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A new dawn: Setting up the girls’ Futbol Mas sports program in Daadab

At the end of January 2021, the Daadab refugee complex had a population of over 220,000, across the three camps that comprise it, Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera. A large number of the residents of the three camps arrived in the 1990s and have children and grandchildren born in the camps.

In the Daadab community, culturally, boys are the only ones allowed to engage in sports activities, especially in open spaces. Girls play separately from the boys and major sports activities like volleyball, net ball badminton, football among others are carried out in enclosed spaces.

When Futbol Mas Foundation, the non-profit organization, first set out to intervene in Daadab, being a new program in the region advocating for social change through sports, it faced hesitance from the community about allowing girls to engage in sports activities. This led to a series of meetings with the major partner, UNHCR, and other partners such as LWF and TDH, who were in charge of schools and enclosed centers in the camps. As a result, the Foundation mapped out closed centers in the community in order to have a separate program for girls where they would feel free to take part in the social and sporting activities.

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However, not all schools could be part of the program, because they did not have closed centers for girls. A team of five women was hired to lead the implementation of the pilot program for three months, a gender coordinator and four female coaches.

Christine Odundo, project coordinator in Daadab, has seen this program through from the beginning and feels like the pilot initiative is finally a success because the girls have the opportunity to participate in psychosocial sports activities just like the boys. Christine says, “It was hard winning the trust of the community within a short period but the reception has been well, thanks to other partners such as LWF. The initial pilot schools are now willing to have conversations on how we could mobilize resources in order to include girls in our program as part of the co- curriculum activities. This could be a beginning to a more informed and educated community on benefits of sports for both genders. The few girls we are currently engaging are a true representation of the need to have the project across all the schools and are really enthusiastic about the project.”

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The launch of the program has delighted the female coaches, who were already engaged in Futbol Mas youth leadership activities. They are happy and hopeful of its benefit to their fellow Muslim sisters since most of them lacked the opportunity to ever participate in such activities. Christine remembers stepping into one of the schools carrying the sports equipment in company of other female colleagues and the children excitement was visible as they had been waiting for the start of the activities since they heard the news. Umoja Grade 1,2 & 3 girls started chanting and that marked the best historic launch of the program in support with the teachers.

Through this program, Fundación Fútbol Más seeks to promote the mental health and psychosocial well-being of the girls through activities that will help them biuld on their confidence, self-esteem and change how they perceive themse themselves. The program will also promote community cohesion while breaking down cultural barriers and stereotypes that don’t allow girls to equally participe in social activities and use their abilities towards the betterment of their societies.

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