“In football, you can win or lose. But we always have to be together, with the same spirit we’ve always had”. – James Rodriguez
Lebanon is hosting around 1.5 million Syrian refugees since 2012, living under difficult social and economic conditions, similarly 30% of the Lebanese population also struggles under the poverty line! Furthermore, the school aged refugee count is 631,000; half of them do not even have access to basic educational rights.
We believe that despite these conditions and all the appalling war horrors experienced by Syrian refugee children, we can still create positive momentum, if their energy is well invested, embraced and given a sense of security that they are not left alone. Those children who might lack many basic needs, but still have a hidden healing power, the power of playing!
This power is seriously taken in consideration by humanitarian workers, and also academics who work to enhance the child’s wellbeing. Recent evidence-based research conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that: “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (i.e., the process of learning, rather than the content), which allows us to pursue goals and ignore distractions. More than just a chance to have fun, play is serious business when it comes to a child’s health and development”.[i] And of course sports is one of the best playing tools that can be used in this context.
In light of this, a football based psychosocial support project, was recently launched by Amel Association International on the occasion of the International Day of Sports for Development and Peace, aiming to promote access to sports for refugee children, and use it as a tool of psychosocial support method, as sports can play an important role for refugees and especially children, both in terms of health and personal development, as well as in its social dimension[ii].
Amel Sports League kicked off last Saturday in Amel’s Hay El Sellom development center, with the participation of around 80 children, girls and boys, of both Syrian and Lebanese. The children enjoyed a day dedicated to the physical and mental well-being brought about by sporting practices.
The league aims to involve around 120 children from the most marginalized areas of Beirut, they will be split into teams with each team being made up of girls and boys from both Lebanese and Syrian communities and will then compete to play for a cause related to humanitarian values.
Teamwork, commitment, peaceful spirit, diversity and many other ethical values will be included within this project’s activities. The initial league will last for 3 months.
Uniforms and playing kits were donated by the Juventus Academy in Lebanon, and Secondkicks, a non-profit charitable sports organization with a mission to collect and distribute used football uniforms and equipment to needy communities in Canada and around the world.
Indeed, experience has proved that sports programs for refugees have helped in developing children physically, mentally and emotionally, reduce stress and loneliness, and improve their self-esteem. It is also a great vector of social link allowing people to come together from different ethnic, cultural, religious, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds. In addition, sports improves child development and learning, leading to better school results, according to UNHCR.
Through this humble initiative, Amel’s team is looking forward in touching the impact of this project on the short and long term. This might not be a huge life changing step for these children, but as Cristiano Ronaldo has once said: “I’m not going to change the world. You’re not going to change the world. But we can help – we can all help”.
[ii] UNHCR (29 Jully 2008)