One of the benefits of the COVID-19 lockdown for Youth Sport Trust International has been the time and opportunity it has given us to develop our online training offer and start to connect with a group of young women living in refugee camps in Beirut, Lebanon.
Sport, and specifically the game of cricket, has become an escape, a source of inspiration for them and is helping to develop new skills – a fantastic example of the power of sport as a force for good.
Shatila Refugee Camp was set up as a tent village in Beirut in 1947 as a temporary home for 5000 displaced Palestinians after the establishment of Israel. Today it is a slum which has become home for some 40,000 refugees, half from Palestine and half from Syria and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Now in existence for over 70 years ‘temporary’ it is not and has witnessed war, an infamous massacre and waves of refugees. Living conditions are poor and often dangerous. The streets are narrow and cluttered, housing is cramped, there is a lack of clean water, power cables are exposed and armed factions run different areas. Access to education is limited, with boys facing child labour and girls early marriage. Added to this the recent catastrophic explosion in the port area of Beirut is leading to food shortages and destabilisation of an already fragile country where corruption was rife.
However, there is a positive side to Shatila. It has become a place of community, of small businesses and, since October 2018, of cricket. Until then the sport was completely unknown in the camp and children had nowhere to play. That all changed when Richard Verity, a partner at Mckinsey & Company, took a year long sabbatical to take up a role guiding an NGO working to support refugees in Lebanon and Turkey. Passionate about cricket himself, he gained access to two fake grass football pitches in Shatila and set up what was intended to be a one off week long cricket camp. A few curious children, girls and boys, turned up and quickly the numbers grew and grew. Weekly sessions were established and additional hubs have been established beyond Shatila enabling competition to take place and for a young refugee population to form links with the outside world. Not only are the children having some much needed fun in their lives and enjoying the benefits of regular physical activity, but they are developing valuable life skills and gaining opportunities for the future.
Inspired by the development of cricket in Shatila, Youth Sport Trust International is providing online training to support the development of leadership skills in young women so that they can lead activity sessions themselves and become role models for their peers. Subject to securing funding we plan to visit and provide face to face support in the near future. Previously Youth Sport Trust International has worked with young refugees to develop life skills and promote community cohesion through delivering Peace Camps on behalf of the United Nations Office for Sport and Peace. For further information about Youth Sport Trust International visit www.youthsporttrust.org and for further information about Shatila visit www.alsamaproject.com.