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Basketball inspires Aruban youth to speak out

“Think about it like this,” starts Anselmo Matthew, president of the Aruban youth sports organization Stealers Basketball. “Imagine being in line at a store and looking up to see the clerk behind the counter ignoring all the customers in line. You watch and wait as the line grows, and you see that the workers behind the counter are talking on their cell phones, checking their email, refusing to wait on customers in a timely manner.

“Finally, you have had enough. Bolstered by the murmurs and whispered complaints you hear from the other customers around you, you work up the nerve to say something---to stand up against this terrible customer service. You walk up to the counter and you exclaim, ‘Hey, what’s going on? We are paying customers! We deserve better treatment!’

“But as you turn around, expecting to see other customers join in your protest, you watch in surprise as the rest of the people in line avert their eyes and shuffle away from you in fear or embarrassment. You suddenly realize that no one has your back.

“And now, standing alone, instead of being the courageous voice speaking out on behalf of your peers, you have become a single, solitary troublemaker, whose insolence the store owners easily silence as they usher you back into line.

That--is what it often feels like to be a young person on this island. You may have an idea. You may have the courage to speak out to the powers that be. But many times, due to fear or embarrassment generated by adults or society itself, you often find yourself being treated like the single, solitary troublemaker who just won’t get in line. And your voice is easily silenced."

Last week, the Miami-based NGO CourtVision International teamed up with Stealers Basketball organization in the city of San Nicolas, Aruba to host a sports-based youth empowerment workshop. The workshop was designed and facilitated by CourtVision, the NGO accelerator that trains and designs conflict transformation sports programs with youth organizations all over the world.

Over three full days, thirty-three boys and girls from San Nicolas, ages 6-17, were challenged to overcome their fear of speaking out, work together, and use their collective voice on issues that affect them. They developed conflict resolution and public speaking skills and learned to negotiate rules of gameplay with other youth competitors and adults. Many of the challenges were new for students, and they seemed hesitant at first to speak out in the simulated negotiations with adults.

But as their skills increased, their confidence grew, and by the end of the week, students and adults alike were engaging in full-fledged discussions on topics that transcend the basketball court--such as the legal protections for children, the enhancement of women’s participation in government, and democratic elections. “We learned a lot about how to be calm and decide between two options when each of us want different things,” said one participant, Andre. Another participant, Chantal, said that “creating the rules was hard at first because we kept arguing. But with the guidance of the coaches, we realized we could do it if we worked together.”

President of the Aruban Basketball Federation Geraldo Milton was excited to observe the culture created by the dialogues between students and the adults. “I was very proud of our students,” Milton said. “They showed up to this workshop during their spring break from school. They took care of each other and shared their ideas. The bigger students showed their ability to mentor and take care of the younger ones. I’m very happy about the effect this workshop will have on our organization and the culture of youth development in our community. We look forward to future involvement with CourtVision International!”

You can learn more about Stealers Basketball here And you can make donations to their organization here

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