Champions in the Making

Winning girls’ team from Bhalukiya Palong High School highlight the impact of sports facilities in Ukhiya

The sports cage has space allows for a variety of sports to be played by the participating children. ©Friendship
by Nazm-us Saadat and Sohani Shahid
October 24, 2022

Play is universal in its ability to bring children together. It is also essential for children to grow and develop, but not all children can access this simple benediction.

In 2017, when almost a million Rohingya fled across the border from Myanmar, the Bangladesh government and humanitarian agencies pulled off a near miracle to accommodate the refugees and cover their basic material needs. However, given the desperation of the situation, more intangible (but equally essential) needs remained to be addressed, such as the need for play.

And that is why the Dutch organization KLABU partnered with Friendship and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) Endowment Fund, of the famous French football club to initiate a club centre and mobile sports library for refugee and host communities in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar.

Members of the Bhalukiya Palong High School girls football team, who won the Cox’s Bazar district football championship last month said they owe their success largely to the project. “I will forever be grateful to the KLABU-PSG staff and trainers for helping us with proper sports gear and dedicated training sessions for months,” said Shonchita Barua, who plays defence on the team.

Equipment and coaching were the easy part. In a conservative society, it was not easy getting boys and girls to share facilities and play side-by-side. The project employed “mobilisers” to not only guide the kids but encourage and convince parents to let their children—especially daughters–participate in the sports. They did this through open dialogue with the parents and caregivers as well as home visits.

“One of the older girls came up to me saying that she really wants to be on the team, but her parents thought she was too old to be fraternising with other children and participating in sports,” said Salma, a mobiliser at the club centre in Camp 19. “I went down to their home, spent an hour with the mother and explained her the benefits of the game and also assured her saying that I will be looking out for her, every step of the way and now she’s the team leader of the girls’ team.”

The club centre at camp 19 has various sports facilities for children to bond, learn and heal through sports. ©Friendship

“Visiting the club centre was a great experience,” said Eva Duprat from Paris Saint-Germain, during her visit to the KLABU-PSG Club Center. “I was not sure what to expect during my visit. This is my first visit to Bangladesh. I am very happy to see how our project is bringing positive changes in the lives of Rohingya children and the children of the host communities in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar.”

The club centre has a television where boys and girls from the camps come to watch PSG football matches, a sports cage where they play different kinds of team sports and a jungle gym where they can test their acrobatic prowess. Once a child enrolls as a member, they can borrow sports equipment and gear provided by PSG and KLABU.

The Mobile Sports Library (MSL), is equipped with the same equipment as the club centre, including rental equipment and an LED screen showing PSG football matches. Seven schools from Ukhia welcomed the MSL, which also goes to the Rohingya community. All seven, and nine others, took part in the National Interschool Summer Games 2022 in Cox’s Bazar district. The coaches and coaching sessions are also an integral part of the MSL.

The Mobile Sports Library has a plethora of sports equipment, as well as a screen for broadcasting matches. ©Friendship

Both the boys’ and girls’ teams from Bhalukiya Palong High School became subdistrict champions. The girls’ team went on to become district champions. The girls of Bhalukiya High School ended their exceptional run at football when they were knocked out by a team from Chittagong in the first round at the divisional level. The journey of this team is a visible impact of the KLABU-PSG project.

Friendship implemented the project, building the club centre and MSL, and liaising with the relevant camp authorities—including the Response Relief and Repatriation Commissioner’s (RRRC) office, and the community members. Parents and teachers have unequivocally supported the rise of the girls’ team from Bhalukiya in Ukhiya.

Sports have the power to change the world. It helps push boundaries, fight against stigma and unite people from all walks of life. This project slowly but effectively is bringing forward positive and measurable change, creating opportunities for individual growth, physical, mental and emotional health as well as developing confidence and a sense of empowerment. Friendship hopes to expand the reach of the project in the coming days.

The girls team from Bhalukiya Palong High School that won the Cox’s Bazar district championship ©Friendship
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