Cricket: The unlikely sport serving to Syrian refugees in Lebanon | Refugees

Zakir Naik

Beirut, Lebanon – Nabil Khalaf is working backwards and forwards on uneven floor between a wrecked automobile and a discarded bathtub, bat in hand, within the haphazard alleyways of the Shatila refugee camp.

The 15-year-old is a refugee from Syria and now lives in Shatila, a camp in southern Beirut that has traditionally been residence to Palestinian refugees.

Within the camp, every little thing is scarce: area, water, electrical energy, safety and schooling.

“Earlier than, I used to be an offended individual, who couldn’t management his emotions,” Khalaf informed Al Jazeera, explaining how he used to remain at residence, away from college, his mother and father afraid if he ventured out onto the streets of Shatila.

However now, how Khalaf feels, and his consolation together with his environment, have modified. And one of many main causes is the game he has picked up, one that’s largely alien to individuals in Syria and Lebanon, in addition to the broader Center East: cricket.

Khalaf was launched to the game by the Alsama Undertaking, which offers education for 200 Syrian refugees in Shatila. Its distinctive curriculum covers arithmetic, Arabic, English, and 6 hours of cricket weekly.

Kadria Hussien, Alsama’s operations supervisor in Lebanon, mentioned that introducing cricket coaching programmes offered youngsters with “psychological well being assist”, in addition to a construction “that doesn’t exist within the camp”.

“Cricket has modified my life,” Khalaf mentioned, whereas grinning. After three years of observe, he now feels “pleased and alive” when taking part in.


In response to Hussien, cricket, which has been a part of the curriculum since 2018, has turn into a instrument for Alsama to show the programme’s contributors the significance of creating “the hassle wanted to succeed, which helps [the children] to check significantly”.

As much as 1.5 million Syrian refugees stay in Lebanon, with many dealing with excessive poverty because the nation faces an financial disaster, and discrimination, with the federal government not too long ago starting what it termed “voluntary repatriation” that actively encourages refugees to return to Syria.

Solely 24 % of Syrian refugees aged between 15 and 19 had been enrolled in class or college in 2021, in line with the United Nations Excessive Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Hussien is a Syrian refugee herself, having arrived in Lebanon with 5 kids who she homeschooled to make sure the continuation of their schooling.

That have has given her first-hand data of the problems her neighborhood faces in Lebanon, and the assorted traumatic experiences the kids might have gone by means of, reminiscent of violence on account of the warfare in Syria and life as a refugee in Lebanon, and baby labour.

After two years in Alsama’s instructional institute in Shatila, Khalaf can now learn and write. However he’s fast to level out that cricket had additionally contributed to his capability to specific himself “and talk extra with individuals”.

And it has given him extra accountability, too: Khalaf is now the assistant to Mohammed Khier, the pinnacle coach of the cricket crew.

Child running while playing cricket
Cricket has turn into a chance for Syrian refugee kids in Shatila to have enjoyable, whereas additionally serving to them take care of trauma [Laurent Villeret/Al Jazeera]

Constructing continuity

Khier is one pillar of the eclectic trio that based Alsama. He met Hussien, and Meike Ziervogel, a German writer who lives in Lebanon and is the present CEO, in 2018 by means of one of many plethora of NGOs that exist in Shatila.

Ziervogel’s husband, a associate on the worldwide administration consultancy McKinsey, launched his love of cricket to the camp.

Born out of the budding friendship, the registered NGO rapidly professionalised.

Ziervogel used her non-public funds to kick-start the Alsama mission.

The crew assessed curriculums and instructing, with the aim of getting the scholars move the Lebanese brevet, or intermediate, exams in three to 5 years.

The success in Shatila has led to a widening of Alsama’s goals – they opened a second college in March in Burj al-Barajneh, a separate refugee camp in southern Beirut, catering for the wants of one other 200 youngsters.

The entrenchment of the mission among the many Syrian neighborhood has a wider purpose – to assist in giving younger Syrians the abilities not simply to have a greater life in Lebanon, but additionally to rebuild Syria when, and if, they will return safely.

A coach swings a cricket bat on a field. A girl stands behind the wicket.
Outdoors of the refugee camp, kids are given a chance to be coached on tips on how to play cricket in a extra skilled surroundings [Laurent Villeret/Al Jazeera]

Altering mindsets

Alsama has confronted some challenges – instructing each girls and boys, and having them play cricket collectively, initially led to some backlash from mother and father and the broader neighborhood.

“At first, our college students didn’t respect one another,” Khier recalled. “We taught them about respect and got here up with guidelines.”

Now observe runs easily: college students who’ve handed the assistant coach examination conduct warm-ups, gamers flip to the coach in case of a dispute and women and boys play alongside one another fortunately.

“My greatest buddy is a boy now,” mentioned Maram.

Like Khalaf, Maram is 15 years previous, and has been a scholar at Alsama for 2 years. She was among the many first to get cricket coaching, three years in the past.

“At first my household didn’t need me to play with boys, however the instructor Kadria informed them I wouldn’t be damage,” Maram, who can be an assistant coach, mentioned in her now fluent English – a language she solely started to study 9 months earlier.

“In cricket, you might be in one other world,” Maram, who had been out of college between the ages of six and eleven, added.

{The teenager} says that Alsama has additionally helped her escape baby marriage, after her mother and father had determined that she needs to be married at 12.

In Lebanon, teenage Syrian women are sometimes weak to baby marriage, with 40.5 % of 20-24-year-old respondents in a UN survey reporting that that they had been married earlier than the age of 18.

Alsama stepped in on Maram’s behalf.

“Kadria informed my mother and father I used to be too younger,” Maram recalled. “My father agreed to delay the marriage till I used to be 16, however she mentioned that I ought to marry who I would like after I need. I used to be over the moon.”

Hussien mentioned that reversing the mother and father’ determination took eight months of concerted effort.

And as a reward, she will now watch Maram working on the cricket pitch, taking part in her favorite sport.

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