the war-torn country. the event. "[It’s] an opportunity for people form right across the country – youth, and future leaders – to play and engage and remind ourselves that we are here for a greater purpose, and that is to seek harmony, peace, and prosperity in South Sudan."