Football pitches built by One Goal, World Vision and the Premier League in Azraq Refugee Camp last year have become a green oasis in the middle of the desert for the approximately 28,000 Syrian refugees living there. For more than 15,000 boys and girls in the camp, the pitches are a place to run around and exercise... a simple thing that makes a huge amount of difference.
With the Summer Olympic games in Rio, here's an update from the pitch from Azraq's athletes....
13-year-old Shaima (centre) loves coming to the pitches to play football - something she’d never done until she came to Jordan.
“I like coming to the football pitches to meet friends. I like to play football and I come here every day, I’ll even be back in the evening later to play again!” she says.
It’s currently school holidays in Azraq. There is a long break from football from about 12pm to 4pm during the heat of the day, but then football sessions resume in the cooler evening. “I encourage the other girls to play football as it keeps us active.”
“I used to play for a famous football team in Syria called Al-Karamah. We got to the semi-finals in the Asian champions league in 2006,” says Akram. He has been in Jordan for two and a half years, coaching the boys’ teams and the older youth team.
“I was a kid once and I had football coaches and they were my idols. Now I have some experience and I can be a good example for these boys.”
“The best thing about being a coach is putting a smile on the children’s faces. This generation has been deprived of so many things. It’s a bit of compensation for them, to give them hope. The boys release their energy when they play football that could otherwise lead to aggression.”
“It’s a beautiful thing that there are Syrian refugees in the Olympics. It’s good that people still have determination to compete. When they eventually go back to Syria, the athletes will take those achievements back to Syria with them.”
11-year-old Yaman is from Damascus, Syria and has been in Azraq refugee camp for almost two years. Ever since the football pitches opened for business last November, they and Yaman have been inseperable.
“I’ve made a lot of friends playing football at the pitches. I love all my friends. My best friend is Yehia, he plays in another team.”
World Vision distributes juice and bars made from dates to children attending formal schools in Azraq camp, and they give children like Yaman energy to play football and to enjoy themselves.
“We’ve memorized the food pyramid. Eating good food is important. I know carrots strengthen your eyesight!”
As the Olympic Games are set to begin, he will be rooting for the team of refugee athletes, which includes two swimmers from Syria. "If they win gold we will be very proud…They are heroes and we are very proud of them,” he says.
Raja is from Dar’a, Syria and has a two-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. She’s been living in Azraq camp for two years but has been a football coach in the camp for just two months.
“It’s beautiful for the girls to play football. I used to enjoy playing football back in Syria, and liked it more than any other game as a girl.”
“I enjoy teaching the girls. I feel like they are my children. The girls come and play and release their energy. Some girls come to the pitches feeling sad and release their energy and feel better”
For Raja, the football pitches not only bring children together, but also offer them a place of emotional support.
“The girls talk to me about their problems, they open up to me. I cry with them sometimes.”
12-year-old Omar originally came to Azraq from Damascus, Syria.
“It makes me happy that there is a place to play football in the camp and I’ve been playing on the pitches since they opened. I feel happy when I score a goal but I enjoy playing football and spending time here, even if we don’t win.”