'Sport has the power to change the world.' Nelson Mandela said 20 years ago. But what does sport mean to you, when you camp with 250 other single men in a tent? A place where you've long forgotten the word privacy. A place where you do your best to refresh yourself, with the help of one of the few taps. A place you'd never think of when you were dreaming of a better future. A place where you'd rather stay asleep, hoping to open your eyes to the light. A place where you live, but most survive.
Take Ali, a young boy, 19 years old, from Afghanistan. Soccer has always been his life. He is used to training for many hours in Iran. He had many friends from his indoor soccer team until he had to flee. A nightmare comes true. He never saw his friends again, just like his beloved ball.
Let's Keep The Ball Flying fingerprint Ruth Zijlstra is volunteering in Greece and giving her best to make a positive change.
Ruth describes how volleyball was always a popular game to play within the camp. "Jacolien (one of the Dutch volunteers) crafted a volleyball net with some barrier tape, and a group of men was always using it. They had fun together, and at this little moment during the days, there was a short period where all sorrow made space for playing, having fun, and kindness. There was no time to think. Sports is a means, a way out."
When they found out there was a large area (a flat spot with gravel where we could play sports) available on top of a mountain, they didn't hesitate for a moment. This spot had to be the place where they could do more sport activities.
Ruth continues: "We started announcing a schedule and found out that volleyball and soccer were very popular. We organize competitions and training for men and women on different days and times throughout the days.
Volleyball has given us so much in life: fun, competition, health, and above all, friendships. To be able to see our sport giving back here at the refugee camp in Greece gives a warm feeling. Men and women enjoy playing volleyball. All nationalities play collectively and with each other. Down at the campsite, there are significant problems. But here up the mountain, there is relaxation and fun."
Let's Keep The Ball Flying arranged a shipment with balls, gear, and a volleyball net (donated in their Happiness Project by Stenden University and Dutch Volleyball Clubs VV Zaanstad & Spaarnestad). With the help of several volunteers led by Niek, they were able to make a solid construction on the mountaintop where the donated volleyball net could be setup.
Volleyball and soccer are very popular. There are two days of special volleyball training for women, and the other three days they do soccer and volleyball for men. As Ruth is teaching the volleyball classes, she describes lots of passion: "It was a bit difficult to start up (especially after the fires), but seeing the happiness in their eyes when playing is incredible! They absolutely love it and are very passionate. After training, they asked me: can we do some more push-ups next time?"
Ali played a 'real' match again after five years, and we give everybody an opportunity to play and hit against real balls. Sport has the power to unite, and volleyball might be the one to pick!