The Victorious: Football Becomes Life-changing for Syrian Teens
Since the start of the Syrian crisis, ANERA has expanded its sports for development program to engage vulnerable refugee youth residing in Lebanon. Recently, the program caught the attention of an Arab reality TV show, The Victorious, which aims to find serious athletic talent in the informal tent camps where many refugees live.
The Victorious strives to give Arab youth a chance to enhance their football skills at an international level. These opportunities are hard to come by for Syrian refugee youth. For this reason, Different Productions teamed up with ANERA to work on the TV show. Together, the partnership aims to give a fair chance to displaced Syrian youth residing in Lebanon.
As part of the show, a jury committee of professional football players hand-selected the best players from ANERA’s program. The committee included internationally renowned athletes like former FC Real Madrid player Michel Salgado, the famous Arab football player, Jihad Al Montasser, and many others. They visited the Bekaa Valley, where many displaced Syrians reside, to shortlist the most skilled youth. In the end they selected three players to participate in the TV show, among the 200 youth enrolled in ANERA’s football courses.
The three winners were excited to get coached by professionals to sharpen their skills and open up opportunities to become professionals themselves. Here is a glimpse at what this means for the three winners.
Abdel Hakim Al Dasher
The 21-year-old youth was studying his for his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in his hometown, Aleppo, when the Syrian conflict erupted. Soon he had to flee to Lebanon. Since he couldn’t afford to pursue his studies, he worked in agriculture, private tutoring, and other odd jobs to make a living. But the burdens on Abdel Hakim are difficult to bear, given that he’s a father of two now, and he pays monthly rent for the tent where he resides.
“Sports is the space where I can let go of all the negative emotions I’ve experienced as a result of what I’ve been through,” said Abdel Hakim. “I’ve been playing football since I was 6, and selecting me today gave me some hope for a better future for me and my family.”
Mahmoud fled with his family to Lebanon back in 2012. In the informal tented settlement where he lives, he gathered a group of youth to start a football team. Later on, Mahmoud heard about the ANERA’s sports courses. He quickly joined, excited to get started.
“I work in harvesting now since it’s the only work I could find here,” said Mahmoud. “I am so glad that my friend Anas and I were selected. We both played for the same team in our tented settlement in Bekaa.”
Mahmoud’s 18-year-old teammate fled to Lebanon back in 2013 from Aleppo, Syria. As the oldest son of his family, he’s the only breadwinner for his mom and four siblings, since his father passed away. Anas works in wall-painting on an irregular basis, whenever he finds an opportunity.
“Anas was ranked first in his class, but he had to drop out in grade seven. It’s a waste that he’s working in wall painting now,” said his mother. Anas added, “I’ve always dreamed of joining a European club and this opportunity made me believe that this big dream can come true, despite the harsh conditions we live in.”
Big Dreams for Sports Programs in Lebanon
ANERA has been implementing the youth sports program in Lebanon since 2010. Sports are used as a cross-cutting program encapsulating the values of education, social integration, dialogue, conflict mitigation and public health awareness.
The sports courses target youth between the ages of 14-24 of different nationalities, including Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians. The most popular sports course is football, involving 47% of all participants in the sports program. In total, 3,840 youth participated in a variety of sports courses offered last year.