Sport for development and peace – Jamaica chosen in global research project

The UNICEF Jamaica team is proud to have been involved in some pioneering sport for development projects, such as EduSport, which helps children improve key life skills while learning basic numeracy and literacy. The recently launched local arm of Fight For Peace, is a positive example of how to use martial arts to develop personal discipline and coach young people into employment.

Recently, Fight for Peace country lead Kellie Magnus introduced us to Simon Darnell, a researcher for Sport for a Better World: A Social Scientific Investigation of the Sport for Development and Peace Sector. Darnell is an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, Canada, which is doing the research together with the University of Loughborough, UK. The project focuses on human rights, reconciliation and peace-building and disability in Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Zambia and Jamaica.

That sport is a big part of Jamaican society we all know – Olympian Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador – and has even been used as a tool to bring together warring gangs. We sat down with Simon to learn more about what we can expect from the research findings being published next spring.

fight for peace jamaica st elizabeth
Fight for PeaceYoung Fight for Peace coaches, photographed at the Treasure Beach Sports Park in St Elizabeth.

Jamaica was chosen for the project as a representative of the Caribbean region. We wanted a country that we knew had some amount of activity going on that could be termed ‘sport for development and peace.’ And we certainly haven’t been disappointed; there is lots of SDP activity going on in Kingston and across the island.

I’m not sure that the ‘prowess’ of sport in Jamaica is the key to effective SDP activities – I would say that it is more about achieving a good fit between the people, programs and development issues that are at stake. It’s also a matter of projects being well run, sustainably funded and culturally relevant. Sport can certainly be at the centre of these kinds of projects, but most of the research suggests that any success is more about the ‘how’ of SDP projects than the ‘what’ of the tool being used.

The Child Resiliency Programme (supported by the Violence Prevention Alliance) has been getting important referrals from schools (i.e. schools send students to the program) and has worked closely with teachers to improve their support and contributions to the program. I would say that the programme’s integration of sport within a broadly cultural based set of practices and activities (drumming, dance, etc) seems quite effective and could be replicated. Basing these programs on sport alone may not reach the maximum number of youth or have the broadest impact.

fight for peace Fletcher’s Land Community Centre jamaica
Fight for PeaceYouths being taught boxing skills by Fight For Peace at the Fletcher’s Land Community Centre in Kingston.

Despite its rapid growth, we have limited knowledge of how the SDP is structured socially and organizationally; and how different kinds of SDP work are planned, implemented and experienced in diverse cultural contexts. This knowledge is essential if robust policies, practices and strategies for the future development of SDP are to be identified.

SDP features hundreds of programmes and organizations across the world which use sport as a tool of intervention to promote non-sport goals such as development, peace, human rights and social justice. SDP programmes have very diverse objectives and scales; the largest initiatives are transnational, involve multiple agencies, and usually aim to meet basic human needs, for example peace in war-torn regions.

There are some good examples of effective sport-based violence prevention programs, like the Open Fun Football Schools in the Balkans that has brought diverse ethnic groups together through the sport of football. Of course, sustainability of such programs is always an issue. Often, such programs work well in the short term, but long term changes are not always found. Some organisations are using a ‘train-the-trainer’ model so that current participants can become future leaders and keep programs going.

fight for peace unicef breds treasure beach
Fight for PeaceRepresentatives of Fight for Peace and Breds Foundation at the General Colin Powell Challenge Course built by UNICEF and other partners at the Treasure Beach Sports Park in St Elizabeth.

What is the connection between SDP and academic performance and self-esteem? 
In many ways, this relationship is largely equivocal. Fred Coalter has found (using pre and post-test methods) that sport can contribute to young people’s self-efficacy and self-esteem, which obviously has positive impacts at school.

There are two important caveats to this, though. One is that it is hard to say how much of such improvements is due to sport and not to other influences being faced by a child, particularly since kids in difficult situations can have quite a complex set of influences and challenges. Two is that not all kids enjoy sport, or have a positive experience in sport, and so their self-esteem may actually suffer from sport as a result. This suggests that SDP programs need to be well rounded, and even include other cultural experiences and forms, like art, music or drama.

Places like Zambia have had SDP programs run and supported by international NGOs over a longer period than Jamaica, I would say. But I don’t think this necessarily means that SDP practices are better structured in places like Zambia (indeed, one of the criticisms of work in Zambia has been that there have been too many similar programs running simultaneously and that these can overlap and replicate each other’s work and efforts). I think such issues are prevalent in Jamaica as well.


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