Football 4 Freedom
Our girls’ football project happened in 2019! – and it was wonderful. We were at first disappointed in our bid for funding to the EU Erasmus fund but then we were inspired by the energy and help of hundreds of people young and old in making this visit happen. We and the Abu Dis girls want to thank them all! See report below.
A real highlight of the year was the wonderful girls’ football visit which brought eleven girls and four leaders to the UK between 24th November – 2nd December. It was very exciting to us to implement a plan that had been in place from 2016, when Abu Dis Sports Club had begun a girls’ football training session each week and we and our visitors to Palestine were excited about this. It took us longer than hoped for to bring the girls to the UK, but when it happened indeed the outcomes were better than hoped for, and we ended the visit very optimistic, with high hopes of building on the work done and organising a next youth visit in summer 2020 (now put on hold) and . Fundraising plans in 2016 had begun with a group of women visitors, but they were unable to raise the sums needed, so we put in an application to Erasmus + to run this visit, in co-ordination with partners in France and Bulgaria. We were disappointed and tried again three times – each time reaching the reserve list but not being funded. In 2019, we decided that we would somehow do it . We set out to do this via friends, partners, a leaflet, a short video, crowdfunding, events and appeals in both countries – and though a slow start by the summer made us push the date of the visit back, but in the end our appeal reached many generous people and we were extremely encouraged that we could make this happen without the EU funding. The fundraising stage involved many people that we knew and people that we didn’t know – there were so many good ideas: we had several showings of a Bristol football team’s film about women’s football in Palestine, women’s and girls’ football teams did tournaments, people raised money for boots and shirts or referred us to small trusts … We set up a committee involving our main partners. The co-operation at this stage was actually a joy. We made new partnerships in order to run the visit. Palestine groups in Merton and in Waltham Forest became involved, as well as our old twinning-group friends in Pendle-Beit Leed. Each of these groups contacted others in their area in order to build a good programme, while we ran central leadership trainings and made sure that our safeguarding responsibilities would be shared and honoured. Other groups joined in as the programme developed – Knighton and Presteigne (building a new Radnor Palestine group), our new partners in Bedford-Al Walaja (see students’ visit below) hosted a match, and many groups in each of the areas took an important role, from schools to sports clubs to youth groups to mosques to trade unions; we hope to remain in touch with many of these. The visit was ten days long. We wished we’d had a few more days, as the programme was really packed, and we wanted to say ‘yes’ to more ideas for activitiesthan we had time for. However, the girls were already away from home and school for two weeks, as the journey to the UK took them two long days at each end. Once here, the visitors were in London for most of the time, staying in Camden and based at Café Palestina – we love having our own place for workshops, meals and public events! – but each of our main partners had two days of the programme time for activities in their areas, and the group divided into two for several days so each group got the opportunity to meet people in the countryside and small towns before returning for the final London days including two football tournaments, in Walthamstow and Camden. The girls prepared presentations while still in Palestine; we put these together with a handout for audiences and the girls enjoyed the public meetings and the positive feedback that resulted. There were many high points in the visit, including a street activity in Camden, wonderful visits to schools, a meeting with the Mayors of Presteigne and Worcester. some good football matches and trainings, watching a women’s football match (though it was very cold), visits to football stadiums and to many interesting places across the country. We were very glad to pick up our work with schools again. This included Camden schools that had had twinning relations with Abu Dis schools for some time. One of the leaders was a teacher from one of the Abu Dis twin schools, so it was particularly nice that she and some of her students could visit their ‘twins’ in Camden. It also included many new schools across the country where the visit of young Palestinians was a particular surprise. The football theme worked well, as often there were opportunities for sport as well as showing the presentation and talking to students which was a rich experience for students from both countries. There was plenty of football! And a chance for other sports such as netball which was new to the Abu Dis girls. The public events varied in content though always included a chance for visitors to show their pictures and talk, and these were a way to involve people of different ages who were interested to meet young Palestinians. Café Palestina was the base for the visit– and we had our evaluation there on the final evening. It was amusing to ask the girls how many people they had met and watch them stretch their minds to a big number and suggest 50! We knew that in just one of the schools they had been to they had met more than that, and they had been to 13 schools, played many matches including two tournaments (in Walthamstow and Camden), taken part in eight public events – and certainly met and affected several hundred people if not more. The visit was a massive opportunity for the visitors, for the partners and new friends on this side, for the many people who met the girls, played football and heard them speak. Feedback from UK visit helpers included the following (here they were asked what they had enjoyed about the visit): “Hearing the girls speak for themselves Reaching a huge range of people Everyone had fun” “The excitement surrounding the visit. The interaction between the girls and their local counterparts. The information conveyed by the girls about the reality of their lives under occupation and their lack of freedoms and rights which children in the UK take for granted. The positive image left by the girls about Palestinians being normal people with normal hopes and aspirations.” “I really enjoyed being part of the project and meeting people who care about the situation in Palestine across London. *the love and care of the Palestinian leaders, and their relationship with the girls, esp Nibal *good variety of activities; *the girls were amazing – very well-behaved and positive *range of people involved *organisation with many people involved; *impressive fund raising before they came; *voice of young people to schools and other community centres; *I was doubtful about the protest but I saw how much the girls really felt positive about this. *I saw the girls develop more confidence throughout the week, and tell more deep stories about themselves. *i recognise what a challenging task organising all these events and different people was, and in the most part it was very impressively achieved.`” “Fun, successful, met objectives of raising awareness in local community” Feedback from the girls included (most was written in Arabic and translated) This was a useful and sweet experience. We managed to visit new places and learn about new cultures, We visited famous historical places in London including places we used to see only in photographs. We visited the wonderful British countryside in Pendle and enjoyed the beautiful nature and the good winter weather. It was a nice trip with old friends and new friends; we tried new things. In these ten days, I knew what freedom means, in other countries not in mine. The most interesting thing for me on this visit was visiting schools – it was a great opportunity to learn about the school system there. They are like our schools in the number of students but the schools were bigger and they had more resources. Students in all the schools wore a uniform. There are age differences – their year 11 is our year 12 (towjehi). I enjoyed playing football in the schools. Not many people knew about Palestine. We talked about our country and the difficulties we face under occupation. I was talking about travelling to Jerusalem to students who didn’t understand anything about the situation in Palestine. When they heard about what is happening, they were sympathetic with us. I enjoyed visiting historical places in London: Westminster, Big Ben, the South Bank of the River Thames. I also enjoyed playing football and famous stadiums and watching a women’s football match. We enjoyed being with local trainers at different places during our visit. This visit was really helpful for our English. Some of the photographs taken and short videos made during the visit are on the blog https://football4freedom.blogspot.com/ The visit stimulated a lot of interest and left us with many things to follow up and new things to do, Particularly because we had done this ourselves with the help of our friends and no funding body, we were full of pride in what we had achieved. ________________________________________