Sports Changes Adolescent Girls
By Monica Awad
JENIN, OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORY, 20 April 2006 – Marah, a 15-year-old girl from this town in the northern West Bank, had little to do other than attend school, study and help her mother with the daily chores at home. Like most adolescents her age, Marah, meaning joy, had few outlets or opportunities to play and express herself, and was often bored.
“I always loved sports activities, but only had one class of physical education per week,” said Marah, a ninth-grader at Al-Zahra Secondary School for Girls.
Marah is from a family of seven. Her father is a dental technician and her mother is a teacher. According to her teachers, Marah is such an active and energetic girl that she would bully other girls in her class.
The Sports for Development programme launched at her school two years ago has helped change her behaviour and attitude, teachers say.
“Marah became a more responsible person. She shows more respect to her teachers and her classmates,” said Rowand, the physical education teacher.
Marah’s favourite sport is horseback riding, which is only possible during summer. Given her passion for sports, however, Marah has won a string of table tennis competitions in table tennis in Jenin. “I love sports so much that I dream of opening a sports club for young girls when I grow up,” Marah said.
The Sports for Development programme has changed her friend Ala’a as well. Ala’a, 16, watched her house burn down as a child.. Despite continuous counseling provided to Ala’a through the school, Ala’a did not show much improvement.
She began to regain self-confidence playing table tennis, and said she hopes to win competitions like her friend Marah. “I am proud that I participated in this project. I made many new friends and I am no longer afraid,” said Ala’a.
The Sports for Development programme is funded by the Canadian Government, and operates in more than 250 schools in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Beyond providing children and young people with opportunities to play and interact that they might not otherwise enjoy, the project aims to equip adolescents with skills that include discipline, respect, conflict resolution, and team work.
“We’ve noticed major, positive shifts in girls’ attitudes and characters since the beginning of the project,” said Rowand. “At first, Ala’a was a very distant girl. She was always sad. Now, Ala’a is a happier girl and has more self confidence.”
Rowand said she hoped the programme would expand to include all schools in Jenin. “This project reaches 16 schools in the Jenin directorate only, eight schools for girls and eight schools for boys. I hope that all schools, especially girls’ schools will have the chance to participate in a similar programme.”