Sport as a tool for integration in Palestine

Training sessions organised by the ONG Youth Wake-Up! in Palestine

REPORTS 09 Nov 2020 - Supporters' Clubs World Confederation

The Confederation promotes the creation of the first football team for people with functional diversity in Bethlehem

The first football team for people with special needs from foster homes in Bethlehem (West Bank, Palestine) has been created, promoted and financed by the Charity Committee of the Supporters’ Clubs World Confederation, through the Federación de Canarias together with the Spanish charity Youth Wake-Up! (YWUP). This organisation works on the social transformation of disadvantaged and highly vulnerable groups in conflict zones, through the involvement of local youth in cooperation and social action projects.

YWUP had the idea of creating the football team to improve the cognitive development of children with functional diversity in Palestine, and looked for funding from a sports club or football-related entity. The idea of approaching the Confederation was put forward by José Yamal Hawach, president of the Peña Barcelonista Nicolau Causau de Las Palmas and Federación de Peñas de Canarias, who learned about the project through a family member who was a volunteer for the charity. Hawach proposed the grant and presented it as one of the options for international cooperation of the Charity Committee. It was approved unanimously and, in addition, it was decided to complement the aid with shipments of training equipment. To make a connection in the territory between the two entities, representatives of the charity attended the inauguration of PB Nazaret in 2019.

The first steps

The project began in January with the selection of the team's coaches, tutors and players, and in February the first training sessions were held. The global Covid pandemic in March also affected this initiative, which for now has been put on hold with the intention of resuming during the first quarter of 2021 -when the conditions are safe.

The team is made up of 10 children with functional diversity from two local foster homes -Hogar Niño Dios (ruled and directed by Instituto del Verbo Encarnado) and House of Hope- who were chosen by the heads of the two educational centres based on their cognitive ability and mobility.

The first three training sessions consisted of warm-ups, psychomotor circuits and shots on goal. In addition, in the first session the coaches were in charge of the distribution of bags and sporting equipment donated by the Confederation. "Apart from a couple of children who are Real Madrid fans, they could not be happier that the Barça badge was on their shirts," says Marta, YWUP volunteer.

Football for training and social integration

Disability remains a stigma in Palestine, and in many cases tends to be hidden. This results in serious problems for all children and adolescents with disabilities or with special needs, who have even more obstacles than normal preventing them from being stimulated and educated in a favourable environment. There are cases that lead to poor development and total abandonment or social exclusion; most children with these conditions don’t even ever leave their own home.

This is why they need to get out of their usual environment, and as they grow up they need to exercise -both to improve their health and to develop their bodies as much as possible. Sport gives them the opportunity to improve their fitness, to understand the concept of teams, to try to establish a routine or consistency with exercises that are repeated every Friday, and to enjoy training in a different and safe environment, in a healthy way.

Coaches: Another local solidarity project

The 20 young people who organize the training session and act as coaches to pick the team are also hosted by the SOS Children Village Palestine youth programme. They are adolescents aged between 14 and 22 years old who lack family support. The entity decided to create a support network that would involve communities seeking positive changes and social assistance, especially through the How to understand and act in 9 months? programme.

The objective is to provide them with the skills to be leaders of social change, who are able to talk about themselves and their projects, who have a passion for change in their communities and can make plans and turn them into reality by taking the initiative. To do this, they have been trained in working environments. In this specific case, they also learned about sports and football, were educated in team leadership, had to pass an interview at foster homes for children with disabilities to see if they were suitable for "employment" and set out the organisation of skills sessions, among other tasks. This helps adolescents to work in an integrated way by involving them in a real situation with long-term projects, which helps them establish criteria for decision-making. "This work allows me to change many things and give the children love and hope," says Gana, one of the young women who are part of the programme.