Dortmund-Germany, March 29, 2012: Flight delays due to a strike in Frankfurt Airport, lost luggage and a fire evacuation in the mall – the children from Burundi (as part of the “Ping Pong Paix” project), despite all these troubles, kept their spirits high during their visit to the World Table Tennis Championships in Dortmund.
“Ping Pong Paix”, which means Ping Pong for Peace, is the third joint project by the ITTF and Peace and Sport as part of the Table Tennis for Peace Program. Similar projects were carried out in slum areas in Dili, the capital of Timor-Leste (Ping Pong Ba Dame 2010) and pavelas in major Colombian cities (Ping Pong Paz 2009).
“The Great Lakes Region has had much troubles in terms of conflict,” exclaimed Ludovic Hubler, Head of Programs and Field Operations Manager of Peace and Sport. “The area, which includes Rwanda, Congo DR and Burundi, has suffered many years of civil war and tribal conflicts. Over 30 years, there have been more than five million people have been killed.”
Table Tennis as a Vehicle for Peace
Through the “Ping Pong Paix” project, 400 children and teenagers from youth centres in Gihanga and Gitega (Burundi) and in Luvungi and Bwegera (Congo DR) meet each week in a fun and welcoming environment to play table tennis together, putting aside all their conflicts and differences.
“Sport is a fantastic way to propagate good values, such as respect of rules, respect of others, tolerance, discipline, team spirit and putting in effort”. The other objective, explained Ludovic Hubler, is also to facilitate social cohesion. “We also had training camps to bring different centres together to learn from each other”.
Four Children from Burundi Visit World Championships
Four children from Burundi visited the World Championships in Dortmund and had table tennis training with German children at the Fun Park in Westfalenhallen. The children could be seen playing excitedly together. “This shows that we can understand each other even if we don’t speak the other’s language”, said Werner Steinke, Delegation Coordinator from DTTB, as he explained that the German children could only speak German, while the Burundi children could only speak French.
However, they did not just overcome the language barriers. Beyond that, “these young people from Burundi and Germany are today experiencing the same truth through meeting each other,” said Joel Bouzou, President and Founder, President of the World Olympians Associations. “When we all respect the same sports rules, we overlook our differences. This is how we advance along the path of reconciliation, communication, sharing and peace,” he emphasized.
Homestay equally meaningful
While in Dortmund, the children from Burundi are staying at the homes of two families from Congo DR. This is a meaningful gesture of goodwill, and the children will continue to learn about communication, sharing and peace at their host families.
Special Thanks to German Table Tennis Federation, German Olympic Committee, NGO Dorkin and Butterfly
“I would like to warmly thank the German Table Tennis Federation (DTTB), the German Olympic Committee and the NGO Dorkin who helped us send these four young people to the World Table Tennis Championships in Dortmund,” acknowledged Joel Bouzou. Indeed, we would also like to thank equipment manufacturer Butterfly, for without their support, the Ping Pong Paix project would not be possible.
Today at the ITTF Board of Directors meeting, the children from Burundi presented their handmade gifts to ITTF, Peace & Sport and DTTB as a token of appreciation.
Tomorrow on 30 March 2012, they will visit the Butterfly booth in the venue. In addition, they will visit the Max-Planck-Gymnasium School Dortmund, where children learn both German and French, to attend two lessons with the German children.
Photo Caption: Ludovic Hubler posing for a photo with the Burundi delegates at the main playing hall in Westfalenhallen. Photo by: Michael Brown