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World youth “Play for Peace” in Switzerland

Youths enjoying themselves at the Pestalozzi Children's Village in Trogen

Play for Peace, a sports camp for disadvantaged youth from around the world, is taking place in Switzerland.

The Swiss contribution to the United Nations Year of Sport and Physical Education, it promotes peace through sports.

Spearheaded by Adolf Ogi, a former Swiss president and current UN Special Advisor on Sport for Development and Peace, the camp aims to “show through small things what is possible in larger things”.

“Sport is an effective and cost-efficient weapon in the fight for a better world,” says Ogi.

Through sport-related values such as fair play, teamwork, and respecting rules, the carefully selected youngsters develop leadership and bridge-building skills to take back to their home communities.

The idea of a sports camp for at-risk youth during the UN Year of Sport originated with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. Additional organisers include the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation, Right to Play and Swiss Solidarity.

About 200 children between the ages of 13 and 17, predominately from war and post-conflict areas, are participating in the two-week camp being held in Trogen, in the Swiss countryside.

“To minimise culture shock and to explain the purpose of the Swiss trip, the participants were individually prepared in their homelands for their camp experience,” project head Sandro Guiliani explained to swissinfo.

Given that the youth mostly hail from rural areas, the choice of Trogen also worked to diminish the possible stress that being in a larger city might bring on.


Pedro, 15, from Guatemala is one of the camp participants.

As a member of the Indian population, Pedro speaks a regional, Indian dialect. Because his Spanish is poor, he is extremely disadvantaged in his homeland.

Without an education, he faces a possible life on the streets.

But Pedro is fortunate in having found refuge at Right to Play, a worldwide humanitarian organisation supported by international athletes, which selected him for the camp.

The hope is that he will later pass on his experiences in Switzerland to his wider circle of friends and acquaintances in Guatemala.

In Trogen, everything is different from what Pedro imagined.

The programme consists of theme-based and play-based workshops, focusing first on the topic of “me” then “you” and, finally, “us”. Breakfast is at 7am sharp and the days are full.

The workshop content draws upon the 60 years of experience of the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation in intercultural exchanges, plus the input of Right to Play.

Each of the children has brought a traditional game from their homeland to share. Teenagers from the United States introduced the others to an over 100-year-old frisbee game, for example.

Other activities include a football tournament, a radio workshop, and a trip to Weltklasse Zurich, a track-and-field event.

Prominent sports figures, including Martina Hingis, Wilson Kipketer, and Marcel Fischer, will be visiting the youngsters.

Minders from their own countries and 30 specialists attend to the children.

Sport and fun

While play and intercultural dialogue are at the forefront, the youngsters are also learning what fair play, teamwork, discipline, and equal opportunity entail, and what leadership, empathy, and courage are about.

“It’s important that the kids accept that during the game, the rules can’t be changed,” said project head Guiliani.

That the teenagers have fun, and forget their troubles for a time, is also a priority for organisers.

As to whether sport is being idealised, and problems such as doping, eating disorders, and violence at games are being glossed over, Guiliani says these issues are not swept under the carpet.

“How to win and lose, and recognising your limits, these are things that have to be learned,” he says.

But here in the youth camp the positive aspects of sport are highlighted, as experience indicates that well-planned intercultural exchanges focusing on sport and play do indeed bear fruit.

Play for Peace is the Swiss contribution to the United Nations Year of Sport and Physical Education.
The youth camp at the Pestolozzi Children’s Village in Trogen, Switzerland runs from August 13-27.
Approximately 200 children, from predominately disadvantaged regions, are participating.
The goal is to develop respect for living together peaceably through sports values such as tolerance and fair play.
Prominent sports figures are participating, including Martina Hingis, Wilson Kipketer, and Marcel Fischer.

(Adapted from German by Kathleen Peters)

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR