First year Baheya Malaty, and senior Mary Jones, were awarded $10,000 to start a girl’s soccer program in Palestine. Malaty and Jones spent the past summer living in Palestinian refugee camps across the road from each other but did not know the other was there. They met back on campus in the fall.
“We both wanted to use soccer as a platform for women’s empowerment in the Middle East,” Malaty said. “It just so happened that Palestine is a country we are both passionate about.”
The soccer program will train college-age women from refugee camps to coach younger girls between the ages of nine and 14. There will be three teams, one in each of the selected refugee camps. Jones and Malaty will be in Palestine for approximately two months.
“We will arrive in early July and start finalizing logistics and getting everything set up as Ramadan is ending,” said Malaty. “Once it finishes, we expect to have the coaches trained and the girls recruited for the teams. I got involved by working in Palestine last summer at an NGO called the Holy Land Trust, training with the Palestinian Women’s National Soccer Team, and living in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. It has always been my passion to use soccer as a means of empowerment. It’s amazing to be able to use something that I love to promote something that I am really passionate about.”
Jones has also always loved to play soccer and was captivated by the Middle East because she saw people her age affected but proactive about issues.
“Our first goal this summer is to collaborate with local organizations, including Right to Play and the Palestinian Women’s National Soccer Team,” said Malaty. “Our hope is to support a locally-led program and provide an opportunity for the coaches and young women to further develop leadership skills, as well as share a safe space with younger Palestinian girls.”
Jones emphasizes the idea of a safe space.
“Last summer, I was speaking with a mother about her son,” she said. “The mother stressed how important it was for her son to have access to a playground and youth center. The son knew that those areas were for him and they were a safe place. For me, soccer has always been a safe place. I want to create a safe public place for these young Palestinian girls.”
Jones hopes that the soccer program will be a happy distraction and is excited about the cross refugee camp connections.
“Our hope is that the project will culminate with a kind of festival or tournament between each team,” said Malaty. “We want to make it a community-wide event that engages all of greater Bethlehem and celebrate the girls and their work and the coach’s work.”
Malaty expects to run into numerous challenges, the first being entering the country.
“It is really hard as activists to get in,” she said. “Palestine has no control over its borders and essentially we have to be very deliberate at what we say at the border. The second challenge is the resistance from the community about their daughters playing soccer.”
Jones believes that challenges will be difficult to anticipate right now.
“You have to be in Palestine to get anything done. That’s their culture. We have to wait until we get there and talk to people and figure out the logistics,” she said. “Also, doing anything efficiently in Palestine is difficult. There will be days you just can’t bus the girls to the soccer field because it will be too dangerous.”
The monetary award will be partly allocated to Malaty and Jones to cover travel and living costs in Palestine. The additional funding will be allocated towards the programs.
“We are accepting donated gear instead of taking money from the budget,” said Malaty. “We need soccer balls, socks, sports bras, shorts, t-shirts, jerseys, cones, and flat shoes. The other funds are going to provide the coaches with stipends and for providing safe transportation for the girls.”
There are collection bins for new or used soccer gear in the Worner Center, Mathias, Loomis, and Slocum halls.
“Originally, we were going to have a $1,000 field renovation, but it would be way more expensive than that,” said Jones. “This idea has transitioned into a fundraiser, where we hope to eventually create a campaign to raise more money for the refugee camp’s soccer fields.”
Both Jones and Malaty encourage anyone with questions about the program to reach out.