“When I saw girls playing football for the first time I thought, wow, they can play like us,” says Majd.
Standing at the side of the football pitch at the local community centre in the Al Baqa’a refugee camp, the 14-year-old boy is smiling, and holds a football in his left hand. He’s anxiously waiting his turn to play. Majd plays defence on his team and takes the sport seriously. He’s happy to share his love of the game with girls.
Girls don’t typically play football, here. As the oldest refugee camp in Jordan, attitudes tend to be conservative, steeped in cultural and traditional values that prohibit girls from playing football and other sports.
A third-generation Palestinian resident, Majd and his five siblings have grown up with these norms, as have many of the camp’s 400,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees, half of whom are children. But this status quo is slowly starting to change.
Majd and 999 other children, 50 per cent of whom are girls, are part of a leadership-building group, the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s ‘Generation Amazing’ program. Here, coaches trained in Right To Play’s play-based approach are implementing the program using football as a learning and development tool to teach the children how to communicate, respect one another and work as a team. For the past year, these 10-16 year olds have met at the Yarmouk Community Centre’s indoor football pitch three times a week to play games, participate in group discussions about gender equality and to play football.
“My mom wanted me to join the program,” says Majd. “She works at the Women’s Program Centre and heard about it there. She told me the program would teach me how to be a better football player and how to become a successful and powerful person, so I was excited to join.”
By capitalizing on the use of child-centered and play-based fun activities, the Generation Amazing coaches create awareness about and engage the children in lessons around inclusion, gender equality and acceptance.
Two on two football drills, where the children work in pairs to practice dribbling and passing the ball promote communication and cooperation. Shooting and goal-keeping drills encourage independent thinking and leadership. Foot work for speed and agility instil confidence and increase self-esteem. All combined, the drills validate equality, because despite the girls and boys not being able to play together they know they are being given the same opportunity to learn identical skills and to have the same capabilities.
“Girls can do what I can do, now,” affirms Majd. “I’ve learned how to treat girls, too and that we’re all the same. I didn’t really think about this before, but now I understand the concept of equality. There’s no difference between the genders. I should always be treating girls the same as my boy friends.”
Equal opportunity for the children starts on the football pitch. Access to a professional and well-maintained field gives the children a safe place to come together to play football. Giving girls and boys a place to play is breaking down barriers and showing the children and coaches that boys and girls have the same capabilities. It’s also shifting stereotypes. Male coaches are teaching the girls and female coaches are training the boys. For some of the boys, this if the first time they have seen a young woman in a leadership role.
“We trained 60 coaches to work with the kids in the camp; 30 of them are male and the other 30 are female,” affirms Qusai, the field facilitator for Right To Play Jordan. “It’s important that 50 per cent of our coaches are female, because we need to show the kids that we do what we teach and that we don’t discriminate.”
Reinforcing messages like this are key and accomplished through coach-led group discussions before and after each play session. Shared communication empowers the girls and boys to speak openly one on one and in group settings with their peers. It allows the children to “reflect” on the activities they’ve participated in, speak freely about what they have learned, listen to one another respectfully, and “connect” and “apply” their new learnings to their everyday lives at home, with their families and friends, and in their community. It also opens the door to well-earned bragging rights so that the girls and boys can talk about what they love best: who scored the most goals during the last game.
“At first, we had a problem with this, because the boys thought they had nothing in common to talk about with the girls, because they didn’t know how to shoot or set up a goal, that football was a boys’ game,” says Qusai. “But once the girls started playing and we, the coaches, convinced them that the girls were skillful, maybe even more skillful than the boys, they started to listen to what the girls had to say and began to respect them as equals.”
Knowing who’s the best goalkeeper, striker, forward and defender fuels the children with confidence on and off the field.
In a recent survey, 98 per cent of the youth in the Al Baqa’a-based Generation Amazing program said that they now believe they have the ability to make their community a better place to live, that’s a 31 per cent increase from when these girls and boys first joined the program last year.
“Football taught me how to receive the ball and to defend my team, how to be clever and to anticipate where the ball is going,” says Majd. “In real life, this gives me the courage to stand up for and defend what is right. Now, I am friends with eight girls in the club and I will grow up in this camp and make it better. One day, I will even be a flight engineer, because I would like to see the world from up above.”
Story by Adriana Ermter
Photography by Paul Bettings
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC) will deliver all infrastructure and host country planning and operations required for Qatar to host an amazing and historic FIFA World Cup™. Generation Amazing is the SC’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. It uses the opportunity created by Qatar’s hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup™ to empower and educate people in Qatar, the region and across the globe. Outside Qatar, the programme has been operational in Jordan and Pakistan with Right to Play. In Nepal, it is managed by Right to Play and delivered by Mercy Corps.