By Tirivashe Nheweyembwa

To some Sport it is play, while others view it as a source of enjoyment, a way of earning healthy life living, reduction in school drop outs especially among the school going age, a stepping stone to attaining unity and social cohesion as among nations and reasons vary across the social divide. The World economic forum estimates that more that 600 million people across the globe watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup. This figure is amazing and serves to demonstrate how sport occupies a special place in our lives. It is uncontestable that sport is now increasingly being used as a tool to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals such the promotion of regular exercise to reduce combat such challenges like coronary diseases, achieve unity and social cohesion where there is war, engages the young people in a positive and productive manner. The World Economic forum also notes that sport plays a pivotal role in engendering community participation in a number of issues.

“Across the world, athletic competition activates a collective spirit that enhances community participation among children, adolescents and adults. Attracting youth participation and development through a powerful tool such as “sports” should be paramount investment to be made in the next years by developing countries”, World Economic Forum (2012). This once again is a clear demonstration of the power of sport across the society and Zimbabwe is not behind in the use of sport to achieve community as amply demonstrated through the Youth Education through Sport Programme (YES) which is making a positive impact in the lives of many young people.

Growing up in the oldest high density suburb of Harare, Mbare is not a stroll in the park as one has to grapple with the varied dynamics and the fast moving life of this place which is the place which everyone who patronizes Harare gets to before proceeding with their journeys to the various suburbs dotted around the city of Harare. Twenty year old Salma Dani Haji is a typical example of how sport is being used to make a positive difference in the lives of young people through the YES programme. Born and bred in Mbare Selma,  is quite aware of the challenges and opportunities that this high density area presents especially to the young women. Such challenges include indulgence in sex at a tender age, substance abuse, absence from school in pursuit of vices such as prostitution resulting in one contracting HIV and AIDS among other problems. The introduction of the YES Programme   by the Sports and Recreation Commission has served many young people from being involved in such vices and Selma is happy that she is making a decent living through sport.

“I got involved with the YES programme at the age of 12 when I was still in primary school and what really fascinated me most was not only the opportunity to play netball but to also learn other important life skills such as the respect for others, cooperation since we work as a team, I was also exposed to the dangers of substance abuse, HIV and AIDS and its challenges.

“It is also through the YES programme that I have taken Netball to another level because I have been a member of the under 20 girls Netball National Team which won a gold medal at the African Union Sports Council Region 5 Under 20 Youth Games in  2014 in Bulawayo. Prior to that I had participated in the Confederation of Schools Association of Southern Africa (COSASSA) Netball tournament in Zambia and we got a bronze medal”, Salma said.

Selma’s case is a classic example of how the Youth Education through Sport has had impact on the lives of the youth people. Selma also said that ever since she became involved with sport, life has literally been transformed steadily as she is now able to contribute to the welfare and upkeep of her family.

“I am grateful to the City of Harare Queens Netball club who are giving us some allowances for training and winning bonuses this is going some way in cautioning my parents as I try to assist by looking after my siblings who are still in school. My ultimate goal is to buy my parents a house and I am hopeful that one day I am going to achieve this dream”, Salma added.

Sports and Recreation Commission Games Projects who also at some point was the Project Manager for the Youth Education through Sport Programme, Martin Dururu said the YES programme was a powerful platform to mobilize the various stakeholders in the community towards the empowerment of the young people.

“The YES programme has demonstrated that it is a powerful platform which can be effectively be used to mobilize the Policy Makers, Community Leaders, Parents, Sport Clubs, NGOs through appropriate and enabling policy framework financial, human and material resources which will result in quality delivery of the programme.

“It has also effectively facilitated for the life skills for the young people by giving them the means not only to make sound decisions but to also protect them from abuse and manipulation” ,Dururu said.

The YES Programme is in sync with the efforts of the United Nations on Office on Drugs and Crime’s Doha Declaration which among other things seeks to prevent crime through sport.

“Strengthening life skills of youths is a key objective in order to minimize risk factors and maximize protective factors related to crime, violence and drug use. By enhancing the knowledge of the consequences of crime and substance abuse and developing life skills the initiative seeks to positively influence behaviour and attitude of at-risk youth and prevent anti social and risky behaviour” UNODC noted.

The convention is also in tandem with the YES programmes in that it aims at equipping the young people with skills which makes them Agents of Change through robust training programmes. Salma the hero of the YES is also actively involved with the training of some of the Youth in Harare Metropolitan province.

The Youth Education through Sport Programme was started by the Sports and Recreation Commission in 1999 as an intervention to combat various social ills among the young people using sport as a tool to reach to them. The Programme has 3 components which are sport, Peer Education and Community Projects and they all have equal weightage at scoring. It is now in all the ten provinces.

Selma is a shinning beacon for the YES programme and is indeed a demonstration that sport beyond winning a medal it is a powerful tool to combat poverty, social delinquency among other societal challenges. Indeed the  sky cannot be limit for young Salma.