22 Nov 2017

Collaboration between the International Table Tennis Federation, Peace and Sport and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has enabled the ITTF-Nittaku Dream Building for Refugees initiative “Live Together” to be established. The aim is to provide sporting opportunities and educate values through table tennis to Syrian refugees living in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan.

Currently there are over 65 million forcibly displaced persons worldwide, from which 22.5 million are refugees, persons that are forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or national disasters. Syria alone counts 5.5 million refugees since 2011; over 650,000 men, women and children sought safety in Jordan. The majority live outside refugee camps; more than 130,000 have found a safe place at the camps of Zaatari and Azraq.

by Daniela Gomes, ITTF Development, Education and Training Projects Officer

Al Zaatari, located in Northern Jordan, is one of the most organised and secure refugee camps. It was established in 2012 to provide shelter to thousands of Syrian refugees.

Over 80,000 refugees, many young people currently live in the camp which covers a desert landscape of five kilometres.

The desert landscape of Zaatari (Photo: Daniela Gomes)


ITTF-Nittaku Dream Building with Refugees

The three year sport for development project, was made possible thanks to the support of table tennis equipment manufacturer Nittaku, in addition to The Foundation for Global Sports Development, an organisation which creates and supports programmes promoting sportsmanship, education, fair play and ethics for children around the world.

The ITTF team in Zaatari (left to right) Mohamed Atoum, Leandro Olvech and Daniela Gomes (Photo: courtesy of Leandro Olvech)


The project will enable targeted refugee groups to practise table tennis in a structured and supervised way at least twice a week, providing basic education and facilitating social integration through fun and interactive educational table tennis activities. Notably, sport exchanges with local communities is on the menu.

Successful kick off in 2017

In line with sport for development best practices, the training of local coaches increases the effectiveness of sport as an intervention to ameliorate refugee lives.

Accordingly and following a preliminary site visit to the camp, a “Train the Trainers” programme was the logical first step. A total of 36 men and women comprised the first group of local refugees to benefit from the well-designed coach education syllabus.

A most positive response to the efforts of Mohamed Atoum (Photo: Daniela Gomes)


From Monday 13th to Friday 17th November, ITTF expert Mohamed Atoum, was at the helm of the proceedings. The amazing interest shown by the 127 applications received will most certainly lead the way to other education opportunities in 2018; the aim being attract more local coaches and assure the project has sustainable growth.

Rweida, a most enthusiastic group member, explains the technique necessary (Photo by Daniela Gomes)


Safe places for children to learn positive values

Regular training sessions are expected to happen in seven community centres co-ordinated by four non-government organisations. The International Table Tennis Federation will work in alliance with International Relief and Development, Save the Children, Questscope and International Medical Corps under the umbrella of UNHCR and Peace and Sport.

Notably, the Nittaku partnership has allowed the project to take one step further; the donation of new rackets, balls and tables will allow more children to take part in structured table tennis activities.

Mohamed Atoum (righ) presents a new racket (Photo: Daniela Gomes)


It is a renewed partnership with the world-known table tennis brand, a company that has previously supported projects in El Salvador, again using table tennis as a vehicle to promote positive individual and social change to the lives of children.

Playing on mini tables, the equipment from Nittaku was gratefully received (Photo: Daniela Gomes)


The stories behind the scenes

Self-motivation was noticeable by all participants from day one. Abdulrahman Jadoow, a former farmer in Syria, has been in the camp for five years. He was very happy to take part in the activity; he highlighted the positive benefits that table tennis activities may bring to the lives of refugee children inside Zaatari.

“It is not a good feeling to be away from home but I try not to think about it. It is now natural to live in Zaatari. We can change the behaviour of the kids through positive activities making them healthier in body and mind”. Abdulrahman Jadoow” Abdulrahman Jadoow

Peace, the message is crystal clear (Photo: Leandro Olvech)


Mahmoud Shabana, 20 years old, as with all other refugees in the camp, clearly remembers his first day in Zaatari. It was Tuesday 26th March 2013; Mahmoud has graduated in the neighbouring Albeit University.

Mahmoud Shabana (eft) with his hand made racket and (right) a home made table (Photo: Daniela Gomes


Commitment, self-motivation and willingness to learn

The young Syrian is dedicated to table tennis. He excelled during the ITTF coaching course.

“I feel that regular table tennis training sessions will help children develop skills, will be useful to convey a message of peace and allow children to use their energy in a positive way.” Mahmoud Shabana

Taking the opportunity to play a new hand-made mini-table (Photo by Daniela Gomes)

The motto any table is a table tennis table inspired the group to use evenings to build nets, rackets and even mini-tables.

Each morning a new creation was brought to the community centre, together with a big smile.

Innovation, a hand made table (Photo: Daniela Gomes)

Willingness to participate, high motivation and a proactive approach can be considered as indicators of positive outcomes for the later stages of the programme.

We were surprised by the participants’ commitment throughout the week. Proactive, creative and positive attitudes were revealed from day one. On the second day, we received handmade rackets and nets; we were astonished by the quality of the creations. Different kinds of nets, including an adjustable net made of plastic fruit containers and rope caught the eye; surely we were not expecting such enterprise to be shown. We ended up having two handmade mini tables; hats off to all the participants and to our expert Mohamed Atoum, for delivering such an amazing course.

An adjustable net showed incredible creativity (Photo: Daniela Gomes)


Sustainability is key – The Jordan Table Tennis Federation on board

Mr Fawwaz Sharabi, President of the Jordan Table Tennis Federation and Mrs Hanadi Fathi Tuffaha, the Secretary General both former players, displayed their commitment to the project. Both visited the camp, interacted with participants and restated their commitment to have a local coach monitor the table tennis sessions.

Mohamed Atoum, currently the National Coach in Oman, will continue to embrace the project with biannual visits.

Putting theory into practice (Photo: Daniela Gomes)

Social responsibility is at the very heart of our sport; the International Table Tennis Federation has a long history of promoting undrstanding starting with “Ping Pong Diplomacy” over 40 years ago.

Leandro Olvech, ITTF Development Director, emphasised the importance of solid partnerships that made this first steps possible within the Zaatari refugee community;

“Our special appreciation to all that have worked endlessly to create the best conditions for the course, the International Table Tennis Federation thanks Peace and Sport, UNHCR, International Relief and Development and all other non-governmental organisations for their contribution. Last but not least thanks to my colleagues Daniela Gomes for her tireless efforts on this project and to Mohamed Atoum for conducting the course under special conditions.“ Leandro Olvech

Ready for action, the adjustable innovative net an eye catcher (Photo: Daniela Gomes)


As once Mahatma Ghandi said: “be the change you want to see in the world”.


Successful ITTF Development Programme projects

High Performance and Development Coaching Zaatari Refugee Camp