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Empowering refugees to become initiators of sport for protection

Copyrights: Jesuit Worldwide Learning

Empowering refugees to become initiators of sport for protection

A programme developed by JWL in collaboration with UNHCR, aims to unlock the potential of refugee and host community youth to become sports facilitators and trainers in schools and informal learning initiatives.

The Youth Sports Facilitator (YSF) professional certificate programme is a blended online learning course offered by Jesuit Worldwide Learning: Higher Education at the Margins (JWL) and accredited by the Metropolitan State University of Denver (USA) and the Catholic University of Eichstatt-Ingolstadt (Germany).

This six-month programme, developed by JWL in collaboration with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, aims to unlock the potential of refugee and host community youth to become sports facilitators and trainers in schools and informal learning initiatives, as well as community-based organisations. Participants learn to leverage sport as a tool for protection, psychosocial wellbeing, improved social inclusion – especially for girls – and encouraging youth to be more engaged for positive change in their community.

The ability to design, implement and evaluate youth sports initiatives is a key objective of the YSF programme. Building this capacity encourages a shift from refugees being passive recipients to initiators and leaders of sporting activities which foster peace and development within and among local communities.

Since 2019, 485 students from 25 community learning centres (CLC) across 6 countries have participated in the programme, available in both English and Arabic.

Students benefit from the accompaniment of an onsite facilitator, who runs meetings twice a week, engaging learners in meaningful discussions about sports and protection. Participants also connect with peers in other CLCs in global discussions facilitated by an online facilitator, an expert in the field, who also grades assignments and provides feedback. The programme culminates in a practicum in which students are invited to develop a community-responsive youth sport project in their community.


YSF programme participants (2019-2022)

















Students develop a sense of social responsibility and learn how to assess community needs in order to more effectively imagine and implement relevant initiatives to address them.

According to participants, the programme develops two main competences – entrepreneurial skills (such as fundraising and networking) and interreligious and intercultural sensitivity – which enhance their capacity to develop and implement sport initiatives that promote a more socially and gender-inclusive environment for refugee and host communities).

According to what I learnt from Youth Sports Facilitator course, I really have that love which is different from the way I was before, because in sport we don’t mind whether you are Muslim, whether you are a Christian, whether I don’t know you. You are all welcome […] we don’t mind the skin colour, in which language you speak, we just speak both languages. We do speak sport language which is one language.”

YSF graduate, Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi

The entrepreneurial, inclusive and social responsibility-centred mindset developed throughout the programme empowers YSF graduates with the necessary tools to develop youth sport initiatives which foster a sense of community and set the foundations for greater inclusivity and peace. Often, graduates go on to establish their own sports teams which bring together fellow refugees from different cultural or religious backgrounds, as inclusively and sensitively as possible.

We used to have football games with different people, and these people are community, host community, I mean villages nearby camp […] We used to have a friendly game, and that spirit helped us to build a good connection, which is falling under the point of intercultural and interreligious, you know, when people from DRC are playing with people from Malawi it's amazing if they get to understand each other right and if they build good connection and friendship.”

YSF graduate, Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi

Thus, programmes which empower learners with skill sets and competences such as those developed through the Youth Sport Facilitator programme hold great potential for mitigating tensions which often arise in forced displacement contexts, empowering community members themselves to identify and address challenges through the common language of sport.  


Carolina Miranda Futuro is a master candidate in International Relations and Political Science at the Geneva Graduate Institute (Switzerland). She is deeply interested in migration, and has been dedicated to studying its diverse implications since the beginning of her studies. Previous professional experiences have been concentrated on researching issues revolving around refuge concession, refugee integration, and human trafficking and will concentrate on the phenomenon of deportation for her upcoming thesis.

Mélodie Honen-Delmar is JWL Professional Programmes and Research Manager and holds a Masters in Development Studies from the Geneva Graduate Institute (Switzerland). She has previously coordinated local refugee organisations that support refugee access to higher education and conducted other research related to migration, refugees and education.

Dr Isabella Rega is JWL Global Research Director and Associate Professor in Digital Media for Social Change at Bournemouth University (UK). She has been working on the role of digital technologies to promote community development, in Europe, Africa and Latin America for the last 20 years.

Alessandra Carminati, JWL Global Communications Director, holds a Masters in Conflict, Security and Development from the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. Prior to joining JWL, Alessandra worked for the United Nations and several non-governmental organisations addressing matters of international humanitarian law, forced displacement, human rights, and global public health.


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Carolina Miranda Futuro, Mélodie Honen-Delmar, Dr Isabella Rega & Alessandra Carminati


Friday, November 25, 2022 - 19:04

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