“Olympic weightlifting is a sport I have been passionate about for years, and I wanted to use it to help others and make a change in society,” said Waleed Abu Nada, a 19-year-old Palestinian-Jordanian studying in Spain.
A few months ago, he came back to Jordan for the summer with an idea in mind: to set up an Olympic weightlifting school in Al Baqaa refugee camp.
The idea of “The Champ Camp” came to him after he launched the first Olympic weightlifting school at his university in Spain.
“The school was a tremendous success and the results were overwhelming,” he told The Jordan Times in a phone interview, adding “seeing how much of an impact [sport] had on my friends who are privileged enough to study abroad and practise sports at any time inspired me to go back home with a mission.”
“Our weightlifting school is an escape for these kids from the troubles and consequences of poverty in the area, such as violence and drugs,” the 19-year-old said.
The largest refugee camp in Jordan, Al Baqaa currently hosts over 119,000 Palestinians who are confronted to major economic and social challenges, according to UNRWA.
“Al Baqaa is an area that is extremely poor, very crowded and has almost no opportunities for its inhabitants,” Abu Nada said, noting “I intended to highlight how Olympic weightlifting could help in saving the youth of that area.”
By setting up the weightlifting school, the young man said he gave those people a platform to “achieve and fulfil their dreams”.
“The struggles they face on a daily basis are truly unbelievable, but they are full of hope and heart,” he explained, citing the many young women who joined the school.
“This is a very progressive step towards empowering the females of the region, as a lot of work has been put into removing social stigmas and replacing them with positive notions on how females can do sport,” the student continued.
“There is no such thing as a boy’s-only sport,” he stressed, noting that the involvement of the young women has empowered them in an “extremely conservative society”.
Abu Nada recently released a documentary about his whole experience, highlighting how sport can be a solution to social struggles. “In the short movie, you can see what the life of a 14-year-old looks like in the camp. Working in the morning at a garage shop then training at night,” he said.
“I talked to the kids, their parents and the coach to better understand the difficulties they face. I built an intimate relationship with them and their families and it has been the most significant and eye-opening experience of my life,” he recalled.
Within the first 24 hours of the movie being released, it received over 20,000 views, over 200 shares and gave the project a worldwide exposure.
“The largest weightlifting communities and platforms from all over the world contacted me to support the project and helped with raising awareness and donations,” Abu Nada recalled.
With the help of these donors, he managed to get new equipment for the facility and he is now working towards collecting money to sustain the school for the generations to come.
“The experience has personally been an overwhelming one but the work is far from over, it has only just begun,” he stated, adding “I cannot be happier than I am today, knowing that these kids now live their lives and train with a goal in mind. They have taught me more than I could ever teach them.”
Urging people to use their passion for helping others, he concluded: “They are an incredible group of people that are simply lacking the means and resources to succeed in their lives.”
The 19-year-old does not aim to stop there: four years ago he implemented a sports based youth development strategy in Marka, wrote a book about it and became the youngest accredited author in Jordan at the time.
By Camille Dupire
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