My introduction to Right To Play actually started with a pickup game of football [the kind with Manchester United, not the kind with the Dallas Cowboys]. It was on a brightly lit turf field about 20 minutes away from where I lived in north Amman, that I met Zied Adarbeh. Zied’s an incredibly helpful guy, with the sort of cooperative attitude that makes him appealing to someone like me, given my penchant for profile writing. But this interview isn’t about Zied; it’s about his friend and Right To Play coworker, Muhammad Al Turkmane. Zied’s so helpful that after I explained to him the type of stories I was looking for, he referred me to Muhammad.
I met Muhammad at the Right To Play headquarters in Amman. He’s muscular and has the look of a guy who spends more time wearing Adidas football jerseys, than not. Muhammad’s only just getting a solid grasp of English, just as I’m only getting a solid grasp of Arabic. There aren’t many quotes in this profile. Many of the anecdotes would be quotes had I heard them in English; however I’ve rewritten them in my own words to reach as wide an audience as possible.
I’d like to thank another Right To Play employee, Philmon Haile, for translating during Muhammad’s and my conversation. In most of the other interviews for this blog, I usually
found ways to obtain English quotes, to avoid paraphrasing—to truly use the interviewee’s words for a (primarily) English audience. But Muhammad’s story is too inspirational to pass on, merely because of language barriers. I believe the term Zied used was “perfect success story” to describe Muhammad, and in the context of the kind of profile I was looking for, as well as the kind of people Right To Play seeks to help, the “perfect success story” fits the bill.
For context on that statement, it’s important to quickly explain what this organization does. Right To Play is an international group with strong influence in areas that have a large population of kids who need to express themselves outside of the frequently overcrowded classrooms they attend, and specifically with sports play. But Right To Play reaches beyond just the pickup games I joined in for, they feature leadership-intensive training programs. They go far deeper than just the standard “trust fall” variety of team building exercises; these programs are keyed to specifically helping kids who have dealt with trauma because of their growing up in war zones and/or extreme poverty. Amman is a perfect setting for Right To Play to thrive in, as there are hundreds of refugees communities in and around the city.
More than often, these communities are supported by larger organizational aid, perhaps most prominently UNRWA, but the sheer number of people in these communities make it incredibly hard for the children to obtain an outstanding formal education, one that teaches them the leadership skills and the confidence to thrive in an intensely competitive
Jordanian job market. “I lived in the Baqa’a camp for 25 years, after that I traveled to Amman…” The camp is located just north of Amman, “Baqa’a camp has different people, from Palestine, from Syria or from Jordan, about 100,000 of them are Syrian [a total of] 250,000,” Muhammad tells me. “I’m Jordanian but my grandfather is Palestinian [Haifa].” Baqa’a is currently the largest refugee camp in Jordan.
Muhammad is the youngest of nine brothers and seven sisters; he smiles as he gives me these numbers. With a family that size, it’s easy to imagine how Muhammad might excel with team sports in general. Even as a kid, Muhammad remembers having to go out of his way to help his surrounding community keep Baqa’a safe. One specific memory involves the lack of sturdy structuring and quality material for houses in refugee camps like Baqa’a. The houses were constructed primarily with thin metal sheeting called ZinCo and was generally sustainable until the rainy season in the winter. Water leaked into the houses and not only ruined owners’ possessions inside, but also occasionally trapped people under water inside of the houses. Muhammad remembers working with his friends to help remove people from their homes safely, as well as attempting to recover as many personal possessions from the flooding as possible. Afterwards, the volunteers also assisted in rebuilding the houses.
Muhammad actually didn’t encounter Right To Play as a kid. He was an adult working in Baqa’a when he was introduced to the organization. “In 2008, I was 21, I worked as a sports teacher at the Baqa’a camp. The Right-to-Play staff came to the camp [for] assessment for CPO’s. They came to me and they told me ‘you can work with us as a volunteer,’ and I said ok… [In 2009] I began as a supervisor, but they’re called field facilitators now. ” Since then, he’s become a program coordinator, helping to train teams of these facilitators to develop programs and relationships with the kids to bring them out of their shells—to inspire confidence and trust. “I love my job. I love sports. And as a
person who’s from these camps, I like that I’m able to provide these services for the refugees. The last two proposals for Right to Play were ones that I helped write. In the last proposal I was able to contribute some of my experiences from growing up in a refugee camp.”
Muhammad’s also helped with individual cases in Baqa’a as well. He tells me about a boy named Mou’ad, now 17, who was surviving off of only 50 Dinars a month from UNRWA aid with his family. Moayed’s father was in prison, leaving him as the oldest male (of three children) in the house. Moayed is incredible at football, but because he was on the constant search for work to bring in money for his family, he didn’t have much time to play. One of Right To Play’s functions is to identify individuals like Moayed, who have special skills but are struggling to find opportunities to use those skills in a practical way. The organization singled out Moayed, providing him with outlets to train. He became good enough that when he tried out he was accepted to play for the official Baqa’a football club, which allowed him to play professional soccer for a salary. It was a shift from 50 Dinar/month to 1000 Dinar/month. Muhammad tells me Moayed also had the opportunity to travel to Brazil for the World Cup as part of a specially selected group with Right To Play.
There are some issues between the different ethnic groups and nationalities in Baqa’a. With the growing population of Syrians, as well as Jordanian and Palestinian refugees, there is more tension because the population density has increased dramatically. Muhammad tells me that the proposal he’s been working on , which was just recently funded, is centered on a series of programs geared towards bringing the youth in these groups together, to learn about and understand one another. In his view, another camp, the Zaatari camp in Northern Jordan [not far from the Syrian border], has received a lot of attention in the past few years, directly because of the influx of Syrian refugees. But all of the camps in Jordan have taken in Syrians. Mohammad wants to start a program that worked with these three ethnic groups in Baqa’a specifically using (of course) community football. The project began last January, and thus far it’s proven a tremendous success in the camp. And since then there haven’t been any other peace-building projects in Amman, Right to Play is the only organization ccurrently utilizing with such a program.
The reason Right to Play produces results for the communities it helps is because of the insights and real-life experiences of employees like Muhammad, whose perspective is of someone from the community that he’s now trying to better. His knowledge of what Baqa’a needs has become an important resource for the organization. In the future, Muhammad wants to see Right to Play expand its influence in Baqa’a, unifying the children and camp through sports and the programs that he is working diligently to fund and provide. Now that he’s become an important member in the organization, his success and his community’s success are tied together.