Taking Steps With Refugees

According to the UNHCR, there are 68.5 million displaced people worldwide including 25.4 million refugees who have fled due to conflict, persecution, human rights violations and violence; a global all-time high figure. More than half of the refugee population coming from Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Myanmar. This means that; there has been a rising need for international aid and development agencies and stakeholders to provide more psychosocial support that enables refugees to live a better life whilst in parallel aiming to change the circumstances that contributed to the situation. It is very important to keep hope alive and build a real sense of community. One of the ways development partners are succeeding in that is by opening up the space for the use of sport for development and peace. A sector that has now transcended the academic field and trickled down into grassroots and community-based initiatives, enabling more global citizens to contribute to solutions that bring more peace and stability to our world.

The UN sport for sustainable development goals toolkit laid out a map for the opportunities that can be harnessed to bring about more positive social change and development outcomes through sports. Over the years, the International Table Tennis Federation has partnered with the United Nations agency for Refugees and other partners to contribute towards positive social change in projects such as the below.

Breaking Down Barriers with Table Tennis Balls in Afghanistan, 2004 project

During the Taliban regime some sport practices and mainly gender mixing was banned. The International Table Tennis Federation was the first International Sports Federation to return to Afghanistan post-war in a project in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). With the International Olympic Committeee (IOC), Afghanistan National Olympic Committee (NOC) and Butterfly, we rebuilt the structure of the Table Tennis National Association and men and women were able to play together through Table Tennis.

ITTF - Iraq Dream Building in Sulaimanya, Iraq 2007
For the last two decades, sport structures in Iraq have been severely affected because of the long-standing conflict. Alongside the Iraq Table Tennis Federation, ITTF reestablished table tennis development with underprivileged children and young people.

ITTF – Generations for Peace in Amman, Jordan 2007
Alongside Generations for Peace, Foundation for Global Sports Development, Jordan Table Tennis Federation ITTF combined efforts to train young leaders as change makers and trainers of trainers, empowering them with skills and knowledge of how to use sport to unite children and youth.

ITTF-UNHCR Sport for Refugees 2008 project in Yemen
Due to years of fighting and conflict, poverty and insecurity has caused a lot of suffering; since 2014 more than 3 million people have been displaced, 240,000 and over seeking refuge in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Germany and nearly 20 million are in need of humanitarian assistance. Further, it is estimated that refugees stay in the camps for between 10 and 20 years, in many cases without the right to leave, work or have access to sport or recreational activities. Through this project ITTF delivered a coaching course, training camp and tournament for participants of varying ages including children where the aim was to teach basic table tennis techniques, create a fun environment and motivating the adults to follow up as coaches.

ITTF-UNHCR Sport for Refugees 2008 project in Yemen

Nittaku Dream Building in the country sides of El Salvador 2011
In the past five years people fleeing Central America has multiplied ten times over.
Years of civil war, military dictatorship and escalation of violence by organized criminal groups has resulted in economic decline, unemployment and a massive migration mainly to USA, leaving a host of negative social impacts such as family disintegration, children without proper supervision and proliferation of gangs (locally referred as maras). Together with partners; Japanese Table Tennis Manufacturer Nittaku, El Salvador Table Tennis Federation (FESALTEME), El Salvador National Sport´s Institute (INDES): Governmental Sport agency, local Municipalities, Our little brothers and sisters Foundation and Tamarindo Foundation, ITTF used table tennis as a vehicle for positive individual and social change in communities lacking opportunities to access the sport and offered a healthy and supervised activity for the spare time of children in risk of gangs engagement.

Nittaku Dream Building in the country sides of El Salvador 2011

As the ITTF Foundation continues to build upon these former work, our solidarity remains never ending in playing our role to ensure more is done, and we are doing this through our Dream Building Fund Projects:

In Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan with Peace & Sport, we implement the Nittaku ‘Live Together’ Dream Building project where we are carrying out educational and recreational activities using table tennis to help Syrian refugees particularly children to develop individual and social skills and promote social cohesion with the host community alongside our partner Peace & Sport, and together with UNHCR, International Relief and Development (IRD), Questcope – International Medical Corps, Save the Children and TIGER (These Inspiring Girls Enjoy Reading).

Globally, there are 6.3 million Syrian refugees and in Jordan, there are more than 660,000 people and more than 140,000 currently living in Za’atari & Azraq refugee camps with Za’atari alone estimated to host 78,597 refugees.

Sport is the ethics language which we could teach these young people to show the value of friendship and respect so that we can build a better community”. Abdulrahman Jado, Za’atari project coordinator

One of the biggest challenges being faced by participants in the refugee camp is participating in table tennis championships outside the camp.

Nittaku ‘Live Together’ Dream Building projec

In Ecuador we are implementing a refugee integration program specifically targeting children and youth from Venezuelan and Colombian migrant and refugee population to create safe spaces in order to tackle the biggest challenges; keeping the children in school, out of drugs or alcohol abuse and violence.

Through sports, we can prevent negative perception, discrimination and xenophobia. In our work, each person on the table tennis table is equal, with the same rights and the same opportunities to make a shift in life, in special in tough moments when a light does not seem to appear. We are all migrants- at any point we will be forced to leave our comfort zones. We need to be sympathetic with those who are now facing these challenges”. Mauricio FUDELA project coordinator

Fudela - refugee integration for children and youth in Ecuador

Children’s Future at Stake

52% of all displaced people are children. More than 3.5 million refugee children who should be in school are not. Out of this, there are fewer than seven girls for every ten boys enrolled into secondary school and only 1% of refugees manage to get into college or university.

ITTF Foundation through it’s Dream Building program is implementing 4 projects that have a specific focus on using table tennis for positive social outcomes for immigrant and refugee children, by providing access to education, skills development and community integration.

We are taking steps with refugees, envisioning stronger and more empowered communities. You are our friends, our team members and motivators.


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