The Football Team of SPI, Sport Promotes Positivity Among Syrian Youth In Istanbul

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Two years ago I came to Istanbul to visit friends for 3 months and see if I could volunteer somewhere. I had based myself in Istanbul between 2009 and 2014, as I was working as a tour guide in the Middle East for an Australian company. I had traveled through Syria as part of my job, and had got to know many Syrian people during these years. I felt hopeless that they (as well as people from other countries) no longer had some basic things in life…a peaceful place to live and had been forced to move to survive. I love the city of Istanbul and given that I knew at that time there were over 600,000 displaced people in the city, I wanted to see if I could lend a hand to help support some of them.

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A part of Çapa district in Fatih, Istanbul where SPI community center is located

Although I didn’t volunteer at Small Projects Istanbul (SPI) 2 years ago, I became aware of them through friends and one of the other NGO’s I did volunteer at. Whilst I don’t speak Arabic (and a very small amount of Turkish) I still thought that any help I could provide would make a difference to a few people’s lives. I volunteered in the first year with around 70 children daily and a group of wonderful volunteers. I finished at night tired but extremely happy that a group of volunteers was providing a place where children, who were missing their normal education, could learn and integrate into Turkey society out of necessity. I went back to Australia and raised some funds to help fund future activities at the center I volunteered at.

Last year I came back and was amazed how much SPI had continued to grow watching from afar. I learnt more about their activities and what they were doing to foster livelihood activities for people who had been displaced from their own countries and homes. I was aware that SPI had started a football activity and thought how wonderful it was to have a place where the whole family could get involved.

This year when I arrived in Istanbul, I asked how I could be involved at SPI. My neighbor in Australia had given me $200 to put towards something that I thought would be beneficial to the people here. They told me they trusted my judgement as to how it was spent. I didn’t even ask them for the money. Compared with most Australians, they are struggling, being immigrants into Australia themselves only 6 years ago, but said this was their way to make a small difference. They know how lucky they are.

Obviously funds for the many programs and activities are all vitally important, but I was informed that for a long time, the football team mainly boys and men, did not have a uniform. I went out to practice on one Wednesday night and asked for a photo of the boys “group”. Having played team sports for most of my life (netball, basketball, touch football and to some extent tennis), I knew how important having a team uniform would be, and something I could also help fund, as both the shorts and shirts together were important.

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Ahmad is a great coach!

From my perspective, having a team uniform identifies you as one. Not as individuals. You look the same on the field (and when playing against other teams, obviously helps identify your team mates quickly). But it is much more than that. I believe your motivation to succeed increases when you are playing as part of a team, you want the team to go well. That team spirit is so essential to how you feel. It creates a better level of enjoyment which helps if there is stress at home or elsewhere. Playing a team sport not only improves your physical fitness, but I believe also improves generally your enjoyment in life. Being involved in a competitive sport also improves mental strength, trying  to be better, do something different. You learn different skills and see your team mates from a different angle, but also learn to accept improvement and change from a coach.

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Me and Ahmad with the team!

So, the football team, has had many people in the past year help and support its activities, but is currently being managed by Ahmed. So he provided me with a list of the number, the sizes and colours for the men’s and boys shirts and shorts. I went looking at retail shops and could not find the colours in large quantities, so enlisted the help of a Turkish friend (Tahir Karabas) who worked in the textile business. His support through enquiry and purchase at a much better price than I could get enabled more shirts and shorts to be purchased that what I could have got at the retail shops.

Once the shirts and shorts were acquired Ahmed then took them to a printer to get the SPI logo put on the shirts and shorts and a number on the back of each shirt. For A$450 we were able to buy 45 shirts and 45 shorts (which allowed for a handful of spares).

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Me with the first team!

I went out to football practice on Wednesday night. I saw the boys being handed their uniforms and the smiles said it all. They ran into the change rooms to change and came out smiling. They ran onto the field. The photo two weeks before showed a group of individuals posing for a photo. I now saw a happy unified team with thumbs up. Priceless. Who said something small would never make a difference?

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