Playing football to cope with the trauma of Syria's war

About 1,000 Syrian children at Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp have enrolled in a weekly football programme.

Stephanie Ott | | Sport, Humanitarian crises, Jordan, Middle East, Refugees

Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan - Young girls run across a dusty pitch, kicking up dust and screaming with joy as they chase after a ball. The desert sun burns in the afternoon heat, but the children still brim with energy.

Having escaped Syria's civil war, they now live in the largest refugee camp in the Middle East, Zaatari, in

northern Jordan. "I'm always looking forward to the practise," Besan al-Hariri, 11, told Al Jazeera. "I don't mind running in the heat because I can be with my friends."

Project coordinator Carine Nkoue told Al Jazeera that most of the children who participate in the football programme are severely traumatised.

"They have already gone through traumatic events: war, leaving their home, crossing borders and living as refugees," she said. To help them cope, the Asian Football Development Project (AFDP), the foundation of Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, two years ago created a football programme in conjunction with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Around 700 boys and 300 girls now play each week, coached by other Syrian refugees

Coach Abdullah al-Nahhas, 21, fled his village near the city of Daraa in January 2013 and has been living in Zaatari ever since. "I think we will be here for a long time, so I want to give the children a chance to take their mind off things," Nahhas told Al Jazeera.


Related: Arriving at Zaatari refugee camp


Follow Stephanie Ott on Twitter: @steffiott

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