Soccer unites children
WADI ARA - On the first day of Camp Coexistence, kids tended to stick with the friends whom they already knew (Jews with
Jews and Arabs with Arabs). But new friendships were already forming by day two, and the kids began to interact in mixed
Soccer for Peace (SFP) recently completed its most successful camp to date, the third annual soccer camp for Arab and
Jewish children in Israel: Camp Coexistence 2007. The camp was a joint undertaking with the Maccabim Association and the
Kibbutz Barka’i Center for Soccer, Peace and Coexistence. Since 2005, Soccer for Peace has brought Arab and Jewish
children together in Israel through overnight soccer camps. Our innovative program model of coexistence education offers
children the rare opportunity to meet on a regular basis, on equal footing, to find a common language through activities
they all enjoy. Dialogue, social and educational activities challenge participants to learn about, understand and
respect the differences that exist among the peoples of Israel. By planting seeds of respect, tolerance and peace within
our children, SFP is able to nurture and sow these seeds throughout a lifetime.
Our model begins with a five-day overnight soccer camp, where 10 and 11-year-old Arab and Jewish children train together
on integrated soccer teams. In the fall, these teams join a league, and travel through the Wadi Ara region of Israel.
They are one of the only mixed teams. Each summer, participants return to camp and again participate in the after-school
program. Children may stay in the program for up to seven years, enough time for them to shape life-long attitudes of
mutual acceptance. We plan to expand the program, year by year, so that SFP participants will be part of each other's
daily lives until the age of 17.
In addition to soccer, the kids take part in many social and educational activities, learning about themselves and one
another. The educational activities are run by Kaleidoscope, an Israeli non-profit seeking to foster the development of
social and emotional competencies, reduce aggressive behaviour and promote acceptance of others. These activities had
quite an impact on the kids. When asked, "What did you learn about yourself?" many hands shot up in the air. "I learned
that I like to learn in this classroom!" exclaimed one boy. "We are all family," said another excited participant.
Social activities, such as daily swimming, allowed the kids to simply hang out, and gave their minds a rest from soccer
and the Arab Jewish conflict. This is when friendships truly flourished. We took a day trip to a mosque in Sakhnin, and
a synagogue in Kfar-Piness, which gave participants an opportunity to learn about each other's religious and cultural
histories. The kids also visited an authentic Australian zoo, and went rafting in the Jordan River. The lessons they had
learned both on the field and in the classroom provided a platform for them to enjoy this time as true friends.
When camp ended, the kids were both excited to be going home and sad that it was over:
"I don't want camp to end!"
"We really learned a lot about how similar we all are."
"I am glad I got to meet the kids from the other team."
"I got to meet new friends that I normally would never have met."
When asked if they wanted to come back next year, all hands shot up into the air. Though they were sad to say goodbye,
they left camp knowing that they would again become a team in September when SFP's after-school program begins.
There is no limit to SFP's potential. Though conflict exists in every corner of the world, so too does soccer; the most
watched and played sport on earth. United in their love of the game, SFP participants form organic relationships,
implicit in which are the trust and respect necessary for constructive dialogue. With this as our guiding principle, SFP
believes that sport can serve as both a metaphor and vehicle for peace in our time.
* Soccer for Peace is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to unite children of war-torn nations in
their shared love of soccer. Based in New York City, Soccer for Peace has no political, religious or racial affiliation.
For more information, please visit www.soccerforpeace.com. This article is
distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.
Source: Common Ground News Service, 13 September 2007
Copyright permission is granted for republication.