Youth - Girls' sports initiative picks up
**By Hanna Sundberg
August 2005, Hargeisa, Somaliland - Girls in Hargeisa, capital of Northwest Somalia (‘Somaliland’), now have a rare chance to engage in sports activities courtesy of a unique partnership between UNICEF and the Somaliland Culture and Sports Association (SOCSA).
The SOCSA Sports Centre is the only venue for women to play basketball, table tennis and volleyball in the whole of Somaliland. Currently, about 20 girls regularly train at the centre and their skills are picking up. On the occasion that UNICEF female staff visit the centre, members of the girls’ basketball team explode with excitement as they welcome them to play.
Most of the girls have a predominant desire to excel in sports. One of them, Amal Nuur, 20, hopes to become the trainer of her team while another, Xamda Ahmed, 18, just wants to be a 'better sportswoman." However, the road to their dreams has not been easy.
One of the girls who gave her name as Zahrah said convincing the community to support their initiative was a major challenge. “Before starting the club, we had to go round our neighbourhood and create awareness about our plans. Eventually, we won over the community and when we had our first training, the community turned up.”
Playing basketball gives the girls a welcome break from their daily household chores. “We feel stronger and happier and after the training we hold conversations and get to know each other better as friends, ” says Zahrah.
Enclosed with a high wall structure, the basketball court gives the girls the freedom necessary to engage in play. But the girls have to worry about stones thrown by some unruly members of the public from outside. To protect the girls, the centre aims to build a roof for the court even as they work towards getting more public acceptance and support for the girls. Part of the challenge stems from the shortage of opportunities and facilities for recreational facilities as in most parts of Somalia. Specifically in Goljano, the area where the SOCSA centre is located in Hargeisa, more facilities are needed to enable the high population of children and young people use their time creatively and responsibly.
Bashir Ahmed, 20, lives in Goljano and is aware of the problems that the SOCSA girls face. He says that the problem is one of ignorance. Personally, he has no problem with girls playing sports.
“The boys who throw stones need a trainer themselves. When they were given time to play at the SOCSA Centre, they started differing,” says Khadra Kalil, founder of SOCSA who had to wage an uphill task to realize her dream of providing girls with a chance to engage in sports. For her, standing up for the centre is a regular challenge for which she has found support.
One of the supporters is Amina Ali. For the last 11 years, Amina and her 10 children have lived in the neighbourhood where the SOCSA centre is located. Amina's family runs a tea shop there. Amina supports Khadra’s work and tries to keep an eye on the troublemakers: “The boys need to be kept busy,” she says.
Amina thinks the situation would improve if the boys were sensitized and got education and sports facilities. When asked who in the community could possibly help the boys, her answer comes with a smile: “I’ll ask Allah to help them.”
About the Somaliland Culture and Sports Association (SOCSA)
SOCSA is a non-governmental non-political organization. It aims to enhance culture, sports and education for Somaliland women and girls.
How it all started
In August 2001, a SOCSA survey of the State House community in Hargeisa found that there was need for basic education, especially amongst young girls and female youth.
SOCSA officials then met community elders, the Director General Ministry of Education, and the Regional Education Officer and gained their approval and support for a non-formal education programme. SOCSA currently operates a basic literacy programme through which students learn Somali, math and English. The programme has 90 females aged 7 to 30 years.
Currently, the SOCSA Centre is located within a small walled compound necessary to ensure that it is able to provide opportunities for girls' physical education and recreation. SOCSA trains the girls in volleyball, table tennis and basketball. It also organizes regular tournaments in these sports. The centre provides the girls with an opportunity to meet regularly, train and compete as a team and improve their physical fitness. The sports programme has enrolled 30 girls aged 13 to 19 years.
SOCSA also works to promote gender issues in partnership with other local and international NGOs. SOCSA's work is based on the belief that opportunities for education, recreation and employment should be available to all members of the community in a fair and just manner.
SOCSA and UNICEF
Among the initiatives in which SOCSA has collaborated with UNICEF are: training of coaches for girls’ basketball and volleyball teams; awareness raising on the harmful effects of female genital mutilation; reviewing activities under the Youth Broadcasting Initiative; organizing culture and sports week activities and commemoration of events such as the International Day of Peace, Youth Week, World AIDS Day, Day of the African Child, Africa Malaria Day and International Women’s Day.
**For more information contact: Hanna Sundberg, Project Officer, Education, UNICEF Somalia. E-mail: email@example.com. Tel: +254-20 623 950/ 623955/ 623862 ext.224. Fax: +254-20 623 965/ 520 640.