Score like a girl

A blogpost of August 23, 2010 ·

During my traineeship at the Prince Claus Fund, I encountered many remarkable and noble projects, which they have supported throughout the years. One of the most wonderful initiatives I found with an organization called Esperance. They are active in Rwanda and aim their activities at the Rwandan youth. Exploring different disciplines by combining sports and culture, their activities are to emancipate the younger generations in Rwanda and provide them with more self-esteem and the feeling that their lives are worth living. Since the genocide in 1994, the country has been in an unstable condition, in which children hardly have room for fun and being young.

Sports, and particularly football, are increasingly used as a social instrument. For children to perform in a team and to be able to show what they are worth in a playful way. By means of football, Esperance intends to break social and cultural barriers, break the taboos, which exist around the genocide and provide opportunities for discussion. Although in theory this sounds beautiful, I always wondered how this would actually work in practice. I mean, if you grow up in living standards below human dignity, then a game of football alone brings enormous joy and relief. How are the social aims worked into this? Esperance introduces an amazing set of rules, through which it immediately becomes clear how football works as a social instrument. This set of rules is called “Football Amahoro”, which refers to the Amahoro Stadium where Esperance football competitions are hosted. During these competitions each team consists of an equal number of boys and girls. However, only girls are allowed to score. This requests a high level of cooperation and strategic insight to use everyone’s position on the field to its highest effect. Moreover, it requests from the boys in the field to regard the girls in their team at an equal level and it builds on the self-esteem of the girls, who get to play a decisive role in the game. In addition, Football Amahoro does not use any referees. The children in the field need to call each other upon their fouls, which consequentially leads to much less fouls during the game. The children rather perform fair play, than risk being called upon by their fellow players.

This completely new and unconventional way of playing football, made me realize how football indeed can be used to open up discussions on social issues and change social behaviour, and thus be a social instrument. It is truly hoped that organizations like Esperance will receive enough support in the future to maintain their activities and can keep contributing to the emancipation of Rwandan youth. Acknowledgement of importance comes from diverse sides, as Esperance for instance also is partner in the FIFA Football for Hope programme. Despite critiques of using football for its automatic large media attention, football amahoro truly represents a praiseworthy initiative, which can only be applauded.

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