ACS provide playing ground for Palestinian refugee girls in Beirut

ACS provide playing ground for Palestinian refugee girls in Beirut
4.00 6

Published December 28th, 2015 - 08:23 GMT via SyndiGate.info

Rate Article:

 
PRINT Send Mail
comment (0)


ACS has become a welcoming space for the team, offering a valuable experience for everybody involved (source: dailystar.com.lb)
ACS has become a welcoming space for the team, offering a valuable experience for everybody involved (source: dailystar.com.lb)

When a Palestinian girls’ football club was first established in the refugee camp of Burj al-Barajneh, south of Beirut, they didn’t have anywhere to play. That’s not surprising considering they are confined to an urban slum where over 25,000 people are squeezed onto a single square kilometer. “The field in the camp is very rugged and often occupied by men so there really isn’t any space for girls to play,” said Alya Beyhum, a high school senior from the American Community School at Beirut. “That’s why we thought it was a good idea to have them play with us here.”

Alya is one of 10 seniors who have supervised the team at ACS each weekend. The club has become indispensable for a group of girls who continue to navigate around the discrimination that Palestinians face in Lebanon. Safe from stray bullets, harassment and loose electric wires, it is here where a team of Palestinian girls have realized their right to play.

Lama, a 12-year-old girl on the team, said that without the help from students at ACS, she would have been confined to her home nearly every single day. That’s because her parents are too afraid to let her play in the camp. And while boys are often pressured to toughen up, girls are told they need to stay indoors to avoid harassment.

“I’m so happy to be here,” Lama said. “My parents trust the people here. We can play and we can have fun. This is something we could never do before.”

The club was first created three years ago under the tutelage of the Woman’s Program Association, a domestic NGO that works with Palestinian women in the camps. And though it has attracted many young students, not everybody who wants to play has been allowed to do so at ACS.

Doaa, a 20-year-old volunteer with WPA, said that the children who have recently fled the Syrian war were particularly restricted from leaving the camp.

“It’s understandable that Syrian refugees might be more reluctant to let their children leave the camp since most are still very unaware about the surroundings and neighborhoods in the country,” said Doaa, before running back on the playground to play with the club.

Split governance and violence aren’t the only issues that deter girls from playing in Burj al-Barajneh. Shaima, an 11-year-old player with the team, said that because football was perceived as a “boys” sport, she was often heckled by many of her neighbors for wanting to play.

“People tell me this sport isn’t for me, but I know that this sport is for everyone,” Shaima told The Daily Star. “Some people even call me a boy because I run and jump. But I’m not a boy. I’m a football player.”

Compounding the issue, Palestinians are barred by law from playing with Lebanese sport clubs and forming their own associations, leaving many children with little opportunity to play in an organized and safe setting.

ACS has nonetheless become a welcoming space for the team, offering a valuable experience for everybody involved. Alya even said that though she had tried to act as a positive role model, she had benefited far more from a team of girls who have embraced her.

Yet, Alya has equally inspired those around her. Last summer, she spearheaded a fundraiser to raise enough money to purchase new shoes for the girls’ football club. She and her peers hosted bake sales and utilized social media to collect nearly $2,000 right before the Christmas season. And on Dec. 26, they delivered their gift to a team full of enthusiasm and smiles.

The shoes, however, amounted to more than a mere gesture of goodwill. They symbolized a commitment to one of the most fundamental rights of a child: the right to play.

“We think that it is important to buy them these shoes because we want them to stay motivated and confident,” Alya said. “It was great to do this fundraiser because it showed us how much people care about this community. We were even receiving calls for donations from people we had never met before.”

As of now, Alya and her peers are set to graduate in June. And while they have pledged to pass on the program to the following class, their experience has surely empowered them to navigate the world ahead.

“After spending so much time with these girls, we realize how privileged we are,” said Alya, referring to her fellow peers at ACS. “But even though we are from different worlds, I don’t think that has affected our relationship. We have become very close. They have truly inspired every one of us.”

Copyright © 2015, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

Add a new comment

 avatar