The makeshift tent camp of Bebnine in north Lebanon is home to many refugees from war-ravaged Syria.
It’s a culturally and ethnically diverse community. But the refugees share one love: soccer.
Anera rehabilitated a soccer field next to the camp to provide the kids a space to play and offer a sports program to help promote peaceful coexistence and team-building.
“We wanted to offer fun activities to promote a healthy lifestyle, reduce tensions and aggressiveness and also teach life skills,” explains Anera sports program manager Jacki Atwi. “We have set up a daily schedule that keeps them busy, but also we try to redirect them toward continuing their education.”
The programming builds on Anera’s Sports for Peace project, which helped cultivate understanding between youth from Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian communities through sports like soccer, capoeira and basketball.
Volunteer Coach Gives Syrian Refugee Girls the Chance to Play
The program has attracted volunteers both from inside and outside Lebanon. Zainab El Kheshen came from Cairo to teach young Syrian refugee girls and boys soccer skills. The 31-year-old has degrees in law, management and early childhood education, which she has combined with her love of sports to work as a trainer.
I believe that soccer is a great tool for development, especially for young girls in conservative communities who don’t often get the chance to play outside.
“I believe that soccer is a great tool for development, especially for young girls in conservative communities who don’t often get the chance to play outside,” she explains. “Soccer offers them the opportunity to meet others, work out and break gender boundaries.”
Zainab worked with 39 girls and 11 boys at the new playground. The youngsters had fun choosing their team names and enthusiastically cheered each other on to victory. Girls who never dreamed of the possibility of playing sports were running and laughing as they kicked the ball down the field.
We used to see the boys playing here and wished we had a chance to play.
Lina Amer didn’t hesitate to join the girl’s team. The 12 year old fled Syria two years ago, along with her family. “We used to see the boys playing here and wished we had a chance to play,” she remembered. “We came every morning, stayed by the fence and watched them play.” Lina says her parents didn’t want her to play soccer because they thought it was a man’s game. “But when they learned that a woman was going to train us, they agreed to let me join.”
At the end of the day, girls followed Zainab to the car, asking when she would come back. Everyone wanted to show their appreciation and hospitality, inviting the Egyptian woman to their tents for coffee and a chat. They were curious to know how she managed to convince everyone that girls can play soccer too. One young girl said she had found a new career for herself, “When I grow up, I want to be like Zainab and teach all the girls back in Syria how to play soccer.”