Shaimaa Al-Banna, project manager in our Cairo office, heads to the football pitch to meet the children in our Premier Skills programme who are building stronger communities and brighter futures for themselves through sport. Premier Skills returned to Egypt last week to train 50 new football coaches.
On a Friday morning, I visited Al Warak, a neighborhood south of Cairo, to watch a young football team practise.
I was invited by Bahloul Abdel Monem Khalil, a coach who participated in a Premier Skills training session in Februrary, organised by the British Council in collaboration with the Premier League. He spent one week of training with some of the Premier League’s UK coaches not only to develop his technical skills as a football coach, but also to learn how to foster community development through his coaching.
Coach Bahloul returned to his neighbourhood filled with enthusiasm to build on the children’s love for football in order to give them hope in life. The Al Warak neighbourhood is a 17-square-kilometer district located in Giza Governorate, Egypt, with a population of one million. It is a slum plagued by garbage piles and swamps with all sorts of insects and diseases. The only means of transportation is the three-wheeler tok-tok (a motor-powered rickshaw).
Suddenly, in this grim setting, we came upon a beautiful green pitch. I went in to find 75 children ranging in age from four to 12 years old dressed in sports outfits, ready to train with Coach Bahloul. I sat down to talk with the children’s parents while watching the training. Om Yassine said that the absence of her six-year-old’s father, who is in Saudi Arabia to earn his living, made it difficult to control her child’s behaviour. But since he joined Coach Bahloul’s team, his behaviour has improved and he has learned to act more respectfully towards his elders.
Another player, Nour, is nine years old. His father is a milk seller who cannot afford to pay for his son’s sports, so he let him join Coach Bahloul’s team which is free. After attending Coach Bahloul’s practices regularly, Nour passed the tests to join the young football team of the Wadi Degla Club, in Egypt’s Premier League. Who knows what he might become in the future? And Abdel Gawad’s father affirmed that his son, also nine, has become committed to studying and is keen to get high grades to ensure he can continue with the team.
Other parents also said that joining the football team has had a great impact on their children in terms of their studies or moral commitment. It has been a very positive shift in their lives. Every child now has an ambition to join one of the big football teams or be at the top of his or her class.
Coach Bahloul himself stressed that he is keen to teach children the meaning of teamwork and collaboration and how being skilled in football alone is not enough to win. He also teaches them that the real fun is in playing the game and not only in scoring goals. He even visits his players in their schools to ensure that they excel in their studies and they are regularly attending their classes. All the children expressed their deep love for their coach.
In return, the players take on their own responsibilities to support their team. In the beginning of the training, they get out the footballs and training equipment, and after the training, they clean the pitch and collect the tools. They encourage each other with a strong sense of team spirit, and they honour one another in front of their parents when one of their teammates excels in their academic studies, religious studies or sport.
What Coach Bahloul does in Warak is not mere football. He creates new opportunities for children. He tells them that they should see not only the piles of garbage in their neighbourhood, but also the bright futures that lie ahead of them. Marawan dreams of becoming an international footballer like Lionel Messi. Yahia aspires to buy a shop where his mother can sell vegetables, instead of selling them from the pavement as she does now. From Coach Bahloul, they are learning the teamwork and commitment it takes to turn these dreams into realities.
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