Empowering young sports leaders in refugee camps in Lebanon

The Change Foundation has partnered with UK based charity, Muslim Hands, to train young sports leaders in how to use sport to provide psycho-social support to Syrian refugee children who have suffered dislocation and trauma. This type of programme is unique in Lebanon and is delivered through Muslim Hand’s network of local NGOs who they fund to provide these programmes and the delivery of food parcels. Our training programme for leaders in the camps involved games and exercises using football, basketball, cricket and rugby. As with all of our work, the sport is the framework through which we create sharing and learning experiences for children and young people.

In October TCF Senior Manager Peter Harrison visited Lebanon to see the programme in action. Here is Peter’s account of the trip:

“The first full day involved a trip through the Bekaa Valley to the sports centre where we trained coaches last year. This first part of our visit turned out to be a wonderfully heart-warming experience. After a fun warm-up session, attention was turned to basketball and soccer and what the children lacked in discipline (everybody ended up fighting for the ball on numerous occasions!); they more than made up for it with great enthusiasm and continual smiles.

The Lebanese authorities have deliberately avoided creating large refugee camps like some of those in Jordan and Turkey; instead have used small plots of rural land to create camps, which usually host between 10 and 50 families. I visited one such camp only a couple hundred meters from the sports centre, which is home to 26 families. Many of the children we had been coaching were from this camp, which are full of women and children, but have very few men in. I was introduced to one of the only men in the camp, an elderly man who had lost 21 members of his family in the conflict and was living in a tent with his daughter and two granddaughters. There was no hot water and no heating, so I dread to think how difficult the winters are. He had no means of employment and his family collected plastic and metal items to sell for recycling. He had heart problems and could not afford regular medication. I felt very humbled to be in the presence of such a dignified human being.

Muslim Hands are no longer able to fund the sports programme, as their resources are concentrated on ensuring the refugees have the basics in place to get them through another harsh winter in the Bekaa Valley, so the second part of the trip was talking through the logistics of various fundraising and awareness- raising initiatives. The idea that seemed to capture everyone’s imagination was the re-staging of the first ever cricket match to be played outside of England which took place in Aleppo in 1676. We talked through how we might do this with the most likely solution being to do it in a camp on the Turkish side of the border and involving refugees from Aleppo, which is 60 miles from the Turkish border. We look forward to implementing this.”