The symbol is simple and strong at the same time. While this period is hectic and all of humanity is going through difficult times, a few flowers have grown to soothe hearts and restore hope. These flowers were offered by young judoka, whose history has too often been marked by violence and trauma.

The action takes place in Turkey and Syria, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa, far from tourist hotspots, but in the heart of a humanity wounded and bruised by exodus and conflict. The actors are all refugees. They live in camps or in difficult neighborhoods, but they have a love for judo in common.

For many years the International Judo Federation has been supporting them by offering educational activities based on judo and its values, in order to give them back hope and a taste for life. On the occasion of International Women's Day, in active cooperation with the federations of Turkey, Zambia and Malawi, as well as within the framework of the Judo for Peace South Africa programme, with the support of the One Humanity project (UNAOC) and UNHCR, the Judo for Peace and Gender Equity commissions joined forces. The aim? To raise awareness, through action and activity, of women's rights and issues challenging them. It was on this occasion that the young judoka offered flowers to their mothers, their grandmothers, their sisters and aunts and thus showed the importance of these women’s roles in their lives.

Lydian AKA “Einstein”, the kindest of our judoka

In South Africa there was a whole week of activities, held under the leadership of Roberto Orlando. In collaboration with NIKE, UNHCR, DLALA NJE, JSA, UNAIDS, five events took place, including self-defence talks and practice, reproductive health round tables, Zoom meetings with international athletes on the subject of women in sport and more. Events took place in four different locations: Alexandra, Berea, Kempton Park, Mayfair/Grosvenor. Participation from people from different countries and backgrounds and with vast, collective expertise, made the whole project robust and educational and we thank them all: Katja Bruwer (South Africa), Regina Daxbacher (Germany), Michaela Whitebooi (Judo South Africa high performance athlete), Estony Pridgeon (International Judo Federation Gender Equity Commission), Claire Ritcher (NIKE), Elisabetta Borzini (UNAIDS), Khanyisa Mhlongo (Dlala Nje), Sipiwe Sangqu (UNHCR), Kgothatso Montjane (Paralympic athlete), Hannes Daxbacher (Germany) and Dirk Crafford (South Africa). 

Girls in judo having contagious smiles after receiving sport bras from NIKE

In Malawi, International Women's Day was cerebrated in style, "For the first time in the history of judo, in Malawi, with support from the IJF and other partners, we organised activities at the Dzaleka refugee camp to mark such an important day," said a national federation representative. 

During celebrations an athlete read a poem entitled ‘Thank You Mother,’ which emphasised the great work that mothers are doing to guide young people in their lives and also to encourage their participation in Judo for Peace activities. 

Then the main judo demonstration took place, delivered by 33 young athletes, including 12 girls. It was performed within the refugee camp premises. One of the residents then spoke candidly about her view of the project, emphasising her gratitude for the peace and unity in the camp that the Judo for Peace programme has brought. Cecile said, on behalf of all the women present, "I urge parents to ensure that their children attend school and also participate in judo activity, which is teaching them to become good citizens, through the understanding of judo values."

Zambia, which for years has been doing substantive work, with the support of the IJF, to bring happiness to an ever-growing refugee population, was also very active on the occasion of International Women's Day. In Meheba, in the north-west of the country, judoka gathered together to celebrate the women of the refugee camp. Here again flowers came to brighten the day, symbolising all the thanks for those without whom life would be even more difficult. The presentation took place in the dojo, built with the support of the Norwegian National Olympic Committee and the Judo for Fred Commission.

Last but not least, the Turkish Federation organised, in both Kilis, Turkey and  Azaz, over the Turkish-Syrian border, activities related to the celebration of International Women's Day. Öner Buldum, in charge of the judo activities in the region, has been working tirelessly for many years to develop the sport, especially engaging with the Syrian refugees and making everything possible to integrate them. The Kilis refugee programme is the oldest one supported by the IJF. Going back to 2014, every year the IJF Judo for Peace Commission pays a visit to the camp and practises with the young participants. Within just a few years, more than 2,000 children have had the chance to enjoy judo. Two years ago, when the IJF visited the camp with Olympic champion Pino Maddaloni (ITA), we had the chance to see that many girls had joined the programme. This year activities are taking place also across the border, showing that judo has the capacity to open new doors.

Kilis, Trukey

On 8th March the message from IJF President Maris Vizer was delivered to all participants of the activities, "I would like to congratulate and express our gratitude to all the women in our judo family, on and off the mat, who are contributing day by day to promoting, encouraging and sharing our passion for judo and its values. I thank you all for your boundless dedication, hard work, inspiration and enthusiasm. The IJF appreciates and is grateful for your achievements and endeavours and your invaluable, meaningful contribution to building a better society."

Azaz, Syria

Both the Gender Equity and Judo for Peace commissions delivered an important message of hope, "We are happy to address you with a message of hope and peace, especially on the occasion of International Women’s Day. We all know how important our mothers, sisters, aunts and friends are in our lives. Through sport and especially judo we can create conditions for women to express themselves and to play an even more important role in society. Throughout the world we are celebrating women and we are also particularly happy to see that our refugee camp programmes are part of this celebration. The Judo for Peace and Gender Equity commissions joined forces on this special occasion, to show that together we are stronger and that through judo we can achieve Jigoro Kano’s dream of creating a better society."

Zambia, Meheba Refugee Settlement

During the week, judo values played a major role. With the support of all the federations, the participants, the authorities, the UNHCR and the UNAOC and all the local partners, a strong message was delivered. It was a message full of flowers and love, which will stay inscribed in every one's memory for a very long time.

More images:

MALAWI - Dzalela Refugee Camp


Self-defense demonstration by Sensei Crafford
Sensei Katja’s talk on self-defense
Women in action – a special guest learning o-Goshi
Connection between Tashkent (Uzbekistan) and Mayfair (Johannesburg)
Judo for Hope hall in Alexandra
Learning more about women’s judo (“I am Judo” - Marie Gahie, World Champion)
With our best friends Hannes and Regina from Germany

KILIS (Turkey) and AZAZ (Syria)

ZAMBIA - Meheba Refugee Settlement

See also