Article: Children believe in Sports for Peace
by Tulika Bhatija (India)
As India and Pakistan battle it out on the cricket ground today, these voices prove prophetic and timely. As an educator, we often initiate discussions and introduce fresh perspectives to students so they challenge and critique the existing ideas and develop as lifelong learners. I have always made a conscious effort to not “induce” ideas into students but share viewpoints and allow them to decipher, compare, evaluate, analyze and then arrive at a conclusion.
I felt the need for my students to interact with children in Pakistan, be it through letters, cards or Skype to understand the “other.” Often, India and Pakistan are portrayed as arch rivals and the mainstream media brings out the stark contrast between the two nations through narratives of violence. If you do a simple word association activity with students about Pakistan – cricket, army, terrorism and conflict are the dominant themes that emerge. It was important to challenge these ideas and allow students to meet the people of Pakistan through these various platforms. Peace building initiatives so far were led by teachers. We as teachers would ask students to write letters, cards or ask them to participate in Skype interactions. Students would of course do it willingly, but I always wondered are they doing it because we ask them to? How can students refuse their teachers, right?
I did not realize that these activities were making a difference and making a lasting impression on young minds. A positive change was brewing, and this was evident in the very first student-initiated group presentation, where students surprised me with the topic they had chosen for their class assembly presentation – Sports for Peace.
The selected students who planned this presentation are ardent sports fans – both boys and girls. Some are interested in cricket, while others play football & other team sports with great passion. In this assembly, they shared their views on the importance of sports in building peaceful relations with the rest of the grade.
The ideas put forth were mature, thoughtful and straight from the heart! According to one of my students, who admires Yuvraj Singh and does not miss a single match of cricket (even bunks school when there are nail-biting matches happening), shed light on the importance of cricket as a medium to bridge gaps and work towards peace. He believes that India and Pakistan are both passionate about cricket and these conflicts needs to be channelized through engagement on the ground. In his opinion, politics should not interfere with sports. A very interesting fact which I was not aware about displayed how much the fans look forward to India versus Pakistan Cricket match. According to his research 52,000 tickets were sold out in 10 minutes! This brings fans from both India and Pakistan together in the cricket stadium, which for him is a step towards building peace.
In the arena of football, another student pointed out, the game provides opportunities to players from different nationalities to meet, interact and learn from each other. Football is essentially built on collaboration which brings players together and ensures that they work as a team. New friendships are forged through these collaborations.
A student also shared the importance of rugby or American soccer in facilitating peaceful relations between countries. The game of rugby allows for post-game discussions were players share strategies which each other. For him, conversation is the one of the building blocks of initiating peace and friendship between countries.
One of the students also brought in the team dynamics observed in swimming. She talked about how swimming although an individual, competitive sport, it brings people together. Relay swimming races require collaboration. Team work needs to be celebrated. Basketball was also termed as a game of bonding. She shared examples of a coach who brought two conflicting teams together to where they trained and shared strategies, eventually bonding over the game.
This was entirely a student-led activity. It was truly heartwarming for me to see the students I taught in grade 6 and with whom I embarked upon the journey of peace exchange through letters are now looking for avenues in sports where there is scope for dialogue, conversation bonding and a shared dream of peace and friendship. As an educator who cares about this aspect of education deeply, it was a sheer joy to see my students think about this issue collectively and share it with their class. The efforts of all teachers over the last two years are bearing fruits, which is a moment of celebration. And now, once again India and Pakistan played the much awaited game of cricket, thrilling fans on both sides of the border.
Photo Source: Internet
Tulika Bathija is an educator from Mumbai. She is in search of her Sindhi heritage and ardently participates in Indo-Pak peace initiatives. One day she hopes to write stories about Indo-Pak peace and communal harmony for children and young adults.