Sports are a Peacebuilding Tool in Northern Lebanon

February 6, 2014 lkassman
Categories:
Community Development, Education, Lebanon, Palestinian Camps
Locations:
Boys and girls with their 'coach' for day of outdoor games as part of ANERA's sports for peace program in northern Lebanon. Boys and girls with their 'coach' for day of outdoor games as part of ANERA's sports for peace program in northern Lebanon.

“The fighting destroyed everything in Yarmouk camp, so on January 1st 2013, we left for Lebanon,” 14-year-old Jawad explains. “Our departure was so rushed that we were only able to gather a small suitcase to take with us.”

More than 1,700 children have participated in ANERA’s peacebuilding sports program.

Jawad is one of the million refugees from Syria who have sought safety in Lebanon over the past two years. The sudden flood of refugees is causing sectarian tensions to flare among Lebanon’s four million residents who are already suffering from the economic impact of the war on their border.

For youngsters like Jawad, with a Syrian mother and Palestinian father, his new reality as a refugee is frightening. He already recognizes the prejudice toward Syrian refugees among some Lebanese communities. “People here don’t really accept us. They say we carry diseases,” he explains, referring to the polio outbreak in Syria.

Jawad, refugee from Syrian conflict, is happy he joined sports for peace program in Lebanon where he has made new friends.

Jawad, refugee from Syrian conflict, is happy he joined Sports for Peace program in Lebanon where he has made new friends.

Refugees are finding Lebanon’s hospitality has diminished over the past two years as long-standing socio-economic frictions between Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians resurface. Many youths from Syria feel isolated and rejected in their new communities. Young Fahed fled from Yarmouk camp in Syria to Lebanon’s Nahr El Bared camp but finds little comfort there. “It’s very difficult here. Other kids don’t like to play with us. They insult us and we often fight.”

The prejudice is even more apparent in the school system where local children and refugees are segregated in separate shifts throughout the day. Syrian refugees attend school during the afternoon shift, leaving little opportunity to mingle with the local kids who attend the morning shift.

Bridging the Gap Through Sports

In addition to its relief efforts, ANERA is using sports and recreational activities to bring children together to promote dialogue and social integration among Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese youth. The six-month pilot project “Sports For Peace,” funded by USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI), has brought together more than 1,700 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian young boys and girls, aged 7 to 17. Youth from 25 sports clubs from conflicting neighborhoods in northern Lebanon were able to play together in soccer tournaments, outdoor trips, and a peace-building Open Day event. The program also included a conflict mitigation workshop for 24 soccer coaches.

Youth in Sports for Peace program proudly show their victory cup after soccer tournament, Beddawi camp Leebanon

Youth in Sports for Peace program show off their trophy after soccer tournament in Beddawi camp.

Sports proved an oasis of normality for the refugee teens, regardless of their origins, because of its significant role in happier times before the war. “I used to play soccer almost every day back in Syria,” Fahed says, “but in the past two years, after the war began, we stopped going out, and so we stopped playing.”

Young girls hold a soccer ball they will play with in sports for peace program in Lebanon to bring together Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese kids.

Young girls get to play soccer too.

With ANERA’s help, local sports clubs now have places to play and are encouraged to include children from Syria.

Jawad has joined the Al-Nidal soccer club in Beddawi Camp. “This is the first time, I get to play in a tournament!” His eyes shine with enthusiasm, “and I made lots of new friends on my team. Now we play together after school, even when we don’t have training.”

Jawad is not the only one enjoying the company of new friends. Eight out of ten children who have participated in ANERA’s Sports for Peace program say they have made at least two new friends from Lebanon.

Sports Help Young Refugees Cope

Soccer also empowers young refugees and helps them build self-esteem while they learn to cope with the tough conditions of their new reality of uncertainty and vulnerability,

Boys and girls get together to play a board game as part of ANERA's sports for peace program in northern Lebanon.

Board games and group activities are part of ANERA’s Sports for Peace program.

Young Zahar says he was traumatized by the death of his father in the Sryian conflict. “When I arrived in Nahr El Bared Camp in Lebanon, I felt completely lost. I didn’t know the place or the people and I was mentally exhausted.”

Thankfully, the 15-year-old joined a local soccer club where he was able to make new friends and become part of a group. “Two months ago, I began to play in Al-Somod club and it helped me a lot,” he explained. “Soccer helps me calm down. My mother even said to me, ‘you look happier, what is happening to you?’ When I’m playing with my new team I feel as if I’m in Syria again.”

Zahar, Jawad and Fahed still dream of returning to Syria to resume their lives. As the war at home drags on, the comfort they find playing with new found friends from different communities underscores the power of sports to provide a sense of hope and normalcy as well as a place to learn respect, tolerance and cooperation.  

Soccer match is part of peacebuilding program, Lebanon
Team players in peacebuilding soccer game, Lebanon
Boys play peacebuilding board game, Lebanon
Boys join hands in peacebuilding game, Lebanon
Youngsters with painted faces in peacebuilding games, Lebanon
Boy dives into water in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon
Boy playing soccer in water in peacebuilding outing, Lebanon
Yougn boy plays in water during peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon
Young girl enjoys playing in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon
Teenage boy enjoys peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon
Young girls show her drawing from peacebuilding outing, Lebanon
Young girls play board game in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon
Boys laugh together in peacebuilding games, Lebanon
Boys link arms in peacebuilding sports exercise, Lebanon

Soccer match is part of peacebuilding program, Lebanon

Team players in peacebuilding soccer game, Lebanon

Boys play peacebuilding board game, Lebanon

Boys join hands in peacebuilding game, Lebanon

Youngsters with painted faces in peacebuilding games, Lebanon

Boy dives into water in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon

Boy playing soccer in water in peacebuilding outing, Lebanon

Yougn boy plays in water during peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon

Young girl enjoys playing in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon

Teenage boy enjoys peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon

Young girls show her drawing from peacebuilding outing, Lebanon

Young girls play board game in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon

Boys laugh together in peacebuilding games, Lebanon

Boys link arms in peacebuilding sports exercise, Lebanon

Soccer match is part of peacebuilding program, Lebanon thumbnail
Team players in peacebuilding soccer game, Lebanon  thumbnail
Boys play peacebuilding board game, Lebanon thumbnail
Boys join hands in peacebuilding game, Lebanon  thumbnail
Youngsters with painted faces in peacebuilding games, Lebanon thumbnail
Boy dives into water in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon thumbnail
Boy playing soccer in water in peacebuilding outing, Lebanon  thumbnail
Yougn boy plays in water during peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon thumbnail
Young girl enjoys playing in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon thumbnail
Teenage boy enjoys peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon thumbnail
Young girls show her drawing from peacebuilding outing, Lebanon thumbnail
Young girls play board game in peacebuilding day outing, Lebanon thumbnail
Boys laugh together in peacebuilding games, Lebanon thumbnail
Boys link arms in peacebuilding sports exercise, Lebanon thumbnail

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