During the Asian Cup, The Women’s Game was invited to join members of the AFC Corporate Social Responsibility program in attending the Za’atari Refugee Camp to deliver a message of hope, education and respect.
Driving through the gated entrance, with police and passport checks, dusty roads greeted us and it was difficult to know what to expect.
Refugee camps conjure thoughts of despair but the streets were filled with shops, shoes and hope. Bicycles lined the streets and people smiled genuinely and moved about their day.
Initially, our visit felt intrusive, as we drove through and took pictures but those feelings were quickly replaced by heartfelt welcomes and excitement as we met volunteers and the Syrian people who had taken refuge within Jordan's borders.
AFC Executive Committee Member and Chairperson of the AFC Women’s Football Committee, Moya Dodd, delivered an empowering message to the young attendees in relation to the power of football in learning life lessons as well as being a tool to raise awareness of hope.
Dodd talks the language of children across the world asking the young girls and boys, “Who likes football? Everybody likes football”.
“I had a lot of fun and many opportunities from playing football. I learnt many many things.
“On the football field I learnt about teamwork and hard work and respect. I learnt to always respect the other team because if you don’t respect them, you lose.
“I learnt that fighting is not a good way to solve the problem. It’s always best to try and solve our conflicts by talking and keeping the rules.
“I learnt that football is a big adventure and life is a big adventure.
“I hope you remember to always learn from every opportunity, on the field and in school.”
Whilst the message was delivered with fun and entertainment, the importance of hope is immense to the refugees living in Za’atari, the fourth largest city in Jordan where approximately 80,000 displaced Syrians live and over 460,000 refugees have passed through since it was established in 2012.
Close to the Syrian border, the camp covers 5.3 km2, is jointly administered by the Jordanian government and UNHCR, and includes more than 10 schools and hospitals.
The event was housed in an area usually reserved exclusively for the girls to play, where they can have a safe place without the threat of violence.
Dodd and AFC representatives enthusiastically joined in for a quick match of the world game on the main pitch, as pockets of smaller play started and stopped in every space that could be found.
Personally, visiting the camp was an educational and uplifting experience. Expectations of hardship were challenged by the most amazing smiles of the girls and boys, women and men as they truly embraced the pleasure of football.
The Jordanian government and NGOs working together are leading the way to help with humanitarian relief, setting the standard of what hopefully other governments can aspire to.
The AFC have put together a video of the activities in Amman and the Za'atari camp here.
For more information about the AFC's social responsibility work, please see the AFC Dream Asia Foundation brochure here.