Juan Sanchez: “Promoting peace through sport”
Young Change-Maker (YCM) Juan Sanchez has this year launched a ground-breaking initiative aimed at helping vulnerable youngsters in the country of Colombia, torn apart by decades of conflict.
The power of sport to heal divisions and resolve conflict is a phenomenon that has been widely documented over the years, and one which provided the inspiration for Juan Sanchez’s project. Made possible via the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Young Change-Maker+ programme, “The Olympic Workshop, Creating Peace” is designed to help Colombian youngsters put the country’s recent, turbulent past behind them.
Colombia has been ravaged by internal conflict since the 1960s and, although a ceasefire was finally agreed last summer, Sanchez is convinced that sport has a major role in helping the country move forward.
“The philosophy is simple; with sport we can create a long-lasting peace in Colombia,” he says of his home country. “I had this idea some time ago and, thanks to the YCM+ Programme, I have been able to bring this project to life.
“That’s why the subtitle of the initiative is ‘Creating Peace’, because I believe that through sport we can create a better country for everyone, building social inclusion and bringing people together.”
The seeds of Sanchez’s idea were sown at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games, his role as the Colombian team’s YCM opening his eyes to the challenges faced by young athletes who had grown up against the backdrop of nationwide unrest.
“Being able to talk with the athletes at the YOG was a unique opportunity I had never had before,” he says. “They taught me so much about the social reality of our athletes and the contexts where they came from. I realised that many of our athletes were ‘self-made’ despite the challenges they had faced, and sport had played a crucial role in their personal development. At the same time, we had a peace process in Colombia, but I had never seen the country so polarised.”
His “Olympic Workshop” began this year, providing children and young adults with the opportunity to sample sports such as handball, badminton, hockey and jiu jitsu for the first time, while also providing a different, more positive perspective on their lives.
“The aim is to bring new sports to communities they haven’t reached before,” Sanchez says. “With the help of a wonderful team of coaches who are committed to their sports and to peace-building, we are going to schools in areas where kids can be at risk as a result of poverty, crime and drugs.
“We deliver an event which takes a whole day at the school, and kids can experiment and learn about different sports. After the day is over, we leave a package of equipment that allows students to continue practising the sports they have learned about.”
Sanchez took time out from his initiative in October to attend the One Young World summit held in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, taking part in a discussion entitled “Sport for Peace”; but he has now returned to complete his Olympic Workshop programme for 2017.
“My hope is to keep this programme running as long as it can, reaching ever-more remote regions of the country where I feel there is a pressing need for social inclusion and peace-building projects,” he says. “I think there are still many things to be done, and as long as I can help, I am happy to do it.”
The YCM+ programme, which is generously supported by IOC TOP Partner Panasonic, offers YCMs the chance to apply for up to CHF 5,000 seed funding to deliver their own community projects.
“OLYMPIC WORKSHOP” IN NUMBERS…
350 – Children who have already attended the workshop
10 – Coaches and support staff working on delivering the project
12-18 – Age range of the youngsters involved
500 – Target number of Colombian children to receive coaching by the end of 2017