In addition to our work in Nepal, in 2021 we launched a transformative project to support young Syrian refugees in Lebanon by funding two cricket Hubs which provide skills, hope, and opportunity to children living in the Bekaa Valley and Shatila refugee camps.
Those two Hubs quickly became four (and are soon to become six), all of which are delivered by Alsama Cricket, and provide six hours of coaching and match play every week year-round. The Hubs are a lifeline for the young refugees struggling to survive in the challenging environment of these camps after witnessing the unimaginable horrors of war.
Earlier this year, we were delighted to be joined by MCC President, Clare Connor, and CEO, Guy Lavender, on an eye-opening trip to Beirut. The children of Alsama are truly inspirational; their ability to smile and show great strength and perseverance in the face of everything they have been through in Syria and are now enduring in the camps is remarkable.
Shatila, a 1km square encampment housing between 20-40,000 Syrian and Palestinian refugees, sprawls vertically. Its poorly constructed homes are perched impossibly one on top of another in a desperate bid to house its abandoned people, until the sky is obliterated and the damp seeps in, pervading every inch of habitation. Living here is an existence, a survival, a life devoid of hope. It is a similar story at the 2 other camps out of which Alsama works - Bekaa and Bourj el-Barajneh.
Cricket goes hand in hand with the education offered by Alsama at the 3 camps and a recent survey showed how those who play cricket are thriving in the classroom. The cricket offers so much - not just the confidence and sense of a team, the self-discipline and the mental wellbeing from playing a sport, but a real chance to forget any anxieties and to be a child. The young cricketers are fiercely competitive and totally committed and play every week of the year. There is no green space in the camp, so buses are arranged to take them to playgrounds. Now, some of the original players are so good, that they have become junior coaches to the new hubs and are developing great skills as teachers and leaders.
On the penultimate day of our trip, a tournament was held between all the Hubs. They come together at the playground, representatives from the British Embassy and journalists in attendance, and 12 teams battle fiercely to win the coveted prize of a bat signed by the entire Pakistan cricket team. It is incredible how many children are playing cricket and how many of them display real talent. It is an inspiration for us to see our projects in action and to realise that all our efforts to support are bearing such fruit and bringing such joy.
Alsama was founded by Meike Ziervogel and Richard Verity, both of whom remain passionately involved in the project.