With the highest population density in the world, there’s not much space for sports in Gaza. The village of Musaddar in Middle Gaza is no exception.
The area’s only sports club was badly damaged, so kids played soccer in abandoned lots and trash-filled streets.
“Sports and games are the only refuge for youth in this village,” said Moaz Abu Saleem, director of the Musaddar Sports Club.
Ahmed El-Badeni agrees. “Soccer helps us let go of our stress and anger,” the 18-year-old said. “For an hour and half, we forget about our problems and all the things that keep our spirits low. For a short time, we are able to play together, learn from each other and just have fun.”
In just a few months, as part of the USAID-funded Palestinian Community Infrastructure Development Program, Anera completely transformed the abandoned sports club — rundown and full of litter — into a proper athletic facility, complete with a playing field and boundary walls for safety. Now more than 1,500 youth from Musaddar and the surrounding villages are expected to use the club.
"For an hour and half, we forget about our problems and all the things that keep our spirits low. We are able to play together, learn from each other and just have fun.”
Gaza Sports Club: Before and After Anera Rehabilitation
The new club now hosts tournaments and competitions, and teams use the grounds to practice. Moaz exclaimed, “With the new field, the club can accommodate 60 soccer teams. Before, most teams had no place to play.”
Management is also working to expand their operating hours to make the space available for everyone and to schedule specific times for girls to play.
Let the Games Begin
The match begins with a whistle. Players are upbeat and clustered across the soccer pitch. “This is our championship match,” said Ahmed, who is a fan of the champion Lionel Messi of Barcelona FC.
The young players all know they have to work hard to endure and achieve their dreams. “A healthy mind needs a healthy body. I am in the 12th grade and I want to be a lawyer when I finish school. I love this new sports club,” said Ahmed as he performed his warm-up exercises. “It’s a great way to make new friends.”
Since the club reopened in early March 2016, youngsters of all ages come after school and on weekends to play soccer, table tennis or pool. Coaches also use sports to teach life skills, punctuality and sportsmanship.
“One day I’d like to play for a West Bank team,” said one enthused player. “But for now, the goal is to win this year’s national club title!”