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Replacing the bullet with football

By | Published Sun, September 25th 2011 at 00:00, Updated Sun, September 25th 2011 at 00:00 GMT +3

FATUMA ABDULKADIR ADAN, 33, baffled family and friends when she shunned the law corridors and decided to work with the poor women and children of war-torn Marsabit. Through her organisation Hodi, Fatuma has won numerous awards for conflict resolution and providing hope through education. She spoke to KIUNDU WAWERU

Soldiers of Peace is a great film that documents unsung heroes and heroines around the world.

Narrated by Hollywood legend Michael Douglas, who is also a UN Messenger of Peace, and starring among others Sir Bob Geldof, Sir Richard Branson and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the film tells of how ordinary people are using peace initiatives to end wars in their communities.

The film features a community peace initiative in Israel, an Indian female-formed police unit that is keeping peace in Liberia, a Colombian musician turned peace activist, and an unlikely collaboration of an imam and a pastor who teach warring religious youths of Kaduna in Nigeria, to solve their conflicts peacefully.

In Kenya, the crew of Soldiers of Peace led by director Tim Wise set base in the dusty town of Marsabit and filmed the work of Fatuma Abdulkadir, who has gone against the grain of her community’s cultural leanings.

The film documents one of Fatuma’s projects through her organisation, Horn of Africa Development Initiative (Hodi), where she uses football to promote non-violent conflict resolution among the Borana and Gabra communities in Northern Kenya.

Through great personal risk, Fatuma has pushed on and the warring communities are forging peace through football tournaments.

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In the aftermath of the 2005 Turbi Massacre when about 100 people from Gabra community were killed by Borana tribesmen, Fatuma, who was then running a community-based organisation (CBO), thought of how she could help forge peace.

"We are used to the sound of gunfire," says the soft-spoken, widely-travelled peace ambassador. "I realised the young men love football and whenever teams like Manchester United and Arsenal were playing, the gunfire relented."

Thus, she came up with the idea of a tournament, where the warring tribes would play together. She coined a catchy phrase, ‘Shoot to score, not to kill.’

In North Eastern Kenya, even small boys carry guns like walking sticks. In an ideal match day, they come with their guns to the playfield.

"It’s hard but we want to slowly change their mindsets. The ball is yet to replace the bullet but we are getting there," she says.

Born of a Borana father and a Gabra mother and recently married to a Rendile (a taboo), Fatuma knows the ‘other’ tribe is not the ‘enemy’ as the communities believe.


"As they interact in the playfield, they are surprised to find their ‘enemy’ is, after all, a human being," says Fatuma.

This slaying of stereotypes is the hardest part.

"The game is unique in the sense that foul play is not punished; there are no red and yellow cards. Rather, good players are rewarded with a green card and snacks," says Fatuma.

There are now more than 130 football teams from Marsabit to Moyale and crossing the borders to Ethiopia.

"Some boys have surrendered their guns. They admit to have killed many people and as the enmity subsides through play, they swear to never kill again," she says.

In 2008, Fatuma started a girls’ football team amid resistance from the community. In North Eastern, girls as young as 12 and 13 are spirited away from school for marriages.

"Kidnapping and rape is a way of life. Hodi seeks to change this. We are prevailing upon the community that girls need more education than marriage," Fatuma says.

The first girls football team comprised of girls who had been kidnapped for marriage. Fatuma had to negotiate with their husbands to allow them to go back to school. Two girls from the team got a chance to play in Germany at the Women’s World Cup through the Sports for Social Change initiative.

Fatuma was lucky to escape the culture of early marriage as her father was a teacher who understood the role of education.

She graduated with a Law degree in 2002 from Moi University and did her pupilage for six months with a Mombasa-based law firm.

However, she felt that practising Law was not her thing. In the big cities, she felt lost. Her heart was with the girl-child back home, and she decided to go back to Marsabit.

No pay

"There were many issues, including the monster that is land, family conflicts, rape cases and many more. I realised I could not solve everything and thus I concentrated on women and children issues," Fatuma says.

She trained six Form Four leavers as paralegals and without pay, all seven retreated to Fatuma’s parents house and made one of the rooms the office for their newly formed CBO. In her work, Fatuma encouraged dialogue and reconciliation. Slowly, the CBO grew and in 2007, they registered it as an NGO.

Besides football, they have other programmes including one geared to change livelihoods as "relying on relief is a shame". They now have green houses for agriculture.

Their other arm is education and also a forum where parents are taught on finances and saving. Today, CordAid, a Dutch development agency, funds some of their programmes.

Good tidings have been blowing their way. Fatuma won the Hope Through Education Award in February this year, with a $4500 (about Sh432,000) cash price which will go to buying land for Hodi.

She also won the Stuttgart Peace Award for her work in conflict resolution, which she will receive in November, again with a price of 5000 euros (about Sh652,000).

"With this money, we are planning to put up a stadium for girls in Marsabit," Fatuma says.

Fatuma has been to the US through the International Visitors Leadership Programme Fellowship and in 2008, former US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger honoured her as a Kenyan unsung heroine.

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