Running a small business across any national border can be tricky, and especially between Gisenyi and Goma. The women who buy and sell goods here have spent their lives caught up in the chaos on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). But they have more in common than conflict – they are all mothers, they are all business women, and many of them are now also Ultimate Frisbee players.
On July 31st, Search for Common Ground (Search) brought together 100 women, half from Gisenyi and half from Goma, to build trust and cooperation by playing Ultimate Frisbee. Normally, the participants would be busy competing in the market, but on this day they were laughing and joining together in a completely different kind of competition.
The activity was designed to facilitate new friendships and discussion of conflict as part of the Trading for Peace initiative under the project Promoting Peaceful Cross-Border Trade in the DRC and Rwanda. Search regularly organizes community-building activities with the petty traders, but this is the first time we’ve used Ultimate Frisbee on such a grand scale. After an initial trial activity earlier in the month, the traders from Rwanda encouraged us to organize this bigger event with their competitors because they thought it would be a fun way to make new friendships.
And they were right. On July 31st, it was all smiles as 10 Rwandan and 10 Congolese players competed in front of a crowd of another 80 traders plus government officials and community leaders who came together to cheer on the two teams. For one hour, it wasn’t Rwanda v. DRC, but everyone joining together in one common goal – to learn a new game, get some exercise, and get to know one another. By learning to cooperate while adrenaline is pumping on the field, the participants rehearse conflict resolution skills that can apply to their daily lives as well. One player commented, “I enjoyed playing without distinguishing who came from which country. This way, we were able to find collaboration through the game.”
The game primed the participants for more serious tasks. After taking team photos, the whole crowd sat down to discuss issues facing their communities and their businesses. They learned about other trading cooperatives and listened to advice and encouragement from local officials. Topics ranged from new visa fee structures to the price of tomatoes, plus a plan to continue playing Ultimate Frisbee in the future.
Thanks to the support from Promoting Peaceful Cross-Border Trade in the DRC and Rwanda project, many of those important issues will continue to be addressed in a non-adversarial way. And thanks to donations of high quality frisbees from Kansas City Ultimate, the players will be able to organize their own matches so they can concentrate on their friendships and personal well-being, too.
Playing games may not bring an end to the conflict on the Rwanda-DRC border, but we believe friendships are contagious and empowering. Bringing people together for activities that can be both silly and serious enhances communities and gets us all one step closer to a peaceful future.
To learn more about our previous efforts with Ultimate Frisbee, see our recent blog post.
Here are details about Trading for Peace.
Read this article for more information about how leisure can lead to development and stability.
A big thank you for the disc donations from Kansas City Ultimate.