Written by Wewe Sokoyi
UNESCO Special Event on Maximizing the Power of Sport in France
After a long week of hustling in order to organize my Visa, I finally received it on Friday June 3rd and began preparing for my trip. On Saturday morning I was picked up by a taxi to take me to the airport and as I waved goodbye to my siblings. I looked forward to the adventure that awaited me. I flew from Cape Town, via a connecting flight to France, and arrived safely at Charles de Gaulle airport at 6.15am on Sunday morning.
I met up with Gerald, another conference participant, and together we found our way to the Europe Hotel in the center of Paris. Welcomed with open arms, we dropped our things off and took a quick walk around the local area, admiring the culture, food, clothing and lives of ordinary Parisians. We grabbed some breakfast, relaxed and then headed back to the hotel to freshen up and have a rest.
After a long and relaxing sleep, we met at 6pm for a meeting with Lypso and Annie, which was organized by Boris at the GIZ offices in Germany, to take us for some sight-seeing. We were giving a little preview of the economic set-up and history of Paris and we took a nice, long walk around the city, getting dinner on the way. Later on, we made our way back to the hotel in order to prepare for the next day.
Monday morning of the UNESCO special event: I met up with Gerald at breakfast and together we left for the headquarters of UNESCO. During our walk, we were welcomed by rain showers. Arriving an hour early as planned, we met up with one of the leaders, Nancy, and her colleagues, all of whom were very warm and friendly. People started arriving and we were introduced to the other panelists, UNESCO staff, and guests. As excited as I was, nerves began to kick in as the number of people began to increase steadily.
The objective of the event: was to advocate for the broad and varied socio-economic benefits of investment in sport and physical education at national, regional, and international level. The introductory speech was given by Ms. Alvarez-Laso, Assistant Director-General, Sec. for Social and Human Sciences, followed by a presentation from our South African Minister of Sport and Recreation, Deputy Director of UNESCO, Co-Chair of the International Working Group on Women and Sport and the amazing Ms. Raija, President of L’organization Pour la Pix pa le Sport Monaco. Gerald and I were representing Youth Development through Football. My speech focused specifically on the impact community and youth development had on my own life and the work that I am now doing. It seemed to be received very well. Finally, the Assistant Director-General for External Relations and public information for UNESCO spoke and we ended on a question-answer session and feedback session from the audience of about 180 people. All reactions were very positive and there were actually some familiar faces from a “Path to Success” workshop I was on in Berlin, Germany!
My time at UNESCO headquarters was now complete but I still had a day of meetings and appointments with Mr. Lypso, a French citizen and musician who was taking me around. As wonderful as the event was, I felt it was really important to visit associations and organizations that were doing valuable community work.
We visited an association called EVA (Espace Vie Au Feminin), a place for women in English. The organization was based in the suburbs in Paris, similar to what is called a Township/disadvantaged community in South Africa. EVA caters to the social, health, security and sexual issues and needs of women and girls aged 13-25 in the community. The program had existed in the community in previous years, but had been shut down by the government. However, due to challenges and need from the area, it was re-established and is fully funded by the state and social society now. The work that Nadia and Pauline are doing is amazing and it made me realize the importance of having a safe home/place for women in their own community, where they are able to meet challenges and maintain confidentiality. Furthermore, it confirms the importance and impact female leaders have in our societies.
We then visited Mr.Tchicaya, a sociologist who heads up another association that works with youth between 10-20 years old, with programs that focus on youth guidance and empowerment. It works to combat the high numbers of youth dropping out of schools, and the increasing crime rate in the area. The community is also incredibly sidelined by the government and there is a lack of support for the social and civic challenges of the suburb that is a known hotspot.
Last but not least, I visited the Nord-Ouest, an association that is headed up by an amazing woman, Theresa Guamis. Since 2004, she has worked with around 120 participants a year on a program that focuses on youth who live in the suburbs and developing their skills through computer courses, costume design, photography and a vast variety of activities. They also support youth with financial aid and all they ask in return is dedication, self-motivation and organization. In the last 12 months, the program has produced great results. I think offering such a broad range of courses is a great strategy that I would almost definitely look to implement similarly on the Soccer 4 Hope program, as part of the All Stars’ development.
During my time in Paris, I also managed to experience the glamorous side with visits to some memorial sites, fashion streets, Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, Baslique, Notre Dame, the Louvre, and of course I went up the Eiffel Tower. I wouldn’t change a thing about my trip as I had a truly wonderful time in Paris. I treasure the opportunity given to me by UNESCO and the friendships and partnerships I have created as a result. I am hoping to take back this amazing experience and some interesting tools to develop and strengthen myself and my program!