DBAYYEH, Lebanon: With fresh, red dust on their football boots and feet, Palestinian and Lebanese children gathered in the church of Dbayyeh’s Palestinian camp Wednesday.
The children were to receive certifications of graduation from Manchester City’s School of Football in Lebanon, the first event held by the club in a Palestinian refugee camp.
Around 80 children gathered for the ceremony attended by officials from the British Embassy – who supported the project – as well as representatives from the UAE Embassy, Palestinian Embassy, Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee and UNRWA’s deputy director, Robert Hurt.
“Palestinians are some of the most disadvantaged people living within Lebanon and the region,” Hurt said as the throng of young footballers eagerly awaited the presentation of their certificates.
“The kids don’t have the opportunity to meet and train under these conditions in which they live, so this was a unique opportunity for the kids to train with such professional coaches,” he added.
The 80 children that attended the camp were a diverse bunch – made up of boys, girls, Muslims and Christians, Palestinian residents of the Dbayyeh camp, local Lebanese and 20 children brought from Shatila for the four days.
Faced with economic deprivation and chronic water shortages, the Dbayyeh camp, housing an estimated 4,000 persons, has a simple, sand and dirt pitch – a stark departure from the facilities of the main Manchester City School of Football complex in Jounieh.
The football school’s head coach, Alan Dixon, who ran the four-day camp and handed out certificates to each child, said that despite the hardships, he has found football to have a transcendent power.
“It’s definitely a different surface, but the kids love playing football. They have the right attitude and play with smiles on their faces, so the pitch quality and everything else are reduced to small details,” Dixon told The Daily Star.
“Some of the kids arrive hours early for their training. They see you arrive and run out to help you carry things, set up the pitch and put balls away at the end. Great attitude,” he continued, expressing hope that Manchester City and their sponsors in Lebanon, Modern Star, would undertake future events for Palestinians and more community outreach.
Larissa, an 11-year-old resident of the camp, said that she and her sister love playing football. More than 10 girls participated in the football training.
“Girls like to play, and the boys don’t mind,” she said.
Thirteen-year old Elaina echoed her female football compatriot.
“We learned a lot of new things, like how to handle the ball better,” she explained, adding that while they have some coaches in the camp, “this is the first time we’ve received a training of this level. It’s new for all of us.”
UNRWA’s public information officer Hoda Samra noted that this project was a part of U.N.’s “dignity for all” coexistence campaign.
“If Palestinian and Lebanese children can compete in sport with dignity, they can live together with dignity as well.”
Tamed for a moment by the novelty of their certificates, the kids – ranging from 6 to 16 years old – nodded enthusiastically to answer whether they had enjoyed the experience, talking about the friends they made and new skills they acquired.
“I just wish it was Barcelona,” said 11-year-old Georges, lodging the only complaint to be heard at the event.