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Panel discusses connection between sports, peace

Mel Flanagan | Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sports have the powerful ability to improve the world by acting as a platform to bring people together, one Iraqi refugee said at a Playing for Peace discussion Wednesday night.

 

Iraqi refugee Manar Jbara was part of an international panel that spoke at the “Playing for Peace: Dinner, Discussion and Documentary” event, held in honor of the upcoming Playing for Peace soccer tournament.

 

The Playing for Peace initiative continues this weekend with an international soccer tournament and on-campus youth clinic on Saturday. The 7-vs.-7 tournament has teams of many nationalities participating, including South Bend residents from Iraq, Jordan, Rwanda and Egypt.

 

Jbara, a soccer player since high school, grew up in Iraq in the midst of war between Iraq and Iran, and held dreams of becoming a doctor.

 

“I wanted to become a doctor to help my people stop their suffering and relieve some of their pain,” he said.

 

Jbara graduated from medical school in the top-five of his class and was offered a position at the biggest hospital in Iraq.

 

“I worked so hard to achieve my goal and the fact that the war was just starting to get fierce did not prevent me from doing what I wanted and what I knew I was able to do,” he said.

 

Despite his persistence, Jbara and his family were soon forced to leave Iraq. With help from the United States government, they came to South Bend.

 

Now, Jbara works for the University promoting Playing for Peace, volunteers as a clinical assistant serving the uninsured and is studying to pass his medical exams in the United States.

 

“I really like my job [at Notre Dame] and I really like what I am doing for people,” he said. “It will become a very big thing.”

 

Jean Kagabo, youth director for the Rwandan Midwest community, represented the Rwandese of South Bend on the panel.

 

In collaboration with Kevin Dugan, manager of youth and community programs for the athletic department, Kagabo held an event for Rwandese youth in the Midwest at Notre Dame in August.

 

“We invited the youth from all these places and they came and we played soccer, basketball, volleyball,” Kagabo said. “It was a very successful day.”

 

Kagabo said he recently learned of the great number of Rwandans who live in the United States and realized they need to collaborate to help their friends and relatives overseas.

 

Kagabo said the group is now trying to send more young people in Rwanda to colleges, since many cannot afford an education after high school.

 

The goal is for other groups across the country to see the effort Rwandans in the Midwest are putting forth, Kagabo said, and for them to do the same.

 

“If our group can do something to help a few people go to college, then another group from California will want to duplicate what we’ve done,” he said. “We want to be an inspiration to other people through forming groups of our people.”

 

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, an executive for Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) said FIFA is comprised of over 250 million soccer players, truly from all over the world.

 

Rwanda and Iraq both have strong soccer teams, Mayne-Nicholls said. He said that South Sudan, the inspiration for the Playing for Peace initiative, is currently attempting to become part of the international soccer community.

 

“These three countries are completely different, but all of them are related through sports, through soccer,” he said.

 

Following the discussion, Dugan introduced the documentary “Pelada,” produced by former Notre Dame soccer player Luke Boughen and his girlfriend Gwendolyn Oxenham, a former Duke University soccer player.

 

Boughen and Oxenham both held dreams of playing professionally, but neither one made it. The pair then decided to journey across the world in search of a different side of soccer.

 

The film follows Boughen and Oxenham as they travel across 25 countries, playing in pickup soccer games wherever they go, showing that someone is always playing the game.

 

That message relates directly back to the idea behind Playing for Peace, Dugan said.

 

“It celebrates the transcendent power of the sport at its most natural level,” he said. “War and conflict are all about a breakdown of human relationships, respect and communication. On the contrary, sport celebrates and strengthens all these things.”