¶ 1 Leave a comment on Absatz 1 0 Our last stop was the Azraq refugee camp, where we arrived on the Tuesday morning for Day One. It is to be a short day, because we cannot enter the camp without the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) pick-up, which cannot happen before 9:30am and we have to leave at the latest by 3pm. After going through strict passport control at the main gate, we are transported into the camp. There is a change of plan, as we are now expected to train 40 people, instead of just 16 DRC Psycho Social Support (PSS) staff. But our team is excited to be in the camp and to meet the new participants.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on Absatz 2 0 It is overcast and very windy as we enter the football field and see the participants standing in two distinctive groups: men and women. From experience, I know that it is not normal for men and women to play together in this part of the world and especially not in this rather conservative camp culture. Our team is aware that these two days will challenge us in many ways and accordingly we have a number of contingency plans, ready to be enacted.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on Absatz 3 0 Before long we have explained our philosophy, thanks to Qais, who is much more than our translator. He has worked with us before and he not only understands our philosophy but positively thrives on it. He is able to explain our rules and ideas and before long we have split up the group into eight teams of six players – all mixed, with equal numbers of men and women. The fair play football session can start, using Arabic music for the warm-up games, dance and rhythm to lighten the spirits and break the ice.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on Absatz 4 0 One of the most amazing experiences for me, that I’ve now been able to live many times in locations all over the world, is the incredibly empowering effect that our methods have on women. We always ask the question: „Is there anyone here who has never played football before”? The answer is often Yes. From our 24 female participants, more than two thirds had never played football. Many of them do not take part in sport (because of the strict Islamic culture and because of a lack of safe space for them). The challenge and the fear factor for them was great, because they were going to play football for the first time in their lives! And with men! And with foreigners!
¶ 5 Leave a comment on Absatz 5 0 With musical accompaniment, the games were about to begin. The mixed teams entered the arena, supported by the Champions League anthem, and for some moments all of us were somewhere else. The games began. The smiles were big and wide. Men passed the ball to women, women to men. Goals were scored and celebrated together. Every single participant played, many for the first time ever – a beautiful experience for all.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on Absatz 6 0 In the days that followed we danced and laughed and we all stripped off our layers of prejudice and fear and forgot about our problems. After two days, we left Azraq, overwhelmed by the resilient spirit of these people, who have fled war, who have suffered terribly and whose humility is something that should be a shining example for all of us. I am a better person for having been there again. Maybe one day, our participants, when they are ageing, will see younger people playing and will remember those times with us, playing freely in mixed teams in the make believe Champions League in the paradox that is the Azraq Refugee Camp.