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Story | Research
22 November 2019

Sport makes dreams come true for children deprived of education - and put a smile on Sonia’s face

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A WISE Summit 2019 session discussed the power of sport and gender equality in education to promote a sense of humanity

Sport has a vital role in motivating children to learn, especially in remote communities. And this has been reflected on the final day of the WISE Summit 2019, as a discussion session addressed the power of sport and gender equality in education to benefit humanity.

Moderated by Mohammed Saadoun al Kuwari, Qatari TV presenter and ambassador for the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy, the panel discussion focused on how sport supports communication, cultural exchange, community involvement, and the breaking down of barriers, in a way that helps the educational process, serves developing and weakened communities, and unlocks the talent that lies within them.

Panelists also highlighted the importance of empowering women through sport, and of integrating sport into school curricula to increase student enrollment. “Sport has brought peace to many communities, where there has been fear due to conflict,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, Undersecretary General, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies. “It helps in bridging the gaps between cultures and accepting others throughout the community, including people with special needs.

“Under one of our programs, we have trained around 200 people with special needs in providing first aid in football matches. Sport is an opportunity to fully integrate people into communities and promote coexistence among them. Whatever your belief, race, gender, and culture, you can compete with sportsmanship.”

Speaking about how the broader impact of sport in the region can be magnified through the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar, Dr. Mahmood said: “Hosting the World Cup in this part of the world is helping to revive it.

“The Middle East is a very heated region, not in terms of temperature, but in terms of political conflicts which cause fear. This event [the World Cup] will reflect the role that sport plays in breaking the barriers of fear, reconciling opinions, and teaching young people how to look at others through different eyes.

During the session, Vladimir Borkovic, Network Director of Streetfootballworld, captured the attention of the audience as he told them the story of Sonia, a girl in India, who had been deprived of education because of poverty.

Sonia joined other girls given the chance to learn how to play football through the Streetfootballworld initiative, and Borkovic explained how she had told him that her life has become much better, to the point where “she wakes up every morning with a smile on her face, and that her dream was to just to smile”.

“What is the purpose of education? Is it finding jobs? Or is it making people happy and putting a smile on their faces?” Borkovic asked.

“This is why I launched this initiative and created this network: to inspire children and young people who are forcibly or voluntarily dropping out of school, and to guide them to learn skills that will improve their lives, through which we can teach them the values that education aims to convey to them.”

Mahira Ahmed Mayanji, the Pakistani founder of a non-governmental organization, Women Is A Nation, which advocates for education and equal rights for girls in Pakistan, spoke during the session of her own experiences and her mission to provide education to girls who have previously been denied it.

“I was threatened with being killed, and I panicked, so I stayed at home for six months,” she said. “My niece was gunned down and anti-education groups in Pakistan attacked and beat my brother.

“With the help of NGOs in Afghanistan, I was able to stand up again and continue my mission to educate girls who were deprived of education due to cultural and societal pressure. My journey started when I decided to teach a young girl who did not continue her education after her father passed away, as she had to support her family by selling ice-cream. Afterwards, I was able to make a positive change, when one of the students at my school convinced her father to postpone her marriage until after her graduation.

“In the Pakistani city of Lahore, children’s strong passion for football is well-known, and we are able to attract children by integrating sports into education. This is what we hope to achieve not only in the area where I live, but in Pakistan as a whole”.

The WISE Summit, which concluded today, has seen around 3,000 people from 110 countries participate, and hosted over 150 sessions.

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