Football promotes hygiene changes in Somalia

Sports can be used as a tool for change to address social issues, including water and sanitation issues.

Access to safe water is a problem in the Lower and Middle Juba regions of Somalia, where there is a dependence on water pans, shallow wells and sparsely distributed boreholes. It’s estimated that less than 20 percent of the population have access to clean water and less than 40 percent have access to sanitation facilities. Improving access to safe water and sanitation facilities leads to healthier families and communities but this must be coupled with good hygiene practices. Hygiene promotion plays an important role in changing collective and individual behavior.

Football kits with hygiene messages

In partnership with the organization WASDA, Oxfam organized a football (soccer) tournament as a way of communicating messages on good hygiene practices. Four football teams were selected to participate in the tournament held in Dobley town in Lower Juba. Each team received a football kit for their members that included 15 t-shirts, athletic shorts, and a football. The referees for the matches received an official uniform and the goal posts at the Dobley sports grounds were properly assembled for the tournament.

Each of the football shirts had hygiene messages written on them in Somali language,

“Fadlan farahaahada sabuun kudhaq mar kasta ood, musqul isticmasho ka dib, inta aadan cuntada cunin, inta aadan cuntada diyaarinin and marka aad saxarada kadhaqdo ilmaha.”

Which translates as:

“Please wash your hands with soap after visiting the toilet, before you eat, before you prepare food and after changing the baby.”

12 days of competition culminate in a penalty shootout

The competition was fierce and the tournament lasted 12 days with each of the four teams playing a game against each other determining which team advanced to advanced to the finals.

On the final day of the tournament, Alhilaal and Barcelona emerged as the strongest teams and battled for the cup in the final game. After 90 minutes and extra time, neither of the teams produced a goal resulting in a nerve racking penalty shootout. Eventually Barcelona defeated Alhilaal by scoring four goals against their three and they received the cup amidst cheers.

Kicking off conversations in the community

The tournament was a very effective way to share hygiene messages with the community. The messages that were written on the football jersey sparked conversations and discussions on the importance of good hygiene practices. In addition many of the players will continue to wear their football jerseys in public within their own communities carrying further the messages of good hygiene practices. This is particularly effective in reaching young people who would then be the ambassadors of these messages among their peers.

Although sports alone cannot solve the myriad of social issues affecting the community in Lower Juba, it was evident that it can be integrated into community programs and used as a tool to engage with hard to reach communities. The tournament attracted people from neighboring villages and towns – increasing the wide reach of the messages. Prior to the tournament, hygiene promoters were able to share messages in villages and towns mobilizing community members to attend the football matches. A public address system was used to disseminate the key hygiene messages before matches started, during half time and after the match ended. This was complemented by the large banners displayed around Dobley football grounds bearing related messages. The tournament was attended by over 200 people daily.

This Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Integrated Livelihoods Emergency Project in Lower and Middle Juba was implemented with funding from the European Commission Department for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO).

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