“Volunteering with Anera has taught me the true meaning of resilience. These Palestinian children live in chaotic camps. Their reality is dark. Despite this, they came to play with incredibly positive attitudes every day.” - Nasser Al Rayes, Qatar National League Player
Nasser Al Rayes, who currently plays in the Qatar national basketball league, happened to attend a reception hosted by an Anera supporter in San Diego earlier this year. There he met the Anera President and CEO, Sean Carroll. Nasser was inspired by what Sean told him of Anera’s work with vulnerable communities in Lebanon and Palestine.
Nasser had been thinking about the refugee children in Lebanon ever since he heard about the devastating living conditions that are a reality for so many in these communities. And so, serendipity led to action!
After Nasser graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering, he moved back to Qatar to pursue a career in professional basketball. He was a three-sport athlete in high school, on the baseball, volleyball and track and field teams. But Nasser’s parents, Khalifa and Janet El Rayes, are most proud of Nasser’s humility, compassion and humanitarian efforts.
As a youth, Nasser worked with numerous social activists in Africa and Asia. He credits his concern over global welfare to his parents. “My mother has always been extremely nurturing and my father is a humanitarian, so they were excellent models for me.”
In talking with Sean, Nasser became intrigued by Anera’s Youth Empowerment program in Lebanon. He leapt at the idea of hosting a basketball camp for the Syrian and Palestinian youngsters.
Through sports, Anera steers at-risk youth in Lebanon away from drug abuse and violence by teaching crucial life-skills to children and parents. Anera has conducted awareness sessions on the value of sports for children’s growth, coupled with community mobilizations to ensure inclusivity and strengthen participation and trust within communities.
Parents who initially refused to allow their daughters to play sports are now encouraging them to join teams, and perhaps even pursue sports-related careers. What was once taboo is now an opportunity.
When Nasser arrived at camp, he was greeted by 40 Palestinian and Syrian-Palestinian children. “Before coming to the camp,” Nasser said, “I expected that I'd be mostly working with young boys. To my surprise, nearly all the camp participants were girls! It made me very happy that so many fathers were allowing their daughters to play basketball, as sports are usually a strictly male-dominated field in the Middle East.”
“My friends told me that girls don’t play basketball. I told them that’s not true. Girls can be basketball champions. Girls can be anything they want. And after I told them about the camp and they saw my photo with coach Nasser, they all want to play basketball!” - Farah, fourteen-year-old Palestinian girl who participated in camp
"The biggest impression I hope I left the kids with is the importance of hard work. Basketball is an amazing game. But as is the case with anything in life, if you want to be great at it, you have to work hard for it.” - Nasser Al Rayes
Anera’s sports initiatives are teaching at-risk youth in Lebanon interpersonal communication skills, commitment, time-management and teamwork.
The three days at camp were too short for Nasser, who bonded quickly with the children. The kids loved him and exchanged local sayings, jokes and personal experiences with him. Since the camp, the youth have been asking Anera to call Nasser and ask him to visit again, very soon! The basketball camp has stirred new career aspirations for some young participants.
“Before, basketball was just another game to me. Now I want to practice every day to become a famous basketball player. Just like Nasser, I could travel the world and help children be happy!” - Hisham, 17-year-old Palestinian youth who participated in camp
Of course, at Anera we will continue to present Hisham with a wide range of learning opportunities.
“Although I was aware of what the Palestinians were facing from simply watching the news, being in Lebanon and seeing it first hand opened my eyes so much,” Nasser says. “I realized how important it is for the international community to help out wherever they can, even if it's something as simple as hosting a basketball camp.”
Approximately 312,000 Palestinian refugees reside in Lebanon. And a staggering 35 percent of Syrian and Syrian-Palestinian school-age refugee children in Lebanon are not enrolled in school, leaving them extremely vulnerable to behavioral risks, like drug-use, radicalization and crime. In response, Anera has partnered with Reach Out To Asia, a Qatar-based nonprofit member of the Qatar Foundation, to introduce sports as a tool to provide psychosocial support to refugee children, address trauma and offer hundreds of children a fun approach to learning necessary life skills.
Anera believes that sports and team activities provide a platform to teach youth communication and conflict-management skills and social integration techniques.