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Jordan: Football in Za’atari camp

By Mohamad al Asmar and Simine Alam

“Brazil! Brazil! Brazil!” chanted the children in Za’atari Refugee Camp today after receiving their T-shirts, water bottles and certificates of participation from the Brazilian Ambassador to Jordan, Ms Renate Stille, in recognition for their participation in a three-day training workshop led by a group of professional Brazilian football coaches.

Eighty children and 20 coaches took part in this workshop, which aimed to improve their football skills. And according to Shadi, 13, it did just that. “I used to play football all the time in Syria, and when I found out I’d have the chance to play it here in Za’atari it really cheered me up. The last three days have been so cool because I got the chance to improve my defense tactics on the pitch, with amazing professional coaches.”

There was excitement all around at the closing ceremony of the football workshop, where representatives from Save the Children and its partners, KIA Motors, the Brazilian embassy and the Brazil Soccer Academy handed out the certificates to the children who participated. You could see how close the children had become to the coaches, and how much respect they had for them, in spite of the fact that they didn’t speak the same language – proving that football really crosses all language barriers.

Seeing the Syrian youth on the football pitch – the only green spot in a desert camp – reminds us that, given the opportunity, children can carve their own safe space even in a very hard environment. Karim, who is 17 years old and one of the camp’s football stars, told us how important these activities are to him.

“I’m being exposed to new techniques in football and playing with the Brazilian coaches gives me the incentive to work harder to become a better player,” he says, adding that his dream is “to represent Syria and play for the national team. I hope to go back and for the crisis to end. I invited the coaches to come visit us in Syria once we return home.”

Our programmes with the Syrian youth in the camp and in the host communities allow them to build their resiliency, channel their energy into positive thinking and instil a sense of belonging and normality. This visit by the Brazilian coaches sends a message to the Syrian children: that people around the world care about them and want to support them in all possible ways – even if only through a game of football.

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