Scoring Goals for Peace in Yemen

Nasib curls his feet into the warm sand, relishing the feel of sun-baked heat between his toes. It’s hard to believe that this sandy soccer field was once a wasteland covered with broken glass and trash. He looks at his team, a band of brothers in identical highlighter yellow uniform shirts, and smiles. Soccer is the space where everyone in the community is equal.

Nasib is one of our inside mediators who helps transform conflicts away from violence and into productive solutions, and his passion is soccer. When his community was arguing about who owned a trash-strewn piece of land and that the local youth were up to no good, Nasib saw an opportunity. 

On the soccer field, ethnic divides disappear. Photo by our local partner.

During soccer matches, nobody cares about ethnic divisions, such as who is Muhamasheen, a marginalized group facing systematic discrimination in Yemen, or who is from the North, or if that player is from the South. They care about the game, especially when they play against teams from neighboring communities. Then, everyone unites in support. 

Nasib’s dream was to have a football field for his team—a place to practice and, importantly, a venue where they could proudly host teams from other communities. Using the Common Ground Approach, Nasib realized this dream. Working alongside other insider mediators, they successfully negotiated with the community and local government officials to let local young people turn the land into a soccer field, inspiring a new generation of footballers and a stronger sports culture. In return, the local teams agreed to maintain the field, contributing to a sense of ownership among the players. 

The soccer teams would be made of players from multiple identities, including IDPs, northern and southern Yemenis, the Muhamasheen, and locals so that young people could bond with members from other identity groups. Thanks to peacebuilders like you, we cleaned the field, fixed the turf, and constructed a wall and the goals. Once the field was ready for play, we turned our attention to the players, buying them soccer balls and team uniforms to strengthen a feeling of belonging.

Young people now have a community space to call their own. Photo by our local partners.

The impact was threefold. Together with your support, we resolved community disputes over the land, which could potentially lead to violence. We provided young people in southern Yemen with a community space to call their own, which also kept them out of trouble. And, most important for Nasib, you helped turn Nasib’s vision into a reality by creating a soccer field where his team could play and host teams from other communities. Not long after the soccer field was ready, Nasib proudly played against other teams in front of his friends and family, scoring many goals for peace. 

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