Spring Football Off To A Grand Start

Late afternoon, early spring, a vanilla sky descending upon us and tinting the surrounds with soft, pastel brushstrokes. A large group of young men from the neighborhood sit in the cement stands surprisingly patient and disciplined, only their anxious, excited eyes betraying an otherwise cool resolve. A sort of calm before the storm you might say. They listen as Adam and Yazid go through League Rules. Finished, the two look over to me. A beat passes before I snap out of my reverie.

Then, with my feet quickly back on the ground, I begin drafting the forty-three players who arrived on Monday evening to take part in our newly formed soccer league. We balance age, size, and skill in assigning them to one of five, historic franchises. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Lyon, Bayern Munich, and Arsenal. They are all greeted by their respective coach and team manager, a collection of gifted and generous volunteers (not to mention precocious footballing minds) that have stepped forward to help Adam and I in the running of the league. I walk around as the teams begin to talk strategy, positioning, what do you think lads, are we designed for the orthodox, efficient, structured and technical play of the Germans? We’ve got some height…perhaps we should look to get the ball wide and knock in crosses like the English. They’ve been convinced of the aerial game’s merits since WWII, after all, and have seen (some) success. Or are we more South American in character, players that need space for individual expression, freedom for flair and cheeky touches, for dribbling displays, spontaneity, spur of the moment creativity?

I’d imagine the conversations went down like that, at least. My Arabic is not quite the stuff of legends yet. Whatever the content of the team huddles, however, after about ten minutes of discussion, the Nablus Premier League (although Champion’s League is probably a more fitting title) at long last officially kicked off. Battling it out on the asphalt pitch that lies just outside the ground floor of the TYO facility, the night witnessed spirited contests, striking displays of skill and collaboration, and even a last second winning goal delivered by Mohammed Hassameh of Real Madrid.

The matches all ran fifteen minutes (five in total) as Adam, myself, and our incredible translators refereed, organized, registered players, passed through a few transfer orders, and were swept up in the great energy of the young men. In view of the league’s auspicious debut and the incredible enthusiasm these young folks displayed, thrilled and appreciative just to have a place to compete, to socialize, to be young and enjoy the camaraderie of youth sports, I feel safe in predicting wonderful success going forward.

In case you were wondering, Arsenal sits atop the Table right now with two convincing wins, the team pushing forward with the same understated confidence that their manager Ali Ramadan displays on the sideline. Bayern Munich and Real Madrid are just three points behind with a match in hand, while Lyon and Barcelona are still working out the kinks at the bottom of the standings. With the temperature rising and the days growing longer, I can’t wait to watch as the League really hits its stride in the weeks to come.

Until next time, stay fly.

– Colin

Messi or Ronaldo? Launching a Football League in Nablus

In alleys and classrooms, over coffee or sheesha, amongst the young and amongst the old, in the old city and in the refugee camps, a persistent point of contention strums the quiet baseline of Nabulsi conversation. Who do you support, Messi or Ronaldo? Are you Barca or are you Real Madrid?

Be prudent in how you answer. After all, in one word, uttering either the name of the diminutive Argentine wunderkind or the hubristic, self-involved Portuguese maestro (can you guess who I prefer?), identity is pronounced loud and clear, loyalties are expressed, and partitions are drawn between family and friends. The question is larger than football, an essential, human question you might say, revealing more than you can imagine (at least in my book). I will even contend that preference for Leo or Cristiano speaks fundamental truths about your character, social values, even your humanistic persuasions.

Albeit overstated (as is my nature), the above does give voice to how central football is in the lives of the Palestinian people. It is a passion, a joy, a release, a common ground, a freedom, a sanctuary. Despite my austerely limited Arabic, I have carried on many pleasant exchanges revolving solely around football. Smiles, names, and demonstrations of footskills fill in the gaps of our linguistic divides. Though a bit clichéd and something of a thirty-second ESPN promotional ad for the World Cup, witnessing how our shared passion for football can supersede national boundaries or any other markers of separation (arbitrary or legitimate), bringing together young kids from Balata with young men from America, the power of the beautiful game is proven beyond dispute.

However, despite the widespread cultural affinity for the sport, when it comes to actually playing, there are very few options for young Nabulsis. Grass and open-spaces, never mind proper pitches, goals, and boots come at a high premium here. There is an endemic love for the sport, but few outlets for participation. The disconnect in a city so enraptured in football prompted Adam and I to take action in hopes of addressing this void as best we can.

Last Wednesday night, we launched the Nablus Premier League for young men aged 14 to 18 from the local neighborhoods. The response from our recruiting efforts has been very encouraging (we had 30 kids our first night), and we cannot wait to see how competition and excitement generates once the League Table goes on display, once the top scorers are announced, once the battle for the championship and city pride really gain momentum. We will be sure to keep you updated on our progress.

Until next time, stay fly

– Colin

Colin is an intern at TYO Nablus.

TYO Volunteers Attend Successful Youth Camp

On Monday, August 9, 2010 a three-day youth camp sponsored by TYO came to a bittersweet close. Forty-two university-age volunteers from the spring and summer sessions participated in the camp, which was led by Sports Teacher Haitham and Volunteer Coordinator Imad. The end of summer is an important time for reflection and forward thinking as the new academic year approaches, and the main objective of the camp was to pledge a commitment to improving personal competencies like communication and leadership skills and a commitment to improving the local community.

The camp featured various service projects, workshops and sports activities. Workshops were geared at honing important skills and discussing how to make positive social changes, including a workshop titled “The Art of Listening” led by Khamis, 20, from Askar refugee camp and Ruba, 21, from Khallet al-Amood and a workshop titled “Understanding Others” lead by Imad and Yousef, 21, from Awarta village.

“The harmony between the volunteers during the camp was incredible. It was such a unique experience for us to be together outside of the TYO Center,” said Khamis.

The camp culminated with a workshop in which the participants were asked to identify problems in their communities. Each participant was asked to identify two and then a general vote was cast in which a single social problem was nominated to become a targeted project for the volunteers in the coming year. At the end of much debate, it was decided that the most pressing issue is the community’s struggle to learn the English language. This problem affects many – from the youngest primary-school student who struggles with his homework to the most brilliant engineer who cannot break into the international arena. Over the coming year, these TYO volunteers will work to engage and support local organizations and institutions that teach English in order to increase awareness of and access to their services for the entire community.

“You cannot imagine how high their commitment was during the workshops. It was 100% successful,” said Imad.

Stay tuned for photos from the event!

TYO Core Program Celebrates Mid-Summer with an Open Day

The cheers and laughter could be heard throughout the neighborhood last Wednesday when more than 100 children took part in an Open Day at the TYO center. That day, TYO Core Program kids took a break from their normal classes to play games, create art, and watch a clown performance.

Each semester, TYO schedules “open days” both as a treat for the kids and as a way to introduce TYO to other Nablus community groups. This time, 30 children from AMRA organization, an NGO specializing in IT training in Nablus, joined in the fun. In this way, open days are an important way for core program participants to share what they’ve learned at TYO with kids from other organizations and neighborhoods while hopefully making some new friends along the way!

The day’s events were coordinated by TYO Sports teacher, Haitham Okeh, and included many activities learned from Right to Play trainings. Teams of kids, supervised by TYO youth volunteers, rotated through eight relay race stations. They sprinted around cones; hopped on balls; bowled; and tossed beanbags into rings. The competition was stiff, but win or loose everyone enjoyed cheering and playing throughout the afternoon.

Kalimatna: The Palestinian Disabled Union

I walked in from the noise and heat of the street to the shaded and cool office not a minute too soon, as I’d speed-walked from TYO to the city center in record time.  I was immediately greeted by a lovely girl sitting at the front desk and the director of the organization who was seated across the desk.  We had met a few days beforehand and he warmly extended a hand to me in welcome.

Haya was already there and taking photos of two men who were flipping through profiles of the Union’s members, looking for candidates for the Paralympics that were going to be held shortly.  As we chatted, I was brought a cup of tea.  Palestinian hospitality is really not to be beat.

The Palestinian Disabled Union, snug between two large buildings, is located with just an unassuming sign designating its presence. I’d passed it dozens of times before on minibuses from the bus station without noticing it.  The office is small but welcoming and intentionally so—one of the persons with whom we spoke said that she could only be herself and feel comfortable inside of the glass sliding door of the Union.  It serves its function as a place for advocacy for disabled persons’ rights, for organizing events and classes for disabled persons, but also crucially for a place for disabled Palestinians to gather in comfort and camaraderie.

All of this I was able to gather by speaking with the current director of the Union, watching a film produced by the Union and speaking with two of its members.  Both the director and the film projected a positive image of their work there, focusing on the empowerment of disabled persons in Palestine and, having worked with the mentally handicapped in Peru, I was familiar with and appreciative of this tone.  The film was a montage of images of capability—the director driving his car, a young blind girl singing the short film’s song, pictures of sports events featuring those in wheelchairs.  The director elaborated on the union’s activities in securing classes for its members at the local university that met their needs, organizing other types of classes specially for its members, organizing sports events and much more.  After all of this, I was left with a very positive impression of the state of Palestinians with disabilities.   It seemed to me that there was work to be done, but that progress was being made.

This impression was not entirely negated by my speaking with two of the members, but I began to come to a fuller understanding of the life of those who are disabled in Palestine.  Both of our interviewees seemed to really feel their position as disabled persons in relation to the greater Palestinian society as being, essentially, a handicap.  Having a physical disability in Palestine, they explained, affects your job prospects, your prospects at starting a family, even your ability to walk down the street comfortably.  I have no illusions about how difficult it is to be handicapped in America and I’m sure that many of the concerns would be similar even across such a geographical, cultural and linguistic divide.  I did begin to think , however, about how many places in Nablus were handicapped accessible.  Of course this could just be a question of means rather than a question of intention, but what my two interviewees spoke of led me to believe that it was not just a means-based issue, it was an issue of ignorance of the subject.

Regardless, my two interviewees were happy to be able to be in a place like the Disabled Union.  A place where they were accepted, understood and considered.  Through the Disabled Union they’d each found employment and one had joined a basketball team for the wheelchair-bound.  If each did not exactly hold an optimistic view of their future or place in life, they seemed to do what Palestinians have become adept at—adapting to their situation while striving to improve it.


Bieta is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.

Summer 2010 Internship- DEADLINE EXTENDED!

The deadline for TYO’s 2010 Summer Internship Program is NOW APRIL 1, 2010.

Continue reading