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North Africa welcomes USA Wrestling for Peace ambassadors: “A Struggle in the Sand of the Sahara”

By USA Wrestling for Peace | Nov. 18, 2018, 11:05 a.m. (ET)

Top photo: USA Wrestling for Peace ambassador Kiki Kelley meets with Governor Mrs. Fatma Balla.
Bottom photo: USA Wrestling for Peace ambassador Dan Russell meets with President Brahim Ghali.

USA Wrestling for Peace ambassadors encountered an ancient wrestling civilization in the Sahara Desert from November 3-8.

Ambassadors Dan Russell and Kiki Kelley headed to the Tindouf Province in Algeria, North Africa to meet with the Sahrawi people, over 200,000 refugees with a rich wresting heritage dating back thousands of years. These rugged people, living in unbelievably difficult circumstances, share a beautiful history, deeply rooted in the sport.

Unfortunately, as refugees for over 43 years, they have almost lost this important part of their culture. The purpose of this USA Wrestling for Peace trip was to deepen the relationship between two very diverse cultures through the shared experience of wrestling.

Ambassadors Russell and Kelley met with strategic sports leaders as well as the President of the Sahrawi to build strategies to keep this important part of the Sahrawi culture alive.

Kiki Kelley says, “Wrestling is the world’s first sport and the Sahrawi people were part of that over 5,000 years ago. We’re here to help rekindle that wrestling spirit in them and help meet humanitarian needs,” said Kelley.

Russell also met with leaders in Europe, to find ways to establish long-term training opportunities for new young Sahrawi wrestlers.

Wrestling in the desert has many challenges. There is a struggle for life’s daily necessities that is always present, and radical groups often look for recruits among the desperate. Wrestling provides context to both of these obstacles. It challenges mind, body and spirit to overcome hardship, and produces humility through a deeper understanding of the human struggle.

There are many things the global wrestling family can learn through relationships built in the desert. The Sahrawi are learning to overcome the wrestling match of life. As a wrestling family we are asking how we can come alongside and help.

“This is what makes the USA Wrestling for Peace program so important. We have access to the most difficult places all over the world and they love wrestling. We can build bridges to people that can’t be reached through traditional organizations,” said Russell.

To find out more about USA Wrestling for Peace and current projects, go to: