15.06.2018 - News

Egypt: football offers a future for refugee children

Football is more than the World Cup. It is also an efficient tool for integration. In Egypt, where millions of refugees and migrants live, Terre des hommes (Tdh) is supporting children through football activities to help them rebuild their lives.

Women's voices echo in one of Tdh's seven family centres in Cairo. Mothers clap their hands and sing a Syrian song. The positive energy is contagious. This is a little slice of their homeland that they brought with them to Egypt. Doha, who has been here with her family for five years, accompanies the singing with a Syrian dance. Life has not always been so good. “We were on the run for a year and we suffered a lot,” she says. “By the time we got to Egypt, the children were very troubled.”

Helping young people get back on their feet

Our animators use football as a tool to support the children: “When they lose, refugees in particular feel as if they’ve lost everything. In their real lives, they feel they may never recover. We use activities to show them that they can get back on their feet and still make something of the situation. This applies to football and real life,” explains Pasant Aly Mokhtar, who is in charge of those running the activities.

Teaching key skills

Outside, the children play football. They dribble, run backwards and score goals. But the stakes are much higher. Khozayma Mohamed Mando, our coach, explains: “I don't want the children just to play. I’d like them to learn something new every day. I’d like to teach them new life skills and encourage social integration.”

Many children who participate in our activities come from disadvantaged backgrounds and sometimes express their frustration with aggressive behaviour. “We drafted a code of conduct together with the children and stuck it on the wall. After a few weeks, I took the sheet down. They now stick to the rules themselves,” says Khozayma, smiling. He never loses confidence in the children.

Promoting integration

In Egypt, discrimination and racial harassment against Sudanese refugees are a major obstacle to integration. Noor, a Sudanese mother, likes to relax under the shade of the trees in the park and watch her son Mohammed play. She came alone with her children to Cairo five years ago. She is afraid of making friends with strangers. To ease life for children in this situation, they can create their teams in advance for each training, but are not allowed to separate them by nationality. This promotes integration: Mohammed could exchange with the children and feels more comfortable now. “I can see how his behaviour has changed since he started taking part in the activities,” says Noor, smiling.

Building self-confidence

Some children still suffer the consequences of war or the loss of a family member. Some no longer remember their homes, but still have trouble adjusting to their new culture. The first time they take part in the activities, they’re shy. It’s the coaches’ goal to give them self-confidence. “It's not about being the best. I give attention and support to those who are less skilled. It improves their state of mind. The motto is: ‘You can do it!’,” explains the coach.

This is an extract of our magazine report.

Photo credit: © Tdh/Jean-Luc Marchina

“Yes, you can!”

Sara Aly Elzanaty, Tdh's football coach for girls