Wrestlers Fight To Unite S. Sudanese Communities

Peter Biar Ajak, an economist, who's returned to South Sudan 22 years after fleeing its civil war as a child, is organizing traditional wrestling matches as way to help ease tensions among South Sudan's communities.

Wrestlers Fight To Unite S. Sudanese Communities
The wrestlers get 3 minutes to try to bring their opponents down to either either knees or their back [┬ęCNN]

JUBA, 17th August 2011 - Peter Biar Ajak, an economist, who's returned to South Sudan 22 years after fleeing its civil war as a child, is organizing traditional wrestling matches as way to help ease tensions among South Sudan's communities.

Based on a feature published by CNN yesterday, traditional wrestling in the Republic of South Sudan can be used to unite the people as Peter Biar Ajak demonstrated.

He said that the sport reminds the ethnic groups of South Sudan of the things that unite them.

"To bring peace among the tribes in South Sudan will take a lot of things but wrestling is an integral part of that process," he says. "It reminds people of their commonalities -what do they share in common -and through that they see that they are the same people and there is nothing else that can do that.

"But it needs to be complemented by other things: delivery of services, education, health -people need to feel that their life is changing."

With ash applied to their bodies and determination glinting in their eyes, two young tribal wrestlers stride onto a large field under the hot sun.

In the next few minutes, the fighters will give everything they have to knock their opponent down and achieve tribal glory amid the cheers of the gathered crowd.

For years, the tribes of South Sudan have fought over pasture and raided each other's cattle. But today, thanks largely to the efforts of one of Sudan's "Lost Boys," the common cultural ground of wrestling is being used to unite the still-divided communities in the world's newest country.

Starting with the daunting task of getting the tribes to participate, Ajak and his South Sudan Wrestling Company have so far organized three tournaments.

Ajak says the results have been tremendous. He says he's seen people from the rival Dinka and Mundari tribes come together after meeting at wrestling matches.

"The women whose husbands were killed, they were cooking for the men from the communities that killed their husbands," he says.

"There are all these kinds of stories, the harmony that is bringing, the unity that is bringing. Bringing people from the Nuba mountains to come and wrestle -it is something that is historic and never been seen before and it shows that the spirit of the wrestling and the objective in which we created it are working."

The initiative not only promotes peace but also brings economic benefits for those who participate; each wrestler is paid 1,000 Sudanese pounds -- about $400 -per match.

"That is the price for a cow," says Ajak. "You go and compete and come back with a cow -that is the mind set in which they were interpreting this."

As a result, wrestling is a source of income for hundreds of young people, with a potential to benefit even more in the fledging republic.

Ajak, 27, was born in Sudan at the start of Africa's longest-running civil war. The conflict, which left more than two million people dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, forced Ajak to flee his country when he was just five years old.

He spent the following years moving from one refugee camp to another before finding his way to the United States at the age of 17. After completing high school, he went on to study at LaSalle University in Philadelphia before graduating from Harvard Kennedy School.

But Ajak never abandoned the dream of going back to his homeland to help his people.

In 2009, as an economist he took a job with the World Bank in South Sudan, where he helps shape policies for the implementation of the multi-donor trust fund and assists the government in setting up the first-ever development plan.

Source: Lillian Leposo, CNN

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