As the World Cup captures the imagination of soccer fans around the world, residents of a displacement camp in northeast Syria now have an opportunity to get in the game. Like the soccer fields in Qatar, the field the boys are playing on is brand new and state-of-the-art. For many, it’s the first real soccer field they’ve ever played on.
Our team working in the camp coordinates humanitarian assistance and community rehabilitation activities funded by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. We organize engaging, educational, and supportive programs for people of all ages and regularly reach out to them for ideas of what they’d like to see and do in the camp.
For the young men and boys, the most common request was for a soccer field. It would be a place to play their favorite sport, catch up with friends, and make connections with neighbors—all while leaving behind day-to-day challenges.
Soccer is a way to decompress for the teenagers and young men, many of whom care for their siblings and mothers by taking on jobs during the day. While women and girls often attend emotional recovery sessions, literacy workshops, vocational trainings, and more during the day, many of the teenage boys are left out of these activities due to their work schedules.
A safe place to play
When the community reached out to us about building a soccer field, they explained that the children didn’t have a safe place to play in the camp. With security as the main priority, our engineering team designed a fenced-in, well-lit field that mothers could feel at ease sending their children to.
The soccer field was built in compliance with the highest standards in terms of engineering and safety, with a special focus on easy maintenance. “When we design anything for the camps, we keep in mind that we need to make this as durable as possible because we know the conditions that any structure can undergo,” said Omar, a Blumont engineer who designed the field. Solar-powered lights ensure the field is reliably lit and not affected by local power outages.
Our team kept the community updated throughout the process to stoke excitement and get community buy-in for the project. We visited classrooms and talked to families living nearby the construction site so that they knew what was coming. Jwan, a senior protection officer at Blumont, said building trust around child safety was essential for this community. Jwan’s team talked directly with the children, she said, so that “they see that someone heard their voices—it’s very important for them.”
A tournament for the whole community
To mark the inauguration of the new soccer field, Khalil, a program coordinator for Blumont, organized a soccer tournament. He wanted to make the occasion special for the children—many had never played on a proper field before.
Everyone wanted to get involved in the tournament. The coordinator formed six sports teams of young men and children to make a soccer league. The head of the community’s sports committee volunteered to referee. Women who learned sewing skills through vocational training (also funded by the French government under the same humanitarian assistance program) offered to sew uniforms for the players. “They wanted to do something special for the boys who are in their families and community,” Khalil said.
Since the field opened in early December, it has been busy every day. “I’ve heard a lot of people say that this place is their only outlet away from the tent,” Khalil shared. The sports committee head noticed that elderly men are becoming regular spectators, showing their support for the players, and creating a new tradition and gathering place of their own.
It’s no surprise that the field has been a success since it was designed for the community’s own interests. “It was a beautiful feeling to see it come to life,” said Omar. “Our dream to provide these people with something—the simple right they have to play safely—came to life.”
Our team already has a second field in the works for another section of the camp. Khalil is looking forward to all the friendships and community bonding that will come with it. “I’m excited to see people from different cultures and environments coming together in one place and celebrate together without feeling different,” he said.