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The role of sport in addressing trauma: Swiss Academy for Development in South Sudan


The role of sport in addressing trauma: Swiss Academy for Development in South Sudan

On International Human Rights Day, sportanddev takes a look at the Swiss Academy for Development’s psychosocial project in South Sudan, which highlights the potential for sport to be used as a tool in addressing trauma.  

The Swiss Academy for Development’s (SAD) psychosocial programme in Kajo-Keji County, South Sudan, focuses primarily on women, because they’ve been particularly affected by the country’s 40-year civil war and its aftermath. Many are severely traumatised, and a lot of women have experienced the death of family members, illness, deportation, ethnic and domestic violence and gender discrimination.

Based on a thorough review of the psychosocial needs and sport and play related wishes expressed by the women taking part in the project, SAD decided to begin the programme with activities that the target group was already familiar with: netball, volleyball and football. As noted by Pia Ammann, the project officer:

Starting off with popular and broadly accepted sports on the one hand reduces potential fears or constraints on the part of the target women; on the other hand it helps to gain the acceptance of husbands and community leaders.

The decision to focus on sports played in teams was also crucial- these activities help to build trust and create strong bonds between participants, helping them learn to communicate in and outside the game, set and achieve common goals, and overcome challenges together:

Team sport activities can be a tool for bringing the women together in a relaxed, enjoyable setting, and developing skills like communication and collaboration. They can offer an effective platform for traumatised women to support each other beyond the project activities and to share fears, concerns and experiences in a 'safe' environment, including those related to gender based violence or other traumatic experiences.

Team sports mean mutual reliance and being able to accept help from each other while encouraging boundary setting and understanding of fairness, justice, and rule violations. There’s also recognition of the potential benefit of more individual pursuits however:

Once team sport activities are running successfully we may envisage integrating elements of non-competitive movement activities to the curriculum such as yoga, which is a promising tool in helping to overcome psychological trauma.

The 18-month project in South Sudan began in May 2012 and SAD hope it will enable distressed and traumatised women to better cope with daily challenges through improved social support, enhanced self-efficacy beliefs (such as decision-making abilities, goal-setting and self-management) and improved physical and psychological health.


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Sunday, December 9, 2012 - 23:00