I was in Brussels recently at a 10 Million Discs focus weekend. 10MD are a non-profit NGO who use ultimate as a tool to break down barriers within and between communities – whether it be integrating minority groups, refugees, disadvantaged youth, or promoting gender equity. The self-refereed / spirit of the game aspect of ultimate encourages peaceful conflict resolution, and with the incredibly low cost entry barrier (just a disc and a flat space needed), I stand alongside 10MD in believing that ultimate can and should be used to bring about real social change across the globe…
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As well as brainstorming sessions and presentations from the 10MD members, we had meetings with the US Embassy, the Quaker Council for European Affairs, the European Commission for East Africa Development, and the Belgian Ultimate board of directors.
Previously I’ve worked with 10MD in Albania, where we introduced the sport to around 500 schools through teacher-training sessions with PE teachers in all the major cities across the developing country. They’ve also run projects in Macedonia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and worked with Syrian refugees in the Middle East.
This weekend we put our heads together to determine 10MD’s focus over the next few months, and also preliminarily landed a grant to carry out work all across Belgium, including the municipality of Molenbeek. The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, as well have some others, have been linked to Molenbeek, leading to a prejudice about the local population, which is in reality multicultural and contains many different communities, the largest being Moroccan and Turkish in origin. 10MD representative Tof Bihin will also be coordinating 10 hat tournaments happening in each of the 10 provinces in Belgium (with the aim of introducing new players to the game), and will be getting Ultimate Frisbee included in the Special Olympics in May.
One crucial tool we’re going to use here is distributing discs which have common phrases printed on them in all the languages used in Belgium (French, Flemish, and German!). We’re also going to work together with Belgian Ultimate (we met members of the board at a women’s tournament in Leuven) to activate potential coaches across the country to introduce the sport to schools in their local areas.
The meeting which impacted me the most was with the Danish Refugee Council. Thousands upon thousands of refugees have flooded across the Middle East and Europe since the war in Syria began in 2011, and securing enough funding to keep them alive and safe requires constant work from hundreds of people in dozens of NGOs. As a side note, what a quirk of conventional society that corporate/business workers enjoy such healthy paychecks in comparison to NGO workers – I can’t see any organic solution to this, but it’s an interesting reflection.
The basic health and safety of the refugees is the number 1 priority; beyond that is “psychosocial support” – the basic aspects of life which exist just beyond basic food, shelter, medicare and security. Refugee camps are places where young people spend many, if not all, of their formative years, living off hand-outs… think about that for a second. What is there for a refugee to do for all those years, how do they develop? Ultimate does not suddenly fix everything and make life rosy, but at a very low cost it offers an outlet accessible to everybody which keeps them active and social, and it goes beyond other sports thanks to the spirit of the game – instilling a culture of trust, honesty, collaboration, developing negotiation skills, and building a true sense of community.
It was great to meet with so many like-minded people who believe ultimate can bring about real social change in the world, and put together some plans to do exactly that. I look forward to the 10MD projects coming up in the future!