8 April 2010
Spirits were high as a group of Palestinian schoolchildren stormed onto the field on 26 and 27 March for the annual UNRWA-JICA Football Cup. Eight teams gathered at Damascus’ al-Faiha stadium, seven from UNRWA schools across Syria and one from the French School in Damascus.
Roger Hearn, director of UNRWA affairs in Syria, said: “Despite recent events and the continuation of suffering endured by many Palestinians to this day, today is a day of joy in which we celebrate the hard work and accomplishments of the student athletes before us.”
The children have been training several times a week over the past few months to prepare themselves for the competition. Motivating the students was never an issue, as JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) field coordinator Uchida Kenichi noted: “The kids love this game; it is part of their national culture. From day one they showed up with a great enthusiasm to play and learn.”
Ahmad Al-Tawam, a senior programme officer at JICA, said: “The event is more than just an opportunity for the students to display their athletic abilities. It is a unique opportunity for them to bond and form relationships with refugees from other parts of Syria whom they may otherwise never have met.”
JICA began providing technical assistance to UNRWA’s Damascus Training Centre (DTC) in 1993. Since 2000, the partnership has expanded to include initiatives such as the physical education programme, in which JICA has played a vital role in training volunteers to head the programme.
The JICA-UNRWA partnership in physical education provides the students with a physical outlet to channel their energy. Sport creates a healthy forum through which refugees can learn discipline and team-building principles, gain self-confidence, and learn about physical fitness.
After a long weekend of matches between the eight schools, the Khan Eshieh team succeeded in taking home the UNRWA/JICA Cup trophy.
In his closing remarks the UNRWA head of education in Syria, Mohammed Ammouri, thanked the students, teachers, and school supervisors for their support and commitment to sports. He noted that events of this past weekend would not have been possible without JICA and the Syrian Government’s support for the UNRWA education programme.
He said: “This competition is a testimony to the competitive and athletic spirit which pervades among Palestinian youth today. Thanks to all the athletes who came and played their hearts out this weekend. Your determination and athletic ability has been a joy for all of us to watch.”
Text and photos by Haley Bobseine