Building Bridges with a Cricket Bat
By Midhat Ali Zaidi
Quetta, Balochistan, Pakistan, April 2014 - As the ball flies off towards the boundary, after making contact with Kalimullah’s bat, another child runs after it looking skyward. This may be an ordinary sight on a street or community playground in Pakistan, but there is more to this gruelling cricket match being played at the headquarters of the Balochistan Boys Scouts’ Association (BBSA) in Quetta.
Cricket it is said, is the force that binds the country in an unbreakable bond. Whenever there is a cricket match being played by the Pakistani team, the whole country prays in unison for their victory, forgetting all their differences of caste, creed, ethnicity, sect or religion. For a country like Pakistan, which is inhabited by a diverse populace, this is no small feat.
“I have made many friends here; I cried when it was time to go back after the scouting camp two weeks ago”, confides Kalimullah (14), a student of a Madrassa (religious seminary) in Killi, a village located in the Kuchlak area in the suburbs of Quetta.
“ I don’t have to know which area or ethnicity the boys come from; while we are here, we are just scouts, we work as a team to keep our tents clean, cook, offer prayers together and sit around the bonfire at night.” Kalimullah (14), Madrassa student
“The first day of the scouting camp began with a morning assembly, after which we were given an hour’s recess. It was then that we made friends with other boys here,” Kalimullah says. “I don’t have to know which area or ethnicity they come from; while we are here, we work as a team to keep our tents clean, cook, offer prayers together and sit around the bonfire at night.”
Sports have always been a means of placating rivalries by indulging in healthy competition. The concept has been put to use at the BBSA where these children have come together from areas in and around Quetta, as part of UNICEF-supported Social Cohesion and Resilience Programme. Funded by the Government of the Netherlands, the programme aims at building bridges between members of different communities living in the city and its suburbs, where the cultural and ethnic differences have created divisions among the people, reflected by segregation of residential areas in the restive capital of Balochistan province.
In the first phase of the programme, which is based in Quetta, Jafferabad and Naseerabad districts of Balochistan, different schools and madrassas have been engaged in scouting and sporting activities to promote sentiments of peace and harmony among the youth, and most importantly to provide a setting for them to learn for themselves that diversity is important and that commonality also exists.
The activities are being arranged on a regular basis under the umbrella of UNICEF and its implementing partner BBSA, to bring together children from different communities residing in the province to interact with each other in an inclusive environment. Children participate in scout camps held around the year, while informal sports days are organized on a weekly basis to provide them an opportunity to meet more often.
“Many schools from across the province send their students to the BBSA scout camps, but the most difficult task was to bring the madrassas on board,” says Sabir Niazi, Secretary BBSA. “We adopted a three tiered strategy to engage them. First, we held Quranic recitation competitions; once we had their trust we offered to provide sports kits for the students, which were given to us by UNICEF. Only when we had their full confidence, could we invite their children to the sports events and scout camps here.”
Muhammad Sabir is a young teacher at the local madrassa who has been sent to supervise the Talibs (students acquiring religious education) during their day-trip to the BBSA camp. Wearing a black turban and robes, he sits in a corner and observes the on-going game of football, the second most popular sport in Balochistan.
“I think what they are doing here is very good; Islam teaches us that everyone is first a human being and later a Muslim or non-Muslim. To live together in harmony, everyone must also be able to relate to each other.” Muhammad Sabir, Seminary Teacher
“I think what they are doing here is very good; Islam teaches us that everyone is first a human being and later a Muslim or non-Muslim,” says Sabir, who has never travelled outside of his home town. “To live together in harmony, everyone must also be able to relate to each other. We have children from different regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan enrolled at our madrassa.”
These activities aim to instil in these children the values, attitudes and knowledge to promote social cohesion and also equip them with the necessary skills to show resilience in the face of disasters, adversary and change.
The concept has not only helped in building bridges between different ethic and social groups but has also facilitated the main-streaming of marginalized communities.
Ravi (17), another youngster attending the sports camp, who comes from the Hindu minority, says that he has made friends here with Talibs and other children alike. “When we first came here we were reluctant in engaging with others, but then we got to play together and started becoming friends.”
The project and its achievement in bringing youngsters from conflict riddled communities’ together in an atmosphere that encourages comradeship and helps in establishing lasting bonds of friendship between them, substantiates the need to confront differences and prejudices at their very root. Engaging a generation of children and youth will not only impact their attitudes and decisions directly, but will also contribute to a wider social cohesion between and through these communities as this next generation become the leaders of tomorrow.