By Aya Albadarneh, Generations For Peace 

Throughout her journey in the Youth PLUS Programme, our colleague Aya Albadarneh shares reflections about her experiences and insights, shaped by connecting with youth leaders across Europe to train them on GFP’s Sport For Peace approach as a tool to address refugee crises.

In the wake of global conflicts, the dire situation of millions of displaced Ukrainians has captured global attention. Seeking refuge in neighbouring countries like Poland, Germany, and Romania, the immediate focus has been on providing basic necessities and psychosocial support. Amidst this crisis, as we have long experienced at Generations For Peace (GFP) working with different communities, we have identified a profound need to address longer-term challenges and foster social cohesion, particularly among people affected by displacement and host communities.

We have experienced the impact of peace interventions, particularly through sport, on enhancing feelings of protection and belonging for refugees and mitigating anti-refugee sentiments. This is where we believe programmes like Youth PLUS: Peacebuilding and Leadership Using Sport come to shine.

“The need for peace on a global scale is undeniable; the methods we employ to pursue it are varied and shaped by conflicts and differing contexts. One thing I have learned to be true, whatever the context: while peace is greatly needed, young people’s involvement in peacebuilding is even greater”. Aya Albadarneh

Youth PLUS recognises the indispensable role of young leaders in building peace within communities affected by refugee crises. We designed the programme utilising our Sport For Peace curriculum to focus on the capacity development of youth leaders working with established local organisations already active in communities hosting Ukrainian refugees.

“Youth in communities impacted by the Ukrainian Refugee Crisis are in a unique position to take the violent conflicts they too often experience in their own communities – wherever they might be – and transform them into peacebuilding opportunities. They, themselves, are key to the sustainability, inclusiveness, and success of peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts at grassroots levels that, when combined, form global communities with far-reaching impact.”

“Utilising Sport for good programming is identified by its viable strategy to address these needs, leveraging carefully designed activities to promote behaviour change, rebuild trust, heal from conflict trauma, and foster tolerance, thereby contributing to social cohesion beyond mere resource mobilisation”. Albadarneh Aya

The GFP’s Sport For Peace curriculum was adapted to this programme, with trainings conducted online, as self-paced and instructor-led, in a synchronous and asynchronous mode. It focused on three main topics: Community Needs Assessment, Sport For Peace, and participatory Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning.

Youth PLUS’s capacity-building approach provided the volunteers and youth leaders from the EU-based organisations the knowledge to use what they learn about the Sport For Peace approach in their own work beyond this programme period. Aiming for the participants to use what they have learned to implement sustained activities for children, youth, and adults in their community, addressing local concerns they identified.

The sessions emphasised institutional sustainability by reinforcing concepts such as (a) prioritising local needs and leveraging existing strengths and structures with credible local partners and communities through a grassroots and participatory approach, (b) being volunteer-based, and (c) integrating continuous feedback, learning, innovation, and adaptation into programme design.

“I discovered various aspects including the definition of Sport For Peace and its distinctions from regular sports, the important roles and disparities between the facilitators and coaches, as well as technical tools such as the planning model for organising events or activities within the organisation to achieve our goals.”  Mariia Romaniuta (Female), Organisation: V4Sport, Country: Poland

“I learned about the difference between violence and isolated episodes of violence. The main issue with violence is the deep-rooted nature rather than its surface manifestations. A conflict can either be transformed into peace and understanding or have the potential to lead to violence.” Marian Popescu (Male), Organisation: Te Aud Romania, Country: Romania