Our founder and director Waleed Abu Nada shares the philosophy behind The Champ Camp that gave birth to the largest women weightlifting team in the Arab world. This article outlines the key challenges facing youth in Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp and how sports-based youth development can provide a way out.
When it was first established as an emergency camp in 1968, Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp had 5,000 tents for an estimated 26,000 Palestinian refugees. Over five decades later, the camp currently hosts just over 220,000 Palestinian refugees who are still confronted to extreme economic and social challenges.
One of the major challenges its people face is extreme poverty with over half of its residents having an income below the national poverty line. A more recent challenge was the influx of Syrian refugees which meant that the already poor infrastructure had to be shared leading to more socio-economic burdens inside the camp. The lack of opportunities available in the area often results in many of its youth dropping out of school making them extremely vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. As a result, the local industrial sector is full of workforce consisting of teenagers from Al-Baqa’a who seek to provide another source of income for their families.
Escaping a deep social moratorium
Jordan has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world which plays a major role behind many of its citizens being trapped in a state of “waithood”. This phenomenon, common across the MENA region, describes the inability of youth to achieve status and societal recognition often as a result of extreme economic, social and political marginalization.
The reality on the ground in Al-Baqa’a is as tough as it can get. Adolescents and youth of the camp find themselves disconnected from almost all possible support systems, both personal and institutional ones. The current socioeconomic situation in the camp, especially within the context of the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic posed, seems to only be resulting in increased marginalization and social exclusion of youth.
Set up in 2017, The Champ Camp aims to utilize sports as the vehicle that can drive the incredible potential of youth into a perceptible positive change in their lives and in Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp.
Sports for Purpose: Providing opportunities for social becoming
Initially created to only encourage youth participation in sports to support young people’s development, The Champ Camp has developed into an organization that is tackling serious social issues on a community scale.
Most of the sports-based programs aim to provide youth with meaningful opportunities to participate in a society where they frequently feel neglected. By capitalizing on our long-term youth development model, we are allowing young people to engage with their society in an unprecedented manner.
Several organizations and actors working in the development sector in the area work on providing basic needs alongside a sense of security for people, however, almost no one is addressing the issue of the general sense of aimless existence amongst its youth. The outcome of such a sentiment is creating individuals can who can exhibit socially dangerous behavior. Those who are lacking purpose could either be actively on the lookout for some higher calling or passively lured into radical paths – something that extremists tend to leverage on.
Just like many existing sporting programs worldwide, what we offer across our different scopes allows our youth to develop necessary skills and resources. What is more important than mere capacity building, however, is having a model that allows youth to use these developed skills to contribute to their communities. This bridge would be created through providing opportunities for meaningful engagement. As our youth increase their engagement with their community, they will be become able to influence decisions and create changes in Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp.
From Zero to Hero: The power of local champions
In our three years of operations, we have witnessed our youth group make the leap from barely ever leaving the camp to competing in five different countries. They have collected over 100 medals throughout the journey. Our champs also went to from extreme societal negligence to massive media and community recognition not only locally, but on an international scale as well. Finding their purpose through sports as the tool that allowed them to no longer be confined in a predefined position for them in society. They are now in control of where they seek to position themselves and even if our attempts proved futile, the possibility of social becoming as opposed to the idea of aimless existence is worth the effort.
Although The Champ Camp at its core is an Olympic Weightlifting school, its model has provided an environment that goes beyond simply building champion athletes. We are building champion people for life.