Youth Leaders learn how sport can rebuild communities following natural disasters in Japan

By Jordan Stephenson

Japan blogWhen speaking to people outside the Youth Sport Trust about my trip to Japan, some were surprised as many think of the charity as a predominantly UK-based organisation. But my visit was just one small cog in the wheel of  Youth Sport Trust International's work in building a brighter future for young people around the world through sport.

My visit to Japan was as part of a team of Youth Sport Trust International staff to provide training at international Youth Leadership Camps to support the UN’s Sport for Development and Peace projects.

Around the world, many highly motivated youth work tirelessly to support their communities through Sport for Development and Peace projects. Most of the young people attending these camps have only limited resources with which to carry out their projects and do not have a proper forum where they can learn best practices or develop their leadership skills.

 The Youth Leadership Camps offer theoretical and practical training to improve both their projects and their own professional progress, and by supporting them once they go back to their communities.

30 Youth Leaders from nine different countries, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines were selected to attend because they work closely with young people in their own communities to help improve the lives of others through sport.

Arriving in Sendai, Japan, where the event was hosted was an eye-opening experience. Five years ago Sendai found itself at the mercy of a devastating Tsunami, which destroyed thousands of homes and left communities shattered by the loss of loved ones and left others with life-changing injuries.

We visited Onagawa, a small seaside town which suffered immeasurable damage and where nearly a fifth of the population lost their lives. There, we heard from a coach of the local football team, Cobaltore Onagawa FC who in the aftermath of the tragedy focussed their time on finding missing people and clearing the rubble. Later, through sport, they helped young people overcome their harrowing experiences by building relationships and growing their self-esteem.

The main outcome of this camp was for the youth leaders to implement Sport for Development and Peace initiatives within their communities.

I had the opportunity to spend time with some truly inspiring people, one of which was Miyu, a Japanese student studying in the city of Fukushima. Five years ago her city of study was ravaged by a nuclear meltdown following the Tsunami. Through growing a workforce of volunteers and coaches, she is now determined to provide more sporting opportunities for young people in the Fukushima area in order to support them to overcome the mental trauma which has left many in the community too afraid to venture outdoors.

Another Youth Leader, Suleman a visually impaired coach and athlete from Pakistan, used the camp to gain new ideas and principles to ensure he is providing a wide range of sporting opportunities for visually impaired people in his community. In addition to this, Suleman aims to work with organisations in order to provide more opportunities for elite athletes with visual impairments to represent their country in international competitions.

The camp provided the youth leaders the chance to learn from each other’s experiences as well as giving the Youth Leaders new skills in order to use sport to develop young people’s attitudes, perceptions and chances to succeed.  

The next Youth Leadership Camp to support the UN’s Sport for Development and Peace projects is taking place in Florida on 6 June 2016.