An example for the world to follow?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of opening the 2017 Season Start-up Playmaker Camp for 102 young volunteers in Beirut, Lebanon. With street sports activities starting up in new neighborhoods across the country from Sour in the South to Tripoli in the North, it was a great opportunity to let the young role models know how special they are. In this blog-post you can read part of the speech and learn why:

I would like to give you a special welcome to all our newcomers – I hope you will find the program today both interesting and empowering. And when you leave this afternoon you may even know one or two people you wish to add on Facebook. And to all our returning Playmakers, let’s make sure to reach out to all our newcomers and make this Playmaker Camp as good as the previous ones.

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The world needs you

The world needs you more than ever! With Trump in office in the US, Britain leaving the EU, and the evolving civil wars in Syria and Iraq, the world is becoming more divided as we speak. Minorities are under pressure – from Muslims in the US, Jews in London, to Kurds in Turkey.

Here in Lebanon you have a proud history. Yes, you’ve been through a civil war and there are still many things that do not function as it should. Electricity, internet, waste management, etc.. But you have also shown time and again that a multi-ethnic state is possible. Lebanon is a very unique mosaic of culture and civilization, that can provide learning and be an example for the rest of the world.

With 1.5 million Syrian refugees in the country Lebanon is the country in the world with the highest percentage of refugees. In fact we have some of them here with us today. You ought to be proud of having opened your door, when other countries continue to close theirs. This gesture calls for good efforts all over the country in order to create opportunities for the less advantaged who are living under tough living conditions.

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10 Years Anniversary

For 10 years GAME Lebanon has done just that. Together we have created access to street sport for children and youth around the country – including refugees from Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. And with the street sports compendium you will be using today, we’ve been able to teach them skills that they can use in other aspects in life. Over the years we’ve reached a total of 10,000 children and youth, with more than 2,000 in 2016 alone.

With new GAME Zones in Maachouk, Ansaar, and Tripoli, this year we are looking to set new heights. As Playmakers you are the backbone of our organization, as your volunteer efforts makes it possible to create social change in 10 neighborhoods across the country.

Female leaders

And watch out! This work will most likely affect your personality. Your engagement as a Playmaker has the potential to change you to become a more organized and responsible being. Something you can later use in other aspects of life.

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If you already see yourself as organized and responsible, you may use GAME to gain leadership experience and become even sharper. In fact a survey from last year shows, that 7 out of 10 (of the Playmakers, red.) believe that they could have a future political career if they decided to. With only 3 % female politicians in Lebanon, you are part of the solution. You are this country’s next generation of leaders. Whether it will be in your own community together with GAME or at a national level at a later stage.

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I’m looking forward to a great day together with you. Let’s meet some new people and have some fun!

When there is no public space for play

We all know it. Physical exercise is a game changer when it comes to “mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body. It makes you happy and lets you live longer and better lifes with less illness. But what to do, when there are no places for exercise and play?

Last year my wife, three kids, and I left our healthy and wealthy Scandinavian comfort zone and moved to Lebanon. Because we wanted to do our part in unfolding the potentials in this fragile country torn by war and conflict. We knew that things were going to be different. We knew that the country was heavily burdened with as much as 25 % of the population being refugees – primarily from Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. We also knew that stable and unlimited internet, 24 hours electrical power, and the luxury of always having running water in the tap was being left behind.

What we hadn’t anticipated was the struggle we had to fight to stay physically active. The reasons are many. Back in Copenhagen we didn’t own a car because biking around the city was the quickest and healthiest way to get around. In a city like Beirut with its heavy traffic and no bike lanes, this is not an option. Going to a gym will cost you 120-150 USD per month per person, which is a bit steep when you are a family of five. And then there is the public spaces. Who doesn’t like to play ball in the park or go for a run? The problem is that public space comprise only 2 % of the cities in the Middle East, compared to 12 % in average European cities. And in Beirut it’s down to 0.5 % (The Economist, 2016).

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Shrinking public space in Beirut: The cars have taken a bite of the green.

Can you break a sweat on 0.5 % of the city’s space? Yes, of course. But only if you get access. And access seems to be the problem. Lebanon has a thing for fences. The biggest park in both Beirut and Tripoli (second largest city in Lebanon) are fenced in and only open on weekends. WHO recommends 60 minutes of physical activity for children. Not just on weekends, but each day. How do you honor that, when the park is closed five days a week and when many of the other public gardens are bushes, benches, and desolated fountains? The fact that in the recently renovated Sanaya Park children are not allowed to run on the playground, doesn’t make it easy either.

What’s missing are accessible public spaces, where people can meet and practice their right to the city. Signe Lund Brandis – a former intern at GAME Lebanon – has recently shown this in her master thesis “Public Space in Beirut”. In Beirut it is not necessarily ownership that enables or limits the usage of space, as Brandis makes evident. The access to the limited spaces owned by the municipality is also key. And the remodeling of these spaces to active zones where citizens can meet across divides is a good place to start if you want to build a stronger and more cohesive population. How are we going to respect each other, if we never meet and interact? And what better place to do so than at a public space through a game of basketball or ping-pong?

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Haddadine in Tripoli, where an old fountain will soon be turned into a miniature recreational park. Stay tuned.

The good news are, that both in Beirut and Tripoli the municipalities have opened their eyes and are now trying to re-invent what public spaces can look like. From using old abandoned buildings for street sports in Beirut, to opening up the legendary Fair in Tripoli – a never completed masterpiece by the world renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer – for basketball tournaments. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than a few hundred square meters to make public space, where children and youth can meet to play sports and socialize. Out of the many projects the non-profit GAME Lebanon has engaged in to create more opportunities for play, one of my favorites is a small pocket park in Tripoli that UN-Habitat has invited GAME Lebanon to help design and activate. The project will turn an fenced-in desolated fountain into a mini-football and ping-pong arena as well as a safe place where the women of the neighborhood can meet outside the home.

And this is exactly the point. We can change and shape the cities the way we want them. Cities are human creations and supposedly the epitome of civilization. But if they are unhealthy and without safe places for interactions with fellow citizens, how civilized are they then? Let’s create liveable cities with more public spaces for play.

Hvor er Mellemøsten på vej hen?

Det er godt nok trist at følge med i hvad der foregår i Mellemøsten for tiden. Hvad der med det Arabiske Forår for blot tre år siden lignede et tøbrud i regionen, er med de aktuelle krige og magtovertagelser slået fuldstændig bak. Situationen ændrer sig dag for dag og for et lille land som Libanon, hvor GAME har en søsterorganisation, tegner det ikke lyst.

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En kort status over landene omkring Libanon. I Egypten har militæret fjernet den demokratisk valgte præsident Morsi fra Det Muslimske Broderskab og hans parti er med dødsstraf til 683 centrale partimedlemmer bogstaveligt på vej til at blive lagt i graven. Vesten har ikke reageret i nævneværdigt omfang – måske det ville have været anderledes, hvis ikke det havde været et muslimsk parti?

I Gaza og Israel er situationen også højspændt med tabstal der nærmer sig 2.000 – heraf langt størstedelen på den palæstinensiske side.

I Syrien er borgerkrigen gået ind i sit fjerde år og synes ingen ende at ville tage. Over 120.000 er omkommet og med indblanding fra den militante islamistiske gruppering som kalder sig Islamisk Stat (IS) kan ondt hurtigt blive værre. Foreløbigt har IS erobret centrale byer i den nordlige del af nabolandet Irak og eksperter tør ikke afvise en mulig invasion af Baghdad i løbet af de næste par uger. Hundredetusinder er på flugt.

I weekenden var der så kampe i byen Arsal i den nordlige del af Libanon, hvor 79 personer er omkommet. Dette har ikke været dækket af de danske medier, men kan være endnu et tegn på at Libanon får svært ved at undgå, at blive inddraget i den Syriske borgerkrig. Hezbollah bedyrer, at de ikke har været involveret i kampene, men flere kilder peger på, at der er tale om modangreb rettet mod det militante libanesiske parti, som sidste år gik aktivt ind i kampene mod den syriske oprørsbevægelse.

FN’s flygtningehøjkommissariat UNHCR melder om, at for første gang siden Anden Verdenskrig overstiger verdens samlede antal flygtninge 50 mio. Krigen i Syrien er med 9 mio. flygtninge (de fleste internt fordrevne) en væsentlig årsag. Over en mio. af de omkring 3 mio. som har forladt landet, menes at være i Libanon. Uden egentlige flygtningelejre i Beirut, Libanons hovedstad, betyder det, at der hviler et enormt pres på det libanesiske samfund.

GAME Democracy Makers

Med GAME’s nye program – GAME Democracy Makers – er det målet via aktiviteter i basket, dans og rap at give de syriske børn og unge berørt af krigen et frirum i hverdagen, hvor de kan lege, blive udfordret, møde libanesiske børn og unge og tænke på noget andet end krigens følger. Via et samarbejde med danske RAPOLITICS vil der i den kommende weekend blive afhold workshops i rap, hvor de unge lærer at skrive deres egne raps og reflektere over det samfund de bor i og de problematikker de ser i Mellemøsten, i Libanon og deres egne hjem. Forhåbentligt kan aktiviteter som GAME’s være med til at forhindre, at en hel generation af unge tabes på gulvet.

Vil du tæt på GAME’s aktiviteter i Libanon? Så følg med på GAME Lebanons Facebookside. Projektet er støttet af DEMENA Youth Pool og USAID.