Sr. Aine Hughes is a peace builder for Caritas South Africa. She remembers the day when Caritas helped organise an alternative football World Cup in 2010.

Credits: Caritas

Sr Aine Hughes is a peace builder for Caritas South Africa. She remembers the day when Caritas helped organise an alternative football World Cup in 2010.

One bitterly cold winter’s morning, I arrived at a shantytown on the edge of Pretoria carrying a bucket of ash. The white remains from burnt wood would be used to mark the lines on a football pitch.

Billion-rand stadiums had been built in other cities in South Africa and teams from all over the world were coming to play in the 2010 World Cup. Our “stadium” was a clay pitch that volunteers had just cleared of stones, weeds and rubbish. Our goalposts were made of wood that we had found lying around.

I’d had the idea of organising people on our Caritas Peacebuilding Programme into teams for an event parallel to the World Cup. So, Caritas and the Damietta Peace Initiative organised 16 teams from Africa and one from France into a tournament – the Football Peace Cup.

The tournament aimed to help people reflect on themselves and to recognise the value of others. The message was that despite differences in skin colour, language, nationality, ethnicity and religion, we all belong to one human family.

The Peace Cup was taking place in a township where xenophobic violence had erupted two years before. Sixty people had died just because they were a different nationality, race or tribe.

In the townships in South Africa, people don’t have electricity and so couldn’t easily watch the World Cup. But their enthusiasm brought the tournament into their shanty towns as people from the international community left the relative luxury and security of the stadiums to enjoy games played by the underprivileged community.

That July morning, as the older children started to organise themselves into teams, they suddenly realised that they didn’t have a ball! They disappeared and returned with plastic bags and rags. I looked on in amazement as they somehow knotted it all together into a ball and started to play. I was reminded that necessity often brings out a creativity and ingenuity that might otherwise go untapped.

The community members who had created the soccer pitch with their own hands had an enormous sense of pride and achievement. It was something so simple and yet it had profound implications for the community.

I’ve worked in South Africa for over thirty years and I saw how the apartheid system destroyed people’s self-worth and self-confidence. With my job at Caritas, I’m always amazed and overjoyed at the awakening of the realisation in people that they have the potential and power to transform their own lives and communities.

Part of my job is holding workshops across the country to help people discover how they can use their resources to help themselves and their communities. Probably my greatest joy in my job is the inspiration I get from the poor, especially women, who are willing to give of their “nothingness” in order to help somebody else. The people I meet often have a thirst for spirituality and transformation.

The Peace Cup ran until the 3rd July – just before the real World Cup ended. I felt a great sense of triumph for the community. They had regained a sense of dignity and self-esteem. It was the first step in reclaiming their potential and power to bring about a change in their lives.