A Comment on Migration from the other side of the Fence

This year’s political hot topic seems (once again) to be migration. We are all familiar with the storyline. In 2015 we saw a rise in refugees and migrants coming to Europe. Some have left their home country because of war, while others have left because of poverty with hopes for a better life elsewhere. Ever since the member states of the EU have all tried in their own ways to limit their share of the responsibility. In fact it has become a global trend to close down borders and build fences and walls to keep the lesser privileged out.

For three years a harsh debate between the ones who believes in tighter control and the ones wanting to help the ones in need has roared. This hasn’t produced the needed results, and today we find that the problems have only grown to become so big that it threatens the very existence of the EU – a union designed to keep the European continent peaceful.

I hope 2018 will be the year for transnational solutions to the refugee and migrant crisis. The high pressure on our elected European state leaders gives hope, as nothing is higher on the agenda for quite a few of them. The combination will neither be walls nor open arms. Because letting people die at the foot of Fortress Europe is just as short sighted as welcoming everyone from Africa – the worlds poorest continent projected by the UN to reach a dizzying 3.4 billion people by the end of the century.

And this is where GAME enters the stage. One of the reasons why I feel so proud working for GAME is because we provide a small, but nonetheless important part of the solution through youth-led initiatives evolving around the passion for street sports. This is done by promoting social cohesion and providing lifesaving relief to improve the lives of the ones who haven’t left for Europe yet – and help them lead decent lives at or close to home. And for the ones already in Europe, we help them get a good start and make new friends, which is crucial for their integration. After living two years in Beirut, Lebanon, I know how many skilled organizations and people are working towards these goals every day, but at the same time I’ve also seen how much bigger the need is than what is currently being done.

I hope this model with youth-led social change both at home and abroad can inspire our European leaders to see the importance of developing more initiatives and structures, that will allow everyone to lead decent lives on both sides of the fence. Because as the American author and social entrepreneur Wes Moore puts it in his book The Work, “our passion, influence, and responsibility can never end at our borders”. Only then will we succeed.

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Somaliland’s youth: Idle, not lazy

It is happening. With more than two years in the making, this weekend GAME is finally bringing youth from diverse clans together for a capacity building workshop in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The self-declared state internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia, has been chosen, not because of the convenience of their hotels. It has been chosen because it offers a combination of challenges, which GAME offers well-proven solutions for. Lack of opportunities for the youth, lack of gender equality, and lack of public spaces for sports are all challenges GAME has specialized in providing innovative answers for over the last decade.

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Will these solutions work in what is often recognized as one of the most unstable places on earth? As with so many other things the answer is, it depends. And in this case, it depends to a very high degree on whether the local young street sports enthusiasts pick up on the idea of using sports to make Somaliland a better place.

First of all, let’s clarify that in terms of security, then Somaliland is not Somalia. While it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the latter civil war-wracked country on the Horn of Africa, then Somaliland is much better off. There are no longer pirates off the state’s coast and the last time terror hit was back in 2008. And while Somalia’s political situation is a mess, then Somaliland carried out a peaceful presidential election in November 2017, marking a proud democratic tradition with the sitting president leaving office.

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Back to the young Playmakers. During the first day of workshops, powerfull stories were shared. One of these were from Tasnim, who is studying to become a counsellor. This will allow her to advice families on divorces, something which is much needed as many are unaware of how to move on from a dysfunctional relationship. But Tasnim is also considering becoming a social entrepreneur and start her own initiative. Luckily she’ll have a few years before she has to decide which path to follow. In the meantime she’ll have a chance to test her ability to create social change through street sports, as she will be heading the weekly practices in her community.

Another strong story from one of the 56 participants is shared by Jamila. She is frustrated about the gender roles, which she finds unequal and, for her, confining. Every morning she gets up early and pray in solitude, as only men are allowed to pray at the Mosque. Then follows a long list of chores and responsibilities, including serving breakfast for her siblings, cleaning up, walking to school, working, walking back home, cooking dinner, washing up, etc. The peak of the week is on weekends when she gets to play basketball. That time is her own. But why does she have to be on a schedule all other hours when her male peers can decide themselves how to spend most of their day?

After two full days of training the young role models will receive their certificates and be ready for the next test. Are we at destination “social change” yet? No. The next test will be when the Playmakers take what they’ve learned to street corners of Hargeisa. The hope is, that they will be looked upon as role models with a genuine interest in the lives of the neighborhood kids. By showing them recognition they will slowly earn their respect. And by using GAME’s specially developed compendium with three levels of empowerment they will not only get the participants engaged in a more healthy and active life style, but also create gender equality and prevent conflict along the way.

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And the best thing? Well, that was when one of the young men during the evaluation of the eight hour long Day 1 stood up and said that the only thing, that would have made the day better, was if it had been longer. Bear in mind, that this had been a day with several attacks on his gender’s predominant position in society. What more can you ask for? The Somaliland youth may be idle, but they are definitely not lazy. And from the ones I’ve meet, I would even call them progressive.

Facts: The project is implemented in close partnership with Somaliland National Youth Organization (SONYO) and supported by CISU and Save the Children.

Lebanon – 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!

[ In 2017 the Playmakers are part of the project Youth-led Street Sport for All funded by The European Union and MS:ActionAid ]

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