To keep up: TAEKWONDO
All children have the right to develop to their full potential – including the most vulnerable refugee children.
“Life is unfair, but it goes on… These children came from bad places and difficult times just like me. My father was very sick when the war started in Syria. We couldn’t move him to a hospital due to the bad circumstances. My mother and I took care of him.
When he passed away, my mother, my three younger brothers, and I left Aleppo and took refuge in Turkey. Just like these children, I managed to smile. I, too, should keep my chin up and stay strong.” These are words of Ahed Abdullah, a 26-year-old Syrian refugee who teaches Taekwondo classes to young refugee children at the Al Farah Center in Gaziantep.
In 2015, one year after she came to Turkey, she started working as a volunteer while she was taking Turkish language courses at the center. Two years later, she became an activity support personnel and Taekwondo instructor at the same center. She couldn’t complete her education in English Literacy in Syria because of the war, but she is very happy to be teaching children and showing up strong for them.
Evidence shows that when children are supported and encouraged by caring adults, with access to spaces and services attentive to their needs, they have the potential to break long-standing cycles of poverty, discrimination and violence. With the support of UNICEF and with generous funding from the United States government, ASAM’s Al Farah Centers throughout Turkey provide children and young people with these safe spaces and the services they need to adapt to their new circumstances and reach their full potential. Among many services for children, such as counseling, life skills training, Turkish and English lessons, the Al Farah Center in Gaziantep also offers Taekwondo lessons to refugee children, so they can grow stronger both physically and mentally in a fun and safe environment.
Building Resilience Through Taekwondo
Ahed’s passion for Taekwondo started when she was a young girl. It was not common in her culture for girls to practice such sports but she managed to learn it through movies first and practiced at home with her brothers. When she came to Turkey, she started taking Taekwondo lessons at a small gym. “I researched where I can learn it. When I found a small sports center in my neighborhood I was very happy. Taekwondo helped me build my resilience, I can keep smiling because of it. I am so excited to teach it now. I have a red belt and 30 students who are eager to learn every day.”
When asked how Taekwondo affects the lives of the children coming to the center, she says: “Taekwondo gives them discipline in life. It teaches them respect and good manners. As they try to cope in a new place and learn to integrate, even after one month of practice, they start to respect themselves and each other. They become aware of their inner potential and learn to use their power and strength the right way. This is necessary to move through any phase of life.”
She says most children coming to the center are shy and hesitant at first. They can’t express themselves and they are affected by the experience of war. “At first, they were laughing during classes and weren’t taking them so seriously. But now their perspectives have shifted. They feel more confident. I think the center and the courses offered here, including Taekwondo, help these children very much – if it wasn’t for it, they would be on the streets or working or not going to school.”
One of her students is Ali Yasin. He is 9 years old. He came from Syria with his 4 siblings and is the youngest of his family. When he came to the center with his mother to find out about the services, he saw the other kids practicing Taekwondo. So, he wanted to join them. He’s been attending courses for 3 months. He says he loves doing Taekwondo, especially turn kicks.
“I can count to ten in Korean and show all my moves to my friends at school. Taekwondo became the light-house of my life. I am much stronger now. I wish my sisters would learn too, so I can practice with them at home.”