Training youth to bring change
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girls play volleyball on a dusty court
An online youth sports facilitator programme helps refugee and host community youth to learn how to leverage sport as a tool for positive changes in their communities.

Learning together through sports: Youth Sports Facilitator programme supporting refugee youth in accessing rights, greater inclusion in education and community 

Sport is about more than games and competition. It is also about physical and mental wellbeing and unity. Sport brings us together and together we laugh, cry and stand shoulder to shoulder through the highs and the lows – and not just on the pitch! Whatever our differences, the team spirit that develops through sporting activities fosters a sense of community, solidarity and peace.

A tool for peace, unity, equality and protection, sport is of global relevance, including for forcibly displaced populations. Diverse communities co-exist in contexts such as refugee and internally displace persons (IDP) camps which can result in intercommunal tensions and, in some instances, violence. Many need psychosocial support, and children are among the most vulnerable groups.

The Youth Sports Facilitator programme

Recognising the vast transformative potential of sport, Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL) and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, developed the Youth Sports Facilitator (YSF) professional certificate programme. This six-month programme aims to unlock the potential of refugee and host community youth to become sports facilitators and trainers in schools. 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 JWL YSF programme provides the opportunity to girls and women to gain sports skills necessary to compete, and both team building and leadership skills,” says Professor Kay Crossley, JWL faculty for the YSF programme. “This translates to self-empowerment for girls and women. The programme of instruction provides a competitive and safe environment encouraging inclusion, unity, and improved wellbeing. With individuals learning sport team skills, engaged individuals recognise similarities and interests. More commonalities and less differences in turn lead to gained respect and gender equity.”

The course is delivered in a blended learning format, with support from online faculty from around the world, as well as from an onsite facilitator. While regularly meeting at the learning centre for discussions, participants have the flexibility to study anytime and anywhere, as content may be downloaded through the JWL Global eLearning app and subsequently accessed offline.

Applying theory to practise

The course would be incomplete without an opportunity to move from theory to practise. Learners engage in a 2-month practicum during which they work to nurture sport for protection outcomes through sports activities with their pupils.

As part of their practicum, several facilitators designed activities to foster gender equality through the inclusion of women and girls. In Kakuma Refugee Camp (Kenya), Keth established the first girls’ volleyball team. It wasn’t easy and required her to reach out to girls’ relatives, but she succeeded and in doing so, challenged gender stereotypes and united two rival tribes.

“I chose [to start a] volleyball girls’ team because girls in our community, are considered to be just girls, not to be able to do anything that males do. With that mentality, girls are at a high risk of unwanted pregnancy, rape, dropping out of school, and abuse. Coming up with that project has helped girls and the community to understand that what men can do a woman can also do. I am helping girls to advocate for themselves. With this project I am helping them not to be ideal and follow into those abuses, but to show out that they have talent, and they can do better if they are considered and give opportunities,” says Keth.

Keth currently supervises onsite facilitators of the YSF programme in Kakuma.

In Rwanda’s Mahama Refugee Camp, the ‘Tigers’ group, as they named themselves, formed a co-ed basketball team as part of their practicum, in order to promote equity and equality. They also ran workshops at a school (open to pupils and staff) to raise awareness about the impact sport can have on the development of children and adolescents (including in terms of social, cognitive, emotional and physical skills) and engaged in community outreach and advocacy activities in favour of participation of girls. A number of girls that eventually joined the basketball team began to overcome gender stereotypes and related shyness or fear, demonstrating greater self-confidence and more freely expressing their goals for the future.

We see both male and female youth sports facilitators playing their part in standing up for equal opportunities for women and girls in multiple spheres of life. They do so through activities as described above as well as by sharing their knowledge through training of trainers – within schools and the community.

Over the past year, the Youth Sports Facilitator programme has trained 227 youth sports facilitators (15% women) across 18 locations in refugee camps in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, and over 1,000 primary and secondary school pupils reached through the practicums. At present, a further 139 participants in Kenya (34% women) and 25 students in Chad (60% women) are undertaking the programme.


JWL provides equitable high quality tertiary learning to people and communities at the margins of societies - be it through poverty, location, lack of opportunity, conflict or forced displacement – so all can contribute their knowledge and voices to the global community of learners and together foster hope to create a more peaceful and humane world.

sportanddev published this content as part of our partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. For more information on using sport in work with refugees please visit the UNHCR website.


Sustainable Development Goals
5 - Gender equality
10 – Reduced inequalities
Target Group
Girls and women
Displaced people

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