November 27, 2016 (YIROL) – More than 5,000 people cheered on Thursday as wrestlers representing Yirol and Awerial communities battled during a competition organized to enhance peace efforts.
The event, one of the first of its kind in the area since South Sudan’s independence, was organized by Solidarity Ministries Africa for Reconciliation and Development (SMARD) with support from the United Nations Development Programme’s Community Security and Small Arms project.
“We are here for promoting peace and peaceful coexistence,” said Gabriel Modol, the Awerial county wrestling committee member and lead referee of the competition, further adding that, “At this event you will see community, you will see love and socialization.”
The contest consisted of 21 matches, each lasting for three minutes.
The first wrestler to force their opponent onto the ground is often declared the winner. If neither wrestler submitted after three minutes the match was a draw. The teams were divided between the “home” community of Awerial and “visitors” from Yirol East and West.
“This event is important as it brings people from Yirol and Awerial together, to meet and interact in a place that allows understanding. Now when [the spectators and wrestlers] return to their homes, they will remember the people they met here. If, say, a member of this group gets in trouble in an opposing community, it doesn’t need to turn into a bigger problem. They will know each other. They will have understanding,” said Sibet Jenena, a Yirol wrestling manager.
The security and small arms project, funded by UNDP, supports the wrestling competition as part of its initiatives to encourage social cohesion and strengthen ties between neighboring communities.
“The role that sports can play in bringing communities together and building peace is often underestimated,” said UNDP Country Director Kamil Kamaluddeen.
“This initiative is community-led, supports an area which has seen many challenges in the past few years, and we are pleased to see the competition organized well, providing the community with a reason to celebrate themselves and promoting cooperation and understanding between the groups,” he added.
Events like wrestling tend to encourage positive behavior changes in youth, solidify inter-community cooperation, and provide an attractive alternative to violent or criminal activities in South Sudan.