“Before the war, Omar was the top student in his class,” said his mother. “But he changed a lot after we fled Syria for Lebanon. He didn’t go to school anymore and he became introverted and shy.”
But while Omar was out of school, his ambition remained. He searched his home of Ein El Hilweh refugee camp for any activity that would help pass the time.
“One day, I heard about a traditional dabke dance group in the camp and I decided to join,” Omar said. But his excitement didn’t last long. “I was disappointed when the trainer told me to step aside, and that I have no capacity to be a good dabke performer.”
Omar didn’t let the trainer’s harsh words deter him. “I took this as a personal challenge and decided to practice by myself to prove that I can excel,” Omar said. For months, Omar watched online dabke videos and practiced at home.
His older sister Israa smiles as she remembers those days. “My uncle would complain that he couldn’t sleep because Omar was dancing all night,” she laughed.
My uncle would complain that he couldn't sleep because Omar was dancing all night.
Eventually Omar’s dabke skills impressed the team at Tadamon Association, and he was promoted to team captain.
“The first time I performed dabke in the camp in public was last year,” Omar noted.
His mother remembers that day very well. “I was amazed to see how much he’s changed,” she said. “And the same trainer who once said he had no potential was stunned by the performance. Now Omar is outgoing, less shy, and more enthusiastic about life.”
Soon Omar heard about basic literacy and math courses offered at Tadamon Association. “Since I had dropped out of school, I found these courses an opportunity to get back on track,” he said.
Now Omar is a trainer for a dabke course for out-of-school youth as the sports for development component of the same program. A total of 20 Syrian and Palestinian youth attend Omar’s course in Ein El Hilweh. In addition to technical dabke skills, the course teaches life-skills integrated through sports to promote social cohesion and development.
“I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to explore a wide array of courses and trainings,” Omar said. “The wage I make for teaching the dabke course is a great support to me and my family.”