There is a football championship happening Za’atari refugee camp, and Omar [1] has his eye on the prize. The key to his team’s impending success? Teamwork. 

“If we try our best, and make sure we work together, we can win,” he says. 

Behind him, another team plays one of the first matches on the astroturf pitch located in the Makani drop in center. Makani means “my space”, and the initiative is a holistic programme that provides alternative education, psychosocial support and life skills training under one roof. 

Teaching life skills through sport is just one of the ways that the Makani approach aims to empower adolescents and youth to become assets to their community while also imparting important life skills in the process – the very skills that Omar aims to leverage to take the championship: self-awareness, communication, leadership, and critically, cooperation. 
Playing sports also serves another purpose: it helps restore a sense of normalcy in the lives of children whose worlds have been turned upside down by war and displacement. It’s a gathering place to hang out with friends, enabling children to support one another. 

“Before, there wasn’t much to do” says Omar, “but now we come here, and it’s better.”

Elsewhere on compound children who for a variety of reasons aren’t eligible to enrol in school take part in an informal education class. Next door, a group of half a dozen boys are guided through an exercise designed to help them identify and manage their emotions. They are making woven bracelets, and each piece of yarn represents a different feeling or memory. The end result will be unique to the individual, and the process provides an opportunity to discuss issues that the children might otherwise never get the chance to talk about.  

Across the compound, older adolescent boys and youth are working out in the gym. The men are free to come and go so long as the compound is open. It’s a place to be among friends, and to blow off some steam if the need arises. On the wall someone has photoshopped the image of a body builder in peak physical condition against the dusty backdrop of the camp itself. “Because it doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you are, you should always strive to be the best that you can be,” informs a young man in track pants, “even if that place is a refugee camp in the middle of the desert.”  

Self-improvement is also at the top of Omar’s list. As soon as we finish talking he’s heading to football practice!

[1] Names have been changed


Sector: Social Protection
Project name: Promoting a Protective and Stimulating Environment for Displaced Syrian Children in Za’atari, King Abdullah Park and Cyber City Camp, 2015
JRP Specific Objective: REF 4: Equitable access to quality child protection interventions increased for girls and boys affected by the Syria crisis
JRP Project Title: REF 4.4 Provision of specialized child protection services
Total Financing: USD 4.5 million
Project duration: 12 months
Financing Agency: UNICEF
Implementing Partner: Save the Children International