by Karine Teow, ITTF Foundation Field Programmes Manager
An opportunity to shine a light on the rights, needs and dreams of those displaced, commemorate the challenges they face and encourage ways in which they can thrive; Saturday 20th June is World Refugee Day.
The theme this year is “Everyone can make a difference. Every action counts.”
In order to highlight their courage and strength, the spotlight goes out to the project leaders and coaches who work every day to build dignity and hope in communities.
Since 2004 the ITTF has been investing in table tennis for refugee projects; the ITTF Foundation commencing activities with the same target group in 2018.
Dream Building projects in Jordan refugee camps
More than 11 million Syrians are currently displaced; this amounts to 45 per cent of the Syrian population.
Za’atari: Nittaku Dream Building with Refugees
The Za’atari Refugee Camp is home to almost 80,000 refugees, more than 50 per cent under 18 years of age.
In 2018, we commenced table tennis sessions in five centres, involving camps in 12 districts. The programme supports three refugee coaches who run table tennis activities from Thursday to Sunday on a weekly basis in five districts.
To date, more than 146 young people have been exposed to the programme; on average there are 84 regular participants. The sessions have been on standby due to the lock down since March. Therefore, the coaches have been doing on-line sessions with the coach from Ping Pong Alkmaar, a project supported by the ITTF Dream Building Fund. It is anticipated that soon the children will be joining these online sessions.
The project is supported by the Agitos Foundation and is part of the ‘Live Together Programme’ led by Peace and Sport.
Azraq: Dream Building with Refugees
Meanwhile, at the Azraq Refugee camp the programme provides table tennis through regular classes accessible to all refugees. We chose to focus on sessions for persons with disabilities as the studies highlight a lack of access to activities for such people . The main limiting factors being identified as distance and physical access.
Thanks to the support of the Agitos Foundation and a partnership with the World Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation we launched a new initiative in December 2019.
Between December and March, our coach delivered two open sessions a week at the camp. During this time, we had an average of six to ten regular participants, 70 per cent boys, 30 per cent girls.
Dream Building Fund projects
Notably two of the Dream Building Fund projects we support focus on integration of refugees through table tennis.
Netherlands: Ping Pong Alkmaar
Located in the Netherlands, Ping Pong Alkmaar is running regular sessions that aim to provide table tennis activities for the whole community of Alkmaar and the surrounding area.
The focus is on breaking down barriers and stereotypes of underrepresented people and groups, such as refugees thus encouraging integration. So far, the programme runs two weekly sessions with an average of 15 regular participants.
During the COVID-19 period, the project leader, with the support of one of the Syrian participants, Youssef, stepped up the solidarity engagement. Weekly on-line sessions with the coaches from the Za’atari camp are being held; and there will be sessions for the children.
Ecuador: FUDELA (Fundación de las Américas)
Likewise FUDELA runs programmes using table tennis as a vehicle of change for youth and integration. It is focused on Venezuelan and Colombian migrants who form the refugee population in the north of the country.
The goals are to create safe spaces, through a combination of one-off events and weekly sessions, in order to promote life skills amongst young people as well as promoting integration. To date 400 young people have been involved.
Signed pledge: Global Compact on Refugees
Last but not least, in December 2019 the ITTF and ITTF Foundation signed the Global Compact on Refugees pledge. This pledge includes three commitments:
- To promote and ensure access for all refugees, without distinction of any kind, to safe and inclusive sporting facilities.
- To increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities, actively considering age, gender, ability, and other diversity needs.
- To promote and facilitate equal access to and participation of refugees in sporting events and competitions at all levels.
Following the pledge there are regular check points and updates thanks to on-line tracking progress dashboard developed by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) under the Global Refugee Forum mandate. Thus it is an exciting time to work on projects that can bring dignity to refugees.
Major role for table tennis
Now more than 50 per cent of refugees worldwide being under the age of 18 years, we are convinced that sports such as table tennis have a huge role to play in the well-being, dignity, integration and relief of refugees. We have been supporting projects since 2004, we will continue to support projects with refugees.
We believe every action counts, not just today but every day.
Follow up on pledges (Photo: courtesy of ITTF Foundation)
On this special day, we must say, we are very proud and grateful to our coaches, project leaders and young participants. We hope to grow and improve these projects and their impact as soon as the COVID-19 situation allows.
Until then, we encourage online solidarity between our projects such as the innovative interaction between Ping Pong Alkmaar and Za’atari.