July 2009, Damascus
UNRWA – JICA Football Cup
As the sun burned off the early morning chill, young Palestine refugees from five different cities entered the field at the Fihaa Stadium in Damascus. They have been training all year for this tournament and were united behind one cause: love and affection for football.
"Make friends, play fair. Do not forget about that during the game" says Tomita Akiko – the Resident Representative of the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – in front of the players. She also mentioned the importance of football and of a strong commitment from both UNRWA and JICA to upgrade sports facilities for Palestine refugees. "It‘s not just soccer competition, it‘s something more. For those young boys it is a great opportunity to meet and form friendships and discover each other. They come from various camps and normally they are not able to meet. Sport is something missing among Palestinian youth and we, JICA and UNRWA, want to change that."
The tournament was also part of a wider programme to encourage young people who have dropped out of classes to go back to school. Boys who wanted to take part in the tournament had to attend lessons. Those who have taken part in the tournament and gone back to school have reported a more positive attitude towards education and their teachers. "That tournament was an example of sport saving street boys. JICA and UNRWA provide this competition to spread sports and a positive atmosphere among young Palestine refugees in Syria. Sport, especially football, is essential for youth. They work together to achieve success and through this activity they learn responsibility and discipline in a friendly environment" declares Masaki Kunieda, Ambassador of Japan to Syria.
The partnership between JICA and UNRWA has so far been a fruitful one. Between 1986 and 2005 JICA successfully trained 39 UNRWA trainees in Japan, equipping them with vocational skills such as mechanics, electrical technology and furniture making. These trainees now work at the UNRWA Damascus Training Centre (DTC). This has been possible due to full cooperation with the General Authority for Palestinian Arab Refugees (GAPAR). Currently 11 JICA volunteers provide unique and valuable contributions to UNRWA through their work in the fields of music and physical education (PE) at UNRWA installations and the DTC.
The joyful atmosphere of the two days at Fihaa Stadium will remain in memory of the Palestine refugees who were competing. The competition was more than winning the challenge cup, however: "For us Palestinians it is very important to compete, because we always work hard to achieve success and I hope that we will succeed in our future" declared Rawia Ali – a young Physical Education teacher from Jaouneh school in Yarmouk.
"We are happy and thankful to UNRWA and JICA for this wonderful time. We dedicate our success to children and all Palestinians who suffer in the Gaza Strip," said the winning team from Khairiyeh School in Latakia after scoring two goals in the final match against Homs and becoming the champions of Syria.