by Jia Li, ITTF Foundation Communication Coordinator
World Refugee Day has arrived again. For some, June 20 is the day we commemorate the obstacles refugees face each day and celebrate their courage and strength. Yet for refugees around the world, it is just another day of their harsh reality, filled with uncertainty and dismay. While some of them have no problem fitting in, life as a refugee is far from glory and comfort. After all, nothing compares to home, but fleeing was their only escape.
“The refugee status is not my identity”
One of our Dream Building Fund projects has led us to Ana – the 31-year-old fled her beloved Colombia to take shelter in Ecuador.
“I don’t like being asked if I’m a refugee. It makes me feel vulnerable. It hurts me when the local community looks at me through coloured lenses.”
Besides the feeling of being an outcast, the lack of official identity creates extra barriers between Ana and her new life.
“Being an asylum seeker means I live outside most government and social systems. I don’t have the right to work, and I can’t even open my own bank account.”
Despite her daily struggle, Ana sees the silver lining in her journey and appreciates the chance to not fear for her life.
“I’ve learnt not to give up. My life here in Ecuador is worth the inconvenience. I just wish people could see me for who I am, the positive things that migration can bring, and the capabilities the refugees have.”
No differences table tennis cannot bridge
Across the Atlantic in Alkmaar, the Netherlands, our interviewee Abbas portrays a very different refugee story. The Iranian table tennis enthusiast started going to the local club Ping Pong Alkmaar back in 2020 when the pandemic began.
“I started table tennis professionally again after 15 years when I came to the Netherlands. Language and culture are the biggest barrier when it comes to integration. With time and the help of table tennis and the club community, my family and I are slowly taking roots.”
Abbas believes in the power of sports to unite and connect people from different backgrounds.
“My family and I don’t feel any discrimination here in the Netherlands. I’m very excited to be a part of a professional team here in Alkmaar. When I was in another city, I went to a baseball club and the people there were so kind and accepted me as a friend and teammate.”
Resilient and optimistic, Abbas is now an assistant coach at Ping Pong Alkmaar; with his skill and experience, he is looking to help the team achieve their competitive goals.
“I hope to share the beautiful weather in Syria with the Jordanian people”
In one of our projects in Za’atari, Jordan, three Syrian coaches are happy to share their experiences in the camp. Amir, Jado and Noor have fled their home country and have slowly established a new life through table tennis.
“The happiest moment for me in Za’atari camp was when I was chosen as a table tennis coach. I usually play for an hour after lunch, and three out of my six children are training regularly in table tennis, too.” – Jado.
Before coming to Za’atari, Amir was a football coach in Syria and a firm believer of sport for development. Having experienced some of the extremities of mankind, he is now dedicated to foster a generation capable of facing future challenges.
“I have to develop the social skills of children in addition to their athletic and technical skills in table tennis. The social development of children also means to cultivate soft skills such as respect, non-violence, and tolerance.”
Feeling content about their new-found lives, our three coaches also feel a little homesick.
“Syria has beautiful nature and great weather. I used to collect bouquets of roses and used them to make rose dishes. I’d love to share the rose dishes with the Jordanian people. My friends and family back home would also love the Jordanian Mansaf.” – Noor.
The living standards of refugees worldwide vary, and while tension and conflict between the refugees and the host community is often an issue, we are happy to see some of them have slowly gained a foothold in their new environment and are contributing to a more tolerant society.
Take a look at our Dream Building with Refugees project.
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