15 January Jan 2021 1017 15 January 2021

The enthusiasm in the eyes of refugees in the Za'atari camp was striking

by Espen Lund

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“Athletes and coaches know – often from experience – that the best careers are built and developed by meeting the right people. The case is sometimes the same for sports organizations. At WAKO (World Association of Kickboxing Organizations), our ambition to go beyond the framework of sport and embark on a path of social responsibility and sustainability took on a new dimension following a meeting. It happened a few years back at SportAccord, the international sports convention. At the time, we felt the need to turn our social responsibility strategy into action in the field. But to do that, we were looking for a partner with the necessary expertise and logistics. We met Joël Bouzou. My president at WAKO and I attended Peace and Sport’s presentation at SportAccord. There was no doubt, for him or for me, that we should work with them.

What followed quickly proved us right. We signed a cooperation agreement with Peace and Sport. It was about the “Live Together” program, located in the Za’atari refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan. WAKO relies on the strong and structured national kickboxing federation in Jordan. We put it to work. Today, I can say that our collaboration is a success. On site, we observed the daily reality of a refugee camp, we saw all the work accomplished and the progress made. We saw the enthusiasm in the eyes of people practicing kickboxing. We appreciated the commitment of the coaches and educators. We realized all that young people and women expect from this physical activity that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages social cohesion, dialogue and inclusion. As well as being an invaluable contribution to the refugees living in Za’atari, the “Live Together” program also gives meaning to WAKO’s firm commitment to using sport to help build a better world.

The success of a program is also measured by its stakeholders. Over the past two years, four kickboxing world champions have travelled to Za’atari at our request. They came back enriched by the experience and in a hurry to repeat it. Since then, we have been approached by a large number of coaches and athletes who also wish to play their part in the Jordanian camp. We met Ali, a Syrian refugee in Za’atari, and we trained him to be a kickboxing coach. Last year we invited him to the world championships in Antalya, Turkey. He was one of WAKO’s guests of honour. Ali had never visited a country other than Syria and Jordan. He had never taken a plane. He had never even eaten fish or swum in the sea. At the end of the World Championships, he received the fair play trophy. For him, the experience was unforgettable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down our plans. But there was never any question of us giving up our actions, especially the “Live Together” program developed with Peace and Sport in Jordan. We want to get even more involved in actions in the field, to help people with disabilities, refugees, young school dropouts, and girls and women who have difficulty accessing sport. We have projects in Africa, in collaboration with UNESCO. We are also looking at South America. In any case, we will need a partner, similar to Peace and Sport, and a solid base in the country. Alone, we lack strength. Together, anything is possible.”

Read the article on Peace and Sport website

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