Jordanian prince fosters peace and harmony through sport
Prince Feisal Al Hussein of Jordan foresees a day when generations of families whose historical grudges have periodically devolved into wars and bloodlettings learn to bury their differences by simply allowing their children to play together.
And he believes that it is the children themselves around the world who will teach their parents how to forget conflicts and age-old slights and instead join them on softball fields and basketball courts and soccer pitches.
Prince Feisal, the younger brother of Jordanian King Abdulla II and a newly elected member of the International Olympic Committee, is already seeing small successes through his fledgling Generations for Peace project, which has brought together thousands of children from 31 conflict-prone countries. The program is helping communities in places as far-flung as Nigeria, Timor-Leste, Pakistan and the Sudan learn how to put down guns and machetes and instead pick up balls.
But the irony is that in his own Middle East back yard, peace through sport is still an elusive wisp. Witness to a seemingly intractable dispute between his neighbour Israel and Palestinians who yearn for their own homeland, Prince Feisal has yet to get Israeli and Palestinian children playing together in a mixed camp. His ambitious project isn't strong enough yet breach the historical hatreds that have divided the region.
"It's been difficult. We've talked with our friends in Israel about it, and when the time is right we will want to do one that is focused on Palestinian and Israeli children. Unfortunately because of the political situation and the impasse in the peace process is what it is, the time is not right," Prince Feisal said in an interview in Vancouver.
"People say, why would you want Israelis? Well, if the Israelis believe in peace we need to bring them in, we need to work with them."
So for now, the prince is casting his eyes elsewhere, trying to build successes in other countries before coming back to teaching Arab and Israeli children how to play well together.
Prince Feisal is the founder and chairman of Generations for Peace, which he and King Abdullah and several backers in the Arab world formed in 2007 with the hope of trying to resolve conflicts in countries at the community level. The program was recently singled out by the International Olympic Committee for showing a new way in teaching children in war-torn zones how work and play together.
Similar to Johann Koss' Right To Play program, Generations for Peace has been attacking the problem at its most basic: the family and community level, mostly in Islamic communities.
"Sport is universal. If we can get children to not look at each other as adversaries but to look at each other as human beings, friends, playmates, teammates," the prince said, "then we can instil through them the right values and attitudes so that they don't continue with what has been hundreds of years of cycles of violence and living in the past."
The program began with a pilot camp in Amman involving youth leaders from eight Islamic countries. There have been four more camps since then, including one in Abu Dhabi, the home of Sheik Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, another founding partner.
It has an advisory board made up largely of members of the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee and international sports federations. Alex Gilady, the IOC member for Israel, also sits on the board.
Prince Feisal said the concept has been to bring youth delegates from conflict countries to a twice-yearly camp where they are taught how to create sport programs, identify at-risk youth and communicate with parents to break down barriers around conflicts.
"This idea is very simple. We need to convince parents to allow children to play together. We need to engage religious leaders, community leaders, political leaders to put aside differences and to work for resolutions. It is the children who will help teach us that," the prince said.
Asked if he honestly feels sport can do what politicians and peace treaties have so often failed to achieve, Prince Feisal said yes.
"There is an old saying that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. There is too much violence and conflict in the world," he said. "In keeping with my late father's legacy and what my brother is doing, we've got to continue to work. Peace won't come back if we just sit back and wait for it."