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Bringing Iraqi Refugees and Lebanese Youth Together Through Sports

As players with the Iraqi Pirates skillfully dribbled the basketball across the court and sank the winning shot, the crowd at the Jisr El Wati courts in Beirut exploded in raucous applause.  The victorious Pirates, ages 8-10, and their families rushed onto the court to celebrate and receive their GAM3 Final Battle medals from the organization’s Lebanon branch president, Mac McClenahan.

In support of GAM3’s mission to help integrate and enhance companionship between Iraqi refugee and Lebanese youth, International Medical Corps collaborated with the organization to engage local children in extracurricular activities, including basketball games and drills. Although Iraqi youth have been living in Lebanon since fleeing violence in their home country in 2003, many say they struggle to fully integrate within the Lebanese community, including befriending Lebanese youth.

Based in Denmark, with a local branch in Lebanon, GAM3‘s philosophy is that through sports young people can learn the necessary skills of life, like teamwork, companionship, communication, and self-confidence. GAM3 and International Medical Corps’ local efforts were the first to actively engage Iraqi youth in activities in the region and helped to foster friendships and communication between Iraqi and Lebanese children.

“This has been an amazing experience for my children. They are more outgoing and more confident in making new friends,” said the mother of one of Iraqi refugee boy. Participants learned how to play basketball and work as a team.

International Medical Corps also partnered with KAFA – a non-profit organization that aims to reduce domestic and gender-based violence (GBV) and exploitation – to incorporate education about these issues into the basketball drills. The amended GBV-related drills focused on communication, listening, and cooperation skills. GAM3’s coaches underwent a two-day training to adapt KAFA’s GBV concepts for inclusion into their basketball practices. GAM3 organized tournaments at eight basketball courts in Beirut, the Beirut Southern suburbs, and in the Jdeideh and Sid el Bouchriyeh areas. To date 1,298 participants, ages 6-18, enrolled and took part in the GAM3 2010 Drills and Activities.