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LA STAMPA

The Humble Power Of Interfaith Soccer In Jerusalem's Old City

Peace goals
Peace goals
Ariela Piattelli

JERUSALEM — In front of Zion Gate in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, just a short walk from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, lies a soccer pitch. Standing on the field, nestled beside an Armenian church, you can see the city walls and the rising minarets of mosques.

This pitch and the soccer academy surrounding it were built with funds donated by several notable figures in Italian sports, from soccer coach Carlo Ancelotti to Olympic swimmer Federica Pellegrini and motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi. The academy is run by the Italian soccer team AS Roma, and provides a unique experience in this divided city: Children from all backgrounds and religions — Arab, Israeli, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Armenian alike — play and train here together.

An opportunity to get to know each other better in a land where communication is often complicated.

"With the recent participation of the Armenian community, we've added another important piece of the cultural puzzle we're trying to build here," says Samuele Giannetti, vice president of the Roma Club Jerusalem. He and his organization have worked for years on this multicultural project, seeking to build dialogue on the soccer field and prove that people of all cultures can live together in harmony in Jerusalem.

For Giannetti and the academy, sport can be an antidote to ignorance, suspicion, and mistrust. "It's an instrument of reciprocal contact that goes far beyond the sport itself," says Giannetti. "If this pitch didn't exist these kids would never meet each other, whereas now they are bringing home an example of intercultural dialogue."

Hosted in the Armenian quarter, the academy was originally proposed by the Italian consulate in Jerusalem, which promoted the project with the support of the city's Armenian Patriarchate. "The school offers these children an opportunity to get to know each other better in a land where communication is often complicated," says Fabio Sokolowicz, the Italian consul.

Fabio Sonnino, president of the Roma Club Jerusalem, says the modest effort may at least offer another way into the peace process. "Our project is just a drop in the ocean," he says, "but it's a start."

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Society

In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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