By Carolyn Spellings, PhD, CSPS Monitoring & Evaluation Coordinator
We at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society are deeply saddened over the acts of terrorism that have recently occurred in Egypt, Lebanon, and France. We grieve over the many lives that have been lost, and the thousands who have lost loved ones and a sense of peace and security. Our hearts also break over the Syrian children and families who have fled the terrors of war and still do not have a safe place to lay their heads. Just this week, the United States Institute of Peace published a report that found that of all terrorism related deaths in 2014, 78 percent occurred in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. In addition, the report found that Boko Haram, not the Islamic State, was the deadliest terrorist group in 2014, killing more people than ISIS and other extremist groups (citing this report is in no way meant to reduce the horrific events that have recently occurred, but to remind us of how pervasively violence is used to promote some religio-political agendas).
At the Center, we feel a sense of unity with those who are impacted by war. It affects us because our own family has been affected. For the past four years, we have had the privilege of working with 66 women from 43 countries through the U.S. Department of State and espnW’s Global Sports Mentoring Program. One of the aspects of the program we stress each year is that these women are joining a global sisterhood of like-minded, passionate women who strive to create positive change in their home countries and communities through sports. We challenge the participants each year to rely on each other, support each other, and love each other like family. But they are also our sisters, our family.
As we sat glued to our television sets watching the horrific events of the past two weeks unfold and frantically checking social media for any indication that our sisters were okay, we saw a world perforated by violence, divisiveness, and hate. But we also saw hope. Hope because there are women – our sisters – who bravely step outside their homes each day, despite the risks, and work tirelessly to make the world better, safer for the next generation. Women who believe that guns can be replaced by badminton rackets, and bullets by basketballs. Women who see a world that offers the same opportunities to girls as it does to boys. Women who know that fear, aggression, and violence can dissipate in the face of compassion, respect, and dignity for all humanity. For us, they are the rays of light amidst the storms of oppression and terrorism.
In Pakistan, our sisters are using sports to encourage young girls to stay in school despite the cultural pressures to remain in their homes. In Lebanon, our sisters are using basketball to teach conflict resolution skills to mothers and their daughters, as well as teaching women leadership skills that can translate into job promotions and career advancement. In Egypt, our sisters are using sports to teach math and literacy skills to children of all ages. In France, our sisters are using roller derby to show women that they do not have to give up on their dreams, no matter what shape or how old they are. In Turkey and again in Egypt, our sisters are using soccer and taekwondo to make their societies more inclusive for people with disabilities. And there are many others. Sisters who face oppression and repression daily. Sisters who, despite the risks, look at their own families and say, “I am committed to empowering others. I am committed to a better world.” Their bravery is an inspiration amidst the chaos. Their bravery commands our respect.
We are proud of these women – these sisters. We are proud to call them family. And as the chaos and hurt and tragedy surrounds us, we are encouraged, knowing they will never give up because they are brave, strong and fearless.