In the United States, many children start to play sports at a very young age. As early as 5 or 6, American children are thrust into sports like soccer, football, tennis, basketball, softball, baseball, and more. Team sports are especially emphasized for young people, because they teach you important skills and valuable lessons about the world you’re growing up in. Lessons like how to share, respect others, and be active are just three of the benefits to playing sports. Many could argue the disadvantages to sports . . . injuries, cost, and an outcome of aggressive behavior are just a few that came to mind. However, when a child is young, they are truly reaping the benefits of being social and being active through a sport.
In the Middle East, children also have the opportunities to play sports at a relatively young age, however these opportunities may not be as wide spread as the United States. (We tend to have a little league team in several sports in just about every other town you can go to.) As I was looking up sports as a hobbie for young children, I came across several sports initiatives that specifically target young people, while heavily pushing for peace between different Middle Eastern countries.
- UP – Ultimate Peace
This organization brings children together from three communities, Palestinian, Arab Israeli, and Jewish Israeli, to play ultimate frisbee together as well as foster communication and acceptance through their interactions. It began in 2009 and was started by two Americans and an Israeli. Ultimate frisbee is consistently gaining popularity in the Middle East, as well as in other parts of the world.
- Peace Players International
This organization is active in Israel and the West Bank, and strives to educate Jewish and Arab people through basketball. They also work with immigrant populations and they provide other initiatives for children to take advantage of such as the Leadership Development Program. They were founded in 2001 “on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together.” In its twelve years of operations, PPI has reached more than 65,000 participants and trained more than 1,100 youth leaders.”
- MECA – Middle East Children’s Alliance
This organization is slightly different than the previous two. MECA is a non-profit organization that works towards several goals within the Middle Eastern region. Children’s rights, providing aid, and supporting other organizations initiatives are some of the main tasks taken on by this organization. Their main focus is not on sports, but sports do play a role in the programs and initiatives they help fund. They are also currently funding a project called “Let the children play and heal” which exposes children to theater, music, art, and dance as a form of expression for their pain and heartache.
- GSF – Global Sport Fund youth camp
Lastly, the GSF is UN intiative that was started to impact several hurting regions of the world. Areas where access to resources and programs is scarce. They run sports camps all over the world, and this year they ran their first camp in the Middle East. Held in October, the GSF chose Lebanon as the host and children from Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen (just to name a few) came together to play soccer.
These sports initiatives are just one realm that peace can and should be explored through. There are intiatives popping up all over the world to foster peace and understanding among children, because who better to expose our vision for the future to? They are the future.