Thursday, January 19, 2012

Back in Kagaba

We recently found a window of opportunity to continue the development of our work in a community that has seen much violence and conflict in recent times. Kagaba is home to one of three communities we have selected to work closely with because of its connection to intercommunity conflict and violence. Working in Kagaba has proven to be a huge challenge for us since starting the Ituri Project in September due to the insecurity in the area caused by militia and rebel groups. We were unable to return to Kagaba immediately following our first visit in September because a militia group camped out in the bush moved into the community to pillage and reclaim the buried body of a spiritual leader.  Last week, we saw an opportunity to get back into Kagaba and we decided to take it.

We were greeted with great big smiling faces and a visible eagerness to pick-up right where we had left off in September. This welcome was a comforting assurance that we needed to be there. Deciding to return to Kagaba, however, was not an easy process as we had much to weigh and consider. The thought of working in an area frequented by militia and rebel groups is both daunting and scary. In making this decision, specific questions arose such as: Will the militia/rebels return? Will we be safe? How can we work in an environment wherein insecurity reigns? As we closely followed any news coming out of Kagaba over the past three months we were periodically reminded of the importance of getting back there. Conversations with our project committees in Vilo and Bogoro, local officials, UN workers, and expatriates/missionaries all seemed to be encouraging us to go back to Kagaba as their inclusion is essential to any meaningful reconciliation efforts.

As questions concerning our safety filled our heads we were presented with a possibility. We were offered a military escort. What a dilemma! Could we effectively talk about peace education while being accompanied by a military escort? What if this was our only chance to get back to Kagaba? We were also well informed of continued intercommunity violence between Kagaba and Bogoro as graphic stories were shared about the latest attacks. In addition to this, pressure increased about the need for the government to step in and bring security to the area between these two communities. Given this context, a military escort seemed like a very smart and prudent way for us to return to Kagaba.

We decided that despite the insecurity, despite our fears of not knowing when and where the militia would show up next, despite the possible need for governmental intervention, and despite the continuation of intercommunity violence, we would return to Kagaba because we are needed there.  This decision comes with a challenge and responsibility, namely, what can a small group of individuals do to transform this culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and non-violence? We have hit the ground running as we facilitated our first peace education seminar in Kagaba and played in a community soccer match, which saw many community members coming together in support of the big game. We are excited and interested to see that which can be achieved in working towards reconciliation with our good friends from Kagaba.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Day to Remember - Ituri Team Blog Post

As we pulled into Vilo, we didn’t know what to expect...Scott and I had just come from an early morning meeting in Bogoro with a group of people who have physical disabilities with whom we talked about adapting sports to their specific needs.  We were both excited and anxious as we had plans to participate in several activities in Vilo that day, such as starting the work of building a soccer field, visiting the primary school and facilitating our first peace education seminar for our committee.

Earlier that week Scott and I set out to do what we thought would be a simple task: get the tools that the community of Vilo needs to start building the soccer field (a 20 pound sledge hammer, two pick axes, and two mining bars). It took us an entire morning to get these tools together in Bunia’s markets as we haggled for the best prices possible and recruited the help of local blacksmiths and welders in assembling our newly purchased tool parts.  Later that same day we traveled to Bogoro and were able to deliver these tools to our point of contact in Vilo, Roger. We felt a sense of achievement about being able to supply the community with the additional tools they need to start the work on the field, yet we were filled with uncertainty and apprehension as we thought about the daunting task that lay ahead of us. 

After having surveyed the field during a previous visit to Vilo, Scott informed the rest of the Ituri Team of the enormity of building this field. First, he said, we need to clear the field of all tree stumps, boulders/rocks and various different types of plants, grass and weeds that are currently on the field. Then we will need to flatten the field, which has a change in elevation of approximately 15 feet from it’s lowest to it’s highest points, carefully building up retention walls wherever dirt has been displaced. We were left wondering whether this was a realistic goal.

With this in mind, we got out of the truck and started walking to the field where we were hoping to see a large number of people. Roger had informed us that the village chief had gathered everyone together earlier that week to organize a community workday on the field. As we walked out onto the field we were amazed by the sight of dozens of men working away in the heat of the day, breaking down the massive boulders that seemed to grow in size as the dirt around them was dug-up. Soon after, groups of boys and young men were organized to start digging out the tree stumps that lay deep in the ground. Each age group was responsible for digging out its own tree stump, which resulted in a healthy competition between groups to see who would get their tree stump out first. Scott and I began to think that with this amount of community support perhaps building this field is not only a possibility but also the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, Selina made her way down to the primary school where she paid visits to no less than ten different classrooms. Students filed out of their classrooms for recess and Selina took the opportunity to make some new friends. After recess, Selina walked into the classrooms and students greeted her in unison. She was able to spend time observing school lessons, learning a bit of French grammar and practicing her Swahili in the packed classrooms holding anywhere from 30 to 50 children in each room.

As school was coming to a close, some members of the local soccer team approached Scott and me to see if we wanted to participate in what we understood to be a pick-up soccer game. Of course Scott and I said yes and so we walked down to the school courtyard, which also functions as the community’s soccer field. Children began to assemble around the three of us as more and more community members came down to the soccer field. Scott and I were ushered off into separate classrooms where our respective teams were meeting. Scott and I jogged out onto a very hilly, dusty, hard and rocky soccer field with our respective teams and began warming up in the sweltering midday heat of Congo. As we looked around us we realized that we were surrounded by hundreds of fans in what appeared to be the entire community of Vilo.  

The match got underway and we quickly realized how different this game was from the game we grew up playing. Due to the rough conditions of the field we noticed how the nature of the game seemed to change as players preferred to keep the ball in the air rather than play it on the ground and deal with the unpredictable surface of the field. The soccer game was an amazing event for us as it clearly showed the importance of sport for community and how it can be used as a powerful tool to bring people together.

As the match came to a close Selina was busy preparing for our first peace education seminar. During her preparations, as usual, Selina drew the attention of a number of children. Selina decided that she was going to seize the opportunity in what became an impromptu peace education lesson by drawing smiley faces on sticky notes and asking the children what it was. “Nini ni?” Selina asked in Swahili, which means, “What is it?” She then responded to her own question by saying, “Cheka” and “Furahi”, which mean “laugh” and “happy.” Selina continued this activity with the children as she waited for people to come into the meeting. We noticed that when the children left the room they posted these smiley faces around the community, sharing their smiles with their friends and neighbors and putting a few smiles on our own faces. 

Our first peace education seminar went extremely well as committee members interacted with topics ranging from the difference between negative and positive conflict to what the idea of peace means to us on a personal level. We noticed that our committee members were really engaging with this material and that some who hadn’t spoken in previous meetings were now openly sharing their thoughts. This truly was a day to remember and it is what we have been working towards since our arrival in Congo. We are hopeful that we will have many more days like it in the coming months and that our work in the Ituri Region is marked by these experiences.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Community Meetings - Ituri Team Blog Post

We are really encouraged with the amount of work we have been able to accomplish in the last month since first arriving in Bunia. We have spent time in each of the three communities we are targeting (Vilo, Bogoro, and Kagaba) setting up committees with whom we aim to work closely as we continue to develop our project.

We started in each community by organizing a community meeting, which was attended by elders and representatives from various groups of the community. In Vilo and Kagaba this meeting was pretty much open to all who wanted to come as we had filled-to-capacity meetings with faces of curious kids peaking through windows to hear about what was going on. In Kagaba, we were welcomed by a traditional community clap greeting and were even given a limb full of bananas as we left! These meetings were translated in Swahili, French, and English and lasted about 3 hours. The communities nominated individuals to represent different groups from their community and to be their voice on our committee. These people generally included the local chief, community leaders, a women’s representative, adult representatives for youth, two teenagers, teachers, pastors, and a person with physical disabilities.
Scott capturing the attention of kids from Vilo

Our experience in Bogoro was a little different from that of Vilo and Kagaba. It seems to us that the community in Bogoro has different expectations for our project.  During our first community meeting there was not the same community wide participation that we experienced in the other two villages as only a smaller group attended this first meeting in Bogoro. Based on questions asked with this group it is clear that the dynamics in Bogoro are starkly different from that which we observed and experienced in Vilo and Kagaba. We have decided to slow down the development of our activities in Bogoro until we can come to agreement with community members on the vision of our project, which is to bring the youth together of three communities through a sport and peace education program.  
Selina with her friends from Vilo

In between community and committee meetings the Ituri Team has really enjoyed getting to know the youth in each community. Scott has been making friends by standing and walking on his hands…a site to see! Selina has been a real hit with the girls in the communities as she chats away in Swahili with her new friends and I have enjoyed sitting down with the kids and sharing with them some of the items we have brought along with us from the US such as our hammocks and books. The time that we have spent with the youth in each community reminds us of why we are here and gives us the energy and motivation required to get through our lengthy meetings. 

Stephen sitting down with kids from Bogoro
We have also been making some new friends in the Bunia area where we are living via an English-speaking church service Sunday evenings. We have been invited by the MedAir team to play volleyball on Saturdays and have also started to make friends with a group from Samaritan’s Purse.  Daily power outages have also called for us to be creative in our ability to find things to do without electricity. Stadtland (a German game similar to scattergories), Catch Phrase, our own made up games, teaching new card games to our host family, have all been ways we have managed to find ways to make the best of our time together.    

Friday, October 7, 2011

Adyeri, Amoty, Abooki - Ituri Team Blog Post

Karibu! Bienvenue! Welcome! This is the first of the Ituri Team’s blog posts, through which we hope to share our journey in Eastern Congo. Scott, Selina, and I (Stephen), “the Ituri Team,” have moved to Bunia, in the Ituri region of Eastern Congo where we are working on a project aimed at bringing together the youth of three divided communities through sports and peace education programs. This is Sports4HOPE’s first project and we are thrilled to be a part of this new experience.

We are writing to you from Bunia, so our journey has already achieved its first milestone: getting to Congo. This was not an easy task, taking us about four days from when we left Atlanta airport to arriving in Bunia and requiring of us to travel by plane, taxi, bus, motorbike, car, boat, and land cruiser! Needless to say, we are happy to be settling in Bunia and getting used to life in Eastern Congo. Daily medication, sleeping under mosquito nets, boiled water, daily power outages, early morning calls to prayer, dusty and seemingly impassable roads, awkward moments of not knowing how to respond correctly in Swahili, and being called ‘muzungu’ or white person by every child under the age of seven are just a few of the things that we will be getting used to as we adjust to life in Bunia.

A second milestone for us was organizing our first project committee in Vilo, one of the three communities targeted by our project. What an experience to sit down in front of a room full of people both young and old looking at you, waiting to hear what new idea you are bringing to their community; what a challenge! The meeting took several hours, was translated in three languages, and grew in numbers as time went on due to the news spreading throughout the community of our team’s presence. The results are encouraging as we have a community-elected committee to help direct the development of our activities in Vilo, something which we believe will be vital to the success of our project.     

The name of our blog may seem a bit strange, however, it has been chosen because these are the names given to us by our local host Kalongo and his wife Aiki. Kalongo is the coordinator of Synergie Simama, our partnering local non-profit organization, and has graciously opened up his home to the Ituri Team for the duration of our time in Bunia.  Adyeri is the name given to Selina, Amoty is the name given to Scott, and Abooki is the name given to me. These types of names are given to those who are part of a community and the use of which is traditionally restricted to within a community. We already feel very much apart of a community thanks to Kalongo and Synergie Simama.

In addition to the Ituri Team’s blog (all posts will be here, on the main Sports4HOPE blog), we invite you to follow our individual blogs as we would like to share with you our individual experiences here in Eastern Congo. You can follow Selina’s by clicking here, Scott’s by clicking here, and mine by clicking here. We look forward to sharing this journey with you.  

Stephen Reynard on behalf of the Ituri Team


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Departure date set

Hi everyone,

Sports4HOPE has set their departure date; September 22nd.  Flights booked, visa acquired, team prepared.  On this day three of the Sports4HOPE team members will head out to the Democratic Republic of Congo where we will put into action the program we have been working toward for the past 3 years.  We will be setting up soccer leagues and running peace education programs in 3 small villages outside of Bunia, a city on the eastern border of DRC.

Please check back periodically.  When we are on the ground in Congo we will be trying to update our blog at least once a week.

Thank you all for your support.

-Posted by Scott

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Summer Times

Sports4HOPE's soccer guru Scott Brelsford (far left in red) shares how he spent his summer promoting sport & peace education with the help of The Boys and Girls Club...

Hey everyone! Now that summer has come to an end, I wanted to share a few words about Sports4HOPE’s first fund-raising event which occurred this July in my home state of Tennessee...

With the help of the Keystone Group from the Boys and Girls Club (Of Murfreesboro, TN), I was able to run the soccer portion of a sport fund-raising clinic for kids ranging from 7-14 years of age. The turnout was fantastic and allowed us to do various drills and mini games which culminated in a full scrimmage after an awesome lunch break that was sponsored in part by Miss Tennessee.

By collecting donations in exchange for a day of sports training, the club was able to raise money that will help kids in DR Congo benefit from the same type of leagues that kids in the US experience. We also taught the youths about Sports4HOPE's mission. I explained that while kids here are able to learn sportsmanship, teamwork, develop respect for other players and coaches through sport, kids in less developed or conflict affected countries don't always have these opportunities. The kids agreed that all people, young and old, here or abroad, should have access to sports - which is something we take for granted.

At a grassroots level, the training session was similar to what we anticipate the beginning stages of our work in the Congolese villages will look like. However, the training for the boys and girls of Murfreesboro was just for one day, whereas training and coaching the kids in the Congo will be longterm. In the end, it's all about kids coming together for a common purpose - to learn the value of relationships and teamwork through sport, and thus helping peace move forward...

Scott Brelsford

Sport & Design
Stay tuned for more to come and make sure to join our Facebook fan page!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

And so it continues....

So this is a little delayed BUT....

....Happy New Year from all of us on the Sports4HOPE team. We hope that 2010 is off to anexcellent start!

We just wanted to update you on everything that transpired in 2009 as well as fill you in on what is on the horizon for us this coming year.

2009 was definitely a defining year for our organization. What started out as an idea in the head of the Reynard brothers has turned into a full-fledged non-profit organization (complete with 501(c)(3) approval!) with a clear mission and vision, a functioning board of directors, a great website, and a partner organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Needless to say, we are very pleased with what we were able to accomplish this past year, and we are very thankful for all the support and encouragement that you, our friends and family, have provided.

We expect 2010 to be no less pivotal and exciting as we ai
m to begin our pilot project over the course of the year. We have our work cut out for us, but we are already gearing up for the ride. Members of our team are participating in opportunities that are really helping us build our organizational capacity and will ensure that Sports4HOPE will be as strong and effective as possible. Team member activities include working in program services for a disabled sports organization, completing degrees in International Peace and Conflict Resolution as well as International Relations and Diplomacy, relocating to France for project and language training, and working as a coach for training and development with a professional soccer team! Our hope is to have a team member actually living on location in DRC sometime this year to begin the tangible work of Sports4HOPE. We’d love to report by the end of the year that kids in the villages of Kagaba, Vilo, and Bogoro are playing sports and laying the groundwork for peace!

Many, many thanks for your continued interest, guidance, questions, and support. We truly could not do it without you. Be sure to look out for more updates as we journey through the year. In the mean time, check out our website (, shoot us an email, and keep us in your thoughts!

Best Regards,

The Sports4HOPE Team
Stephen Reynard
Paul Reynard
Cam MacMillan
Rachel Brophy
Scott Brelsford
Jessie Ensminger