Considered an idol by many of the girls and young women who also live in Lebanon’s Rashidiye Camp, 24-year-old Israa is passionate about using games and activities for learning and development, especially football.
Ten years ago, this young Palestinian woman participated in a Right To Play program where she learned life-skills like cooperation, inclusion and collaboration by playing games. Soon after, she began volunteering with the organization, sharing her teachings with other girls and young women and even, becoming an active footballer herself. Now, the childhood education student is also a Head Coach for Lebanon’s south regional programs, including the all-female Rashidiye football team.
But being female and interested in sports hasn’t always been easy for Israa. In several parts of the country, participating in sports is considered taboo for girls and young women and many parents and community members forbid them from playing.
“People in the camp were not fond of the idea of me being a girl and engaging in sport but I was persistent,” says Israa.
With the support of her family, combined with her strong belief that football can be used as a tool for empowerment, Israa was determined to fight for her cause.
“Many of the girls I coach are school drop-outs and football is a good tool to use to boost their self-confidence and face their challenges. These girls keep me going even when I doubt myself,” she says. So she continued to play football and to train her team. Then, she and her players invited the community to their practices to explain the benefits of girls and women participating in football. The meetings created awareness throughout the community and as time passed, people began to see the positive impact football was having on Israa’s team. They saw the players working together, communicating with one another, having fun and exuding confidence on and off the field. As the community’s comfort level and acceptance of the girls playing sports grew, more parents began trusting Israa with their daughters, including those with special needs, and began sending them to her coaching sessions.
“It’s not wrong for girls to play football,” advocates Israa’s father. “It is obvious that through this sport girls can enhance their ability to face difficulties and forget their problems.”
Last year, Israa participated in Right To Play’s “Sports and Humanitarian Aid” (SaHA) project, gaining additional technical expertise about using football to develop teamwork and acceptance. Through football drills and skills, Israa fueled her team with an increased sense of accomplishment and belonging, empowering the girls with the opportunity and ability to connect with one another and talk about their experiences and feelings in a safe environment. It’s enabling them to better understand themselves and accept one another.
“It is a girl’s right to play football,” says Israa. “Many girls do not express their hardships and football is their way to vent.”
Israa’s dedication to the sport has not gone unnoticed. At the end of her SaHA training, football legend Johan Neeskens nominated her to be promoted to a Level 3, Advanced Training coach. Israa is the only female coach to have this distinction.