“This is the first time I feel that as a girl, my role as a decision-maker is respected, and I can freely express myself."
Sana Ghanem is a 12-year-old Palestinian refugee living in the Al Ma’ashouk gathering of Palestinian refugees in Tyre, South Lebanon.
In Lebanon, it remains difficult for girls to play sports and to access safe recreational spaces, especially in conservative communities. “I’ve always enjoyed football but the only place I could play was the balcony of our house, where I used to play with my brother,” said Sana.
Sana is one of 4,500 children around Lebanon learning conflict resolution, communication, and negotiation skills through sports activities. They learn these skills mainly through the football3 program created by Streetfootballworld, which uses the sport as a tool for positive social change. Gender equality is a basic value of football3, along with fair play, teamwork, respect, and athletic conditioning.
A Creative Concept to Foster Health and Personal Growth
A typical football3 match consists of three periods. First is a pre-match discussion for the teams to agree on rules of the game. Next comes the football match itself, which ranges in duration from 10-20 minutes depending on the size of the team. Finally, a post-game discussion allows players to reflect on the match, and to what extent the rules were respected. Points come from good sportsmanship as well as goals, and the whole process is overseen by a trained mediator or facilitator.
Traditional football is popular in Lebanon, but the concept of football3 is less known. “This is the first time I’ve heard about football3, but I like it more than traditional football, because my role as a player here is respected as much as that of a male player,” Sana said. “If there’s a rule in the game that I don’t agree with, we can amend it together.”
It is not that acceptable for women and girls to play sports publicly here.
Nazha Al Robi, the mediator who oversaw Sana’s match, agrees that women in Lebanon face challenges as football fans and players. “It is not that acceptable for women and girls to play sports publicly here, and for many years I only played indoors or in private spaces,” she said.
Positive Effects of Sports Affect the Whole Community
Sports offer healthier lifestyle choices, too. As Nazha explained, “Here within the refugee community, we have seven- and eight-year-old children visiting cafes and smoking. By providing opportunities to children to play sports in safe spaces, they can learn to adopt healthy lifestyles while developing their skills, so later in life they are more prepared to positively contribute to their community and society.”
Lebanon continues to experience instability due to its proximity to the Syrian war and the ongoing influx of Syrian refugees. There are now over a million and a half Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who are added to the thousands of Palestinian refugees already in the country.
In response, Anera is implementing a ‘Youth for Development’ sports education program in partnership with Streetfootballworld, along with funds from the UEFA Foundation for Children and the German Federal Foreign Office. The program aims to reach 4,500 at-risk youth from different communities with the skills, social networks and safe spaces necessary to develop their full potential and foster social cohesion in a fragmented society.