Since 2008 with a project in the Kharaz refugee camp in Yemen the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has invested in table tennis with refugee projects. Since 2018, these projects have been integrated as part of the ITTF Foundation priorities within the Dream Building program. What are we doing? We provide relief through regular, fun physical activity from table tennis to build dignity. The programs seek ways to enhance wellbeing by providing a longer-term perspective, developing coaches and working towards integration with host communities where possible. We do this through dedicated project leaders and community coaches, both in refugee camps and in host countries.
Dream Building Projects in Jordanian Refugee Camps
More than 11 million Syrians are currently displaced. This amounts to 45% of the Syrian population.
(Girls session in Zaatari: photo credits ITTF Foundation)
Za’atari: Nittaku Dream Building with Refugees
Za’atari Refugee Camp: home to nearly 80,000 refugees of which more than 50% are under the age of 18. In 2018 we started table tennis sessions in 5 centers in the 12 districts of the camps. In this program we offered coaching training and selected 3 refugee coaches who now run our weekly table tennis activities, Thursday to Sunday, in the camp and organize weekly sessions in the 5 districts. To date, more than 146 young people have been introduced to the program and there is an average of 84 regular participants. The sessions have been on stand-by due to the lock-down since March – the coaches have done online sessions with the coach from Ping Pong Alkmaar, a project supported by the Dream Building Fund and soon the children will participate in these online sessions.
Azraq: Dream Building with Refugees
(Weekly Sessions at Azraq Camp: Photos Credit Coach Youssef)
In the Azraq refugee camp, our program tries to provide table tennis for assistance through regular lessons that are open to all refugees. We chose to focus on sessions for people with disabilities such as studies indicate a lack of access to activities for persons with disabilities, the main limiting factors identified: distance and physical access.
Between December and March, our coach gave two open sessions per week at the camp. During this time we had an average of 6-10 regular participants, 70% boys, 30% girls.
Dream Building Fund projects
Two of the Dream Building Fund projects we support focus on the integration of refugees through table tennis.
The Netherlands: Ping Pong Alkmaar
Ping Pong Alkmaar regularly organizes sessions aimed at providing table tennis activities to the entire community of Alkmaar, the Netherlands and the surrounding area, with an emphasis on removing barriers and stereotypes of under-represented people and groups, such as refugees, and stimulating integration. So far the program has run two weekly sessions with an average of 15 regular participants.
During the Covid-19 period, the project in Alkmaar and Azraq came together in solidarity during this challenging period. They held weekly online sessions together, mainly for the coaches, as the kids couldn’t get together, but the sessions should start over with the youth soon.
(Online sessions between Ping Pong Alkmaar and the coaches of the projects. Photo: Ping Pong Alkmaar)
FUDELA runs a program that uses table tennis as an engine for youth change and integration of Venezuelan, Colombian migrant and refugee populations into the Ecuadorian community in the north.
Creating safe spaces, through a combination of one-off events and weekly sessions, to play table tennis and promote life skills among young people and develop the integration of refugees with the local population through table tennis are the main objectives. 400 young people have been reached so far.
(A session in the community. Photo by: FUDELA)
Pledge signed: Global Compact on Refugees
Last but not least, in December 2019, the ITTF Foundation and the ITTF have it Worldwide Pact on Refugees promise. This pledge includes three commitments:
- To give all refugees, without any distinction, access to safe and inclusive sports facilities.
- Increase availability and access to organized sports and sports-based initiatives for refugee and host communities, actively taking into account age, gender, competence and other diversity needs.
- Promote and facilitate equal access to and participation of refugees in sporting events and competitions at all levels.
Following the commitment, there are regular checkpoints and updates, as well as an online progress dashboard developed by UNHCR under the mandate of the Global Refugee Forum, making it an exciting time to work on projects that can bring dignity to refugees.
Learning and looking to the future
We feel a growing need to get involved and we also understand that with natural disasters, increasing environmental pressures and unequal distribution of resources, migration, displacement and people seeking refuge will only increase in the future.
So far from what we have learned through our programs and working with our projects, refugees are resourceful and willing to contribute, but most of all, they don’t want compassion or feel treated like charity or poster people. They need support, but they can help themselves and also need to see dreams and role models of fellow refugees, especially to help the children understand that there are other identities they may have in the future, not just the refugee label. With our program in the camps, we use the sport to offer a new identity, that of a table tennis player. It’s fun, it’s social, it requires regular dedicated time, they can see their improvements week after week, they are starting to build a community within the camp and have something to talk about and a new ambition. The focus is not performance, it is about togetherness and dignity. For the projects outside the camps in host communities, the focus is more on breaking stereotypes, changing perceptions, opening up dialogue and integration. Again, the fun, social and regular nature of our activities provide a safe space to get back to working on your personal development while being physically active and having fun as priorities for the individuals, while of course starting to socialize with the people who do them weekly. see. . We are convinced and have seen firsthand how much sport can contribute to their well-being. Some lessons:
- Like all people, they want to be treated with dignity and respect. That means that sometimes we have to look at how we communicate about refugees and always ensure that they are involved in this process and that we feel not only used, but rather an actor to make this possible.
- Listen to them and their needs, advocate for them, and try to build with them.
- Build inclusive programs to promote inclusion
What would be great to see in the future and in line with the promise, we are starting to move towards a long-term vision. We must encourage long-term thinking about sustainable solutions and programs. See how they can train locally and give them access to this training and make them self-sufficient, independent and able to grow and develop, but also how they can combine different projects that can learn from each other. We can do this by looking holistically at what we do and thinking in the long term, not just as one-off projects, but as different scenarios of the refugee journey towards their well-being, by identifying and consulting the right partners.
With more than 50% of the world’s refugees under the age of 18, we believe that sports such as table tennis play a major role in the welfare, dignity, integration or reception of refugees. We have been supporting projects since 2004, we will continue to support projects with refugees.
We are very proud and grateful for our coaches, project leaders and young participants. We hope to grow and improve these projects and their impact as soon as the situation of Covid-19 allows. Until then, we will encourage online solidarity between our projects such as the innovative interaction between Ping Pong Alkmaar and Za’atari.
Karine Teow is the Field Programs Manager within the ITTF Foundation and oversees the Dream Building and Legacy programs.
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