How Sports and Virtual Reality Are Improving Cultural Relations in Impoverished Communities

Empower 2 Play is leveraging sports and advanced tech to showcase the Haitian people in a new light.

Young Girl Playing Football

Sports are fun to play. Sports are entertaining to watch. But sports also bring people together.

When playing a sport, you're with a group of individuals who share a common interest. Cultural and background differences typically fall by the wayside as the focus shifts to playing the game, not who you are or where you came from.

Empower 2 Play, a non-profit organization, is leveraging this unique quality of sports to bring positive change to some of the most impoverished areas in the world.

In partnership with U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Embassy and Haiti, the organization is hosting a sports diplomacy event in Cité Soleil, Haiti.

"We are using sports to bridge cross-cultural relations and identify next-generation leaders in that community," says AK Ikwuakor, founder and president of Empower 2 Play.

If you do a quick Google search on Cité Soleil, you will find images of extreme poverty and unsanitary living conditions, and stories of murder, rape and gang violence. According to the United Nations, it's the most dangerous city and largest slum in the western hemisphere.

So why Cité Soleil?

Ikwuakor explains they are attempting to show the citizens of Cité Soleil in a new light.

Coach AK Catching a Ball

"Our first objective is to humanize this location, because for most people as they think about Haiti, they think about the earthquake, they think about poverty, they think about corruption," he says. "They don't think about the families, parents and children that live there every single day and that are very much like you and me. There's crazy stuff going on, but there are still humans there.

"We are going in there and using sports to rebuild relations and to show a side of this location that a majority of the world has never seen," he adds.

In 48 hours, 100 volunteers will travel to Cité Soleil and teach 300 kids an unfamiliar sport like football, put on a sports camp and have some fun. Throughout the event, the volunteers will identify kids who demonstrate leadership qualities and connect them with other leaders from the United States, the Philippines (where they held their first event) and future sports diplomacy locations.

"Our goal is to create a global family through the power of sports," Ikwuakor says.

Although it is only accessible to the individuals in attendance, Empower 2 Play is leveraging advanced virtual reality technology so people from around the world can experience Cité Soleil and the power of sports.

Visit Empower2Play.org to learn more about the initiative and to tune in to the virtual reality feed.


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

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