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Playing by the rules in Sierra Leone

31-03-2004

Sierra Leonians greeted leading football referees Anders Frisk, Markus Merk and Lubos Michel with open arms. The three ambassadors of the UEFA-ICRC Protect Children in War campaign visited Sierra Leone in March to learn first-hand the effects of war on children in a country that is still recovering from 11 years of war. The referees saw the many impressive activities that are designed to help children recover from the trauma of war.

   

 
Frisk meets Patrick and his father driven apart by the civil war.©UEFA/F. Bozzani 
 

 Five years of separation end happily  

Few things are happier than a family reunion, especially for 14-year-old Patrick and six-year-old Hannah. The ICRC arranged for the family to be brought back together after the five-year separation in which the children crossed into Guinea to escape from political unrest. The father had previously tried to recover his children only to be told that his son was dead and that his daughter could not be located. 

In 2003 the children wrote a Red Cross message in an effort to locate their parents. One year later, the children began their journey back home. As Patrick went down the path leading towards his village, he could contain himself no longer. Breaking away from the group, he sprinted towards home and threw himself into his fat her's arms. Hannah who had no recollection of her father, had finally found a home and family. Here a core ICRC activity was brought to life for Frisk, Merk and Michel; all fathers, they shared the emotions of the moment.

    

 Sarah, a symbol of hope  

The Child Advocacy and Rehabilitation Project (CAR) began in 1991. It was set up to help the most vulnerable non-school-going children who have participated in or have been subjected to war-related violence. Run by the Sierra Leone Red Cross, the CAR centre helps these children learn to cope with their experiences and to be fully accepted by their families and communities.

   
 
©UEFA/F. Bozzani 
 

Sara was abducted by armed men in 1999 and taken to the jungles of Sierra Leone. She was exposed to all kinds of dangers – aerial bombings and surprise attacks from other fighting forces. She was released nine months later, but suffered deep trauma. Sarah was admitted to the CAR programme where she received counselling. She studied gara tie-dyeing and was later given a scholarship to continue her academ ic career. Sarah excelled and by the time she finished, she had earned the distinction of being the best student that the school had ever had. Sarah would like to be a banker one day.

The ambassadors had the chance to meet with Sarah and discuss her experiences. She described the period she spent with the armed groups, but more importantly, she showed them that there is hope. With a well designed and caring rehabilitation programme, children who have experienced the horrors of war can recover and be integrated into society again.

 Ambassadors referee at Gerihun v. Jembe  
 
   
 
Michel referees the childrens' match©UEFA/F. Bozzani 
Sierra Leone is passionate about football. For children in refugee camps football provides an opportunity for them to develop through play and sport. Together with local referee Denis Sorie of the Sierra Leone Football Association, Merk, Frisk and Michel officiated at a match between children from two refugee camps Gerihun v. Jembe. The villages supported their teams enthusiastically and the children were reminded by the pros about the importance of playing by the rules.
 
The trip ended, but the experience will not be forgotten. The UEFA/ICRC ambassadors will continue to highlight the plight of children in war during the lead up to the EURO2004(tm) championships. They will link the need to respect the rules of the game with the need to respect the rules of war and to protect children.
 
The visit to Sierra Leone was made possible thanks to the strong commitment of UEFA to help raise awareness of the problems experienced by children in war and the laws designed to protect them.