Before telling you this wonderful story we have to take a step back.
Do you remember when I told you about the Aikya gym where I take my daughter to drain her batteries? What I did not know at the time is that those sweet guys who work in the gym, as well as being adored by the children, are also Italian Champions of World Kick Boxing! In fact, the Aikya Team, which is part of the World Association Kick Boxing Organisation (WAKO), is founded by World Champion Gianpaolo Calajó who is currently the champion of Italy.
Back to us…
About a year and a half ago, Peace and Sport – a neutral, independent global organisation active in the adoption of sports and its core values as a tool for peace – launched the “Live Together” program at the Zaatari Refugee Camp.
You should know that Zaatari is the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world, located north of Jordan on a semi-desert frontier bordering Syria. According to the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) data, in April 2018 the camp welcomed about 80,000 people, 20% of whom were under 5 years old.
The program, developed together with UNHCR, International Relief and Development (IRD / Blumont), ITTF, FITEQ, WAKO and with the support of the Jordan Olympic Committee, aims to promote the values of peace and gender equality through the introduction of new sports activities that involve all ages.
In April 2018, as a member of WAKO, Gianpaolo Calajò went to Zaatari and has decided to share his experience with us.
How much time did you spend in Zaatari and what did you do?
Domenico Mandalari and I went for the first time in April, the first part of the project was to train kick boxing instructors for children using the Aikya method.
We trained 17 potential instructors, one was a teacher at the time and, importantly, today he has a salary paid by WAKO. In January I went back alone, for another 4 days, I wanted to see how it was going and I must say it’s going great! Ali (the instructor) works every afternoon and already has about 70 children. As AIKYA we have donated clothes, games and above all training equipment.
Personally, I have tried to give a hand to India, Nepal, Sicily and now Zaatari … and also this time I can say that the common thread is humanity, the sense of giving mutual help that (fortunately) human beings still manage to demonstrate in dramatic situations. You go to give but you come back with much more than when you left.
What is taught to the children through the Aikya method?
Using this method allows you to develop and improve self-confidence from an early age and increases your awareness. In this sense, sports become a means of getting to know one another and improving oneself.
Can you tell us about Zaatari?
Zaatari is huge, people are beautiful, many graduates, no one has ever asked me for help. The only desire the people have is to go home. You should know that the camp is a closed campus and they never go out, so many children in their lives have only ever seen Zaatari. It must be said that in spite of all this, the camp is managed very well by UNHCR that works in synergy with all the largest humanitarian organisations WFP, IRD, UNICEF etc…
Did you stay in Zaatari?
When I go, I sleep in Amman, which is about an hour drive. Nobody can stay at the camp after 4pm.
Are there other experiences that you would like to tell us about?
One day, between one lesson and another, I took a bike and together with some of the boys from the course we rode around the camp, we stopped at a stall and I invited everyone to a drink with the specific intent of offering in order to leave a bit of money. I tried not to give the impression of giving alms because I knew that they would never accept. The result? I was not permitted to pay, the owner of the stand whom had never seen me absolutely did not want to accept anything and offered everyone a drink!
I know you met a child named Hamed, with hypnotic eyes. How did you meet?
Hamed, I met him during a break, he turned to me with a sad look, I stopped him to give him a ball that I had with me and, since he does not speak English, some guys told me his story, not too different from many others. He was found on the side of a road, alone, both parents killed. You know, when the families run away they do it at night out of fear of the army and to avoid being caught they tranquillise the children so that they don’t cry or make noises that can draw attention to them.
There are many humanitarian organisations, about thirty, which do you think is the best one to help from Italy?
Providing aid is very difficult, privately impossible. I myself have sent different things that have never arrived, now I’m trying through a contact at Peace and Sport .. I’ll let you know!
Will you go back to Zaatari?
I will definitely return to Zaatari, probably after the summer. I am in constant contact with Ali and I send weekly video material to improve his lessons. The camp does not have (unfortunately) an expiry date because there is still no estimated return to Syria.
Anna Orsi & Gianpaolo Calajó
Translation on behalf of Silvia Scaldaferri