On March 26, 2009, I was able to speak with Ibrahim Amterat, coordinator of the project in the Abu Basma Regional Council sponsored by the Education and Social Project, an undertaking of Hapoel Tel Aviv. I suggest you go to the Ha’aretz article for background details.
Judih: Shalom Ibrahim, thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions.
Ibrahim: Happy to do so. Go ahead!
Q: When did you first get the idea to form a co-ed soccer team?
A: I began to work on the idea last year: the idea that girls who have nothing to do, nowhere to go after school, could play soccer on an existing team.
Q: Which age group did you approach?
A: I started to speak with girls from the fifth and sixth grades. I spoke to them and understood that they wanted to play soccer but not with the boys. So, then I talked to the boys.
Q: What did the boys think of the idea?
A: It was very hard for them to accept the idea of playing with girls.
Q: You mentioned in the article in Ha’aretz that you had to speak to the girls’ parents in order to get permission. Is that right?
Q: So, tell me about the first game.
A: It was hard. The boys and girls didn’t get close to one another. They didn’t want to accept the ball from one another. But as time went along, they started to work together – to pass the ball, for example.
Q: How did things get going?
A: It began with one boy. He started to cooperate, and with that, other boys began to join in to work together.
Q: What about the girls? How did you help them to feel a part of the team?
A: I was very patient. I told them they could dress as they liked. I wanted them to feel comfortable. Not all girls wear pants, for example. They wear what they want. Some even wear coats, even though it’s hot. They dress according to their family’s customs.
Q: I see.
A: I saw this as an opportunity for them to express themselves, in their own way. It was a very important outlet for them.
Q: Did parents come to support the team?
A: Some of them, but about half, in fact, stayed away. In fact, a lot of the community doesn’t even know that this co-ed team exists!
After the article appeared in Ha’aretz, I’ve had the most response that I’ve ever received! Someone just translated the article into Hebrew and I’ve been getting a lot of interest in the team.
Q: How does this project help the girls?
A: You see, the girls have nothing to do after school here. They have no organized activities, or no special way to express themselves.
Q: And how has the soccer team changed things?
A: The girls have fun, they play, and they shoot goals! They are successful, and this helps them.
There are now two teams.
Q: Do the girls also play the position of goalkeeper?
A: The children decide who plays which position. It changes all the time so they all get a chance to play in different spots. They take turns. One time it’s a girl and then a boy, they, themselves decide.
Q: What is your role in the project?
A: I’m the Project Coordinator –
Q: Who is the coach?
A: Ahmed Bukra
Q: What does he think?
A: He’s from the north. They have co-ed teams in the north, it’s nothing new. But, here in the south it was completely new. Luckily, he had done this before.
Q: Do you think that this will make a difference in the community.
A: Well, half don’t believe that it’s going on. But others come to watch and encourage the kids. We don’t have people who just show up and stand around.
Q: What do you think about the future?
A: I hope to form more teams, to spread out to other areas. What I want to promote is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a boy or a girl; it just matters that a person can prove him/herself as a human being. Everyone has the right to do what s/he loves.
Q: Since the article was published, are there any other reactions?
A: Some adults have come to be and told me that I should form a team for them. They also want to play.
Q: Will you?
A: I’ll do everything that I can.
Q: Do you see results in the community from the project?
A: Again, I want to say that there’s no way for girls to express themselves. But a girl who plays soccer, makes goals, builds up self-confidence and it shows up in the classroom. You can see the influence.
She will cooperate and participate more. You can see that she feels strong and more able to be involved socially. The children get to know one another in a different sphere. And there’s increased status and stronger relationships in the classroom.
Q: Do the teachers say anything?
A: The teachers don’t believe that it exists. One teacher said that there is a feeling that in the classroom, things are the same – boys at one side, girls at another, but there is a stronger feeling that they are together.
Q: Do you have volunteers helping in the project?
A: We have some. There is a teacher who has offered to help us in his spare time.
Q: What school are the children from?
A: Tal Arad, part of the Abu Basma Regional Council (click here for map of location)
Q: I see. Well, thank you, Ibrahim. May you be successful in expanding your work. I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me and for providing photos.
A: You’re welcome! Shalom.
I’m hoping that this initiative will make a difference in these traditional Muslim communities. Not only is he addressing the needs of girls but also working on elevating their status, integrating abilities and building a new view of personal self-worth. Children are our hope and Ibrahim has the energy to generate more hope within more children.