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Table Tennis Providing Hope in a Troubled Part of the World

Table Tennis Providing Hope in a Troubled Part of the World

Time and again it is the superstars of sport who hit the headlines but sport is much more than just adulation of those with supreme talent; sport has a humanitarian element, which is just as important, as striving for excellence.

Undoubtedly this was highlighted in a unique project at the Al Kharaz Refugee Camp in Yemen from Sunday 28th to Wednesday 31st August, led by Ahmed Dawlatly, where United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees[UNHCR] combined with ITTF Goodwill Fund for this special joint venture. Sport is being used increasingly by the United Nations to meet their goals.

A First

Furthermore, it was a first; it was the first project organized by the International Table Tennis Federation in co-operation with an agency of the United Nations.

The project followed meetings with United Nations Office on Sport for Development and Peace in July 2008 who proposed a good match for ITTF Development Programmes may be the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Glenn Tepper, Director of ITTF Development Programmes, made contact with Carla Thackuk of UNHCR, and with her high motivation and enthusiasm, it was soon decided that a course could be staged in Yemen and that Ahmed Dawlatly, already having conducted courses in many of the world's war hotspots, was more than the ideal course conductor.

Short Time

“Time was short but with great co-operation between UNHCR Headquarters, UNHCR Yemen, ITTF and Ahmed Dawlatly, we managed to solve the many logistical problems”, explained Glenn Tepper.

UNCHR believes strongly in the right to play”, were the words that impressed Ahmed Dawlatly when he met Leila Jane Nassif, Head of UNHCR Yemen Office, at an intense four day project organized by the ITTF at the largest refugee camp in Yemen.

Pilot Project

The Al Kharaz Refugee camp was chosen as the site for the pilot project; it is 140 kilometres west of Aden.

“Aden is one of the most beautiful cities in the ancient world; but the scene is very different in the very remote area where the Al Kharaz camp lies, with a population over 10,000 refugees mostly from Somalia and fewer from Ethiopia, more than half are children”, explained Ahmed Dawlatly. “Looking into the constitution of UNHCR, it`s clear that its main purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees, ensuring the basic human rights of vulnerable persons; one can see where table tennis can fit in.”

It took more than two hours to get to and from the camp each day and it is a quite unique journey.

Two Hour Journey

“Escorted by an armed vehicle provided by Yemen authorities, with a few gunmen to ensure safety of United Nations staff; after a few kilometers of civilization, it`s in the middle of nowhere!”, explained Ahmed Dawlatly. “Spending four to five hours at the camp, the two hour journey back had to start before getting dark for security reasons.”

A total of sixty-four boys and girls aged eleven to twenty, who in the majority knew nothing about table tennis, were chosen to participate in the workshop which was divided into four groups of sixteen to work more efficiently on four tables.

Technically Difficult

“Technically speaking, it was not easy at all working with such a variety of boys, girls of different ages in the same group”, said Ahmed Dawlatly. “However, looking into those unfortunate faces; smiling while trying to control the little ball bouncing over their rackets, learning basic serving principles and hearing their laughter celebrating joy provided by this amazing game, made it one of the most unforgettable experiences ever.”

“Table tennis was providing a recreational activity that helps supports civil social activities“, explained Emmanuell Compingt, Camp Protection Officer, in another interview, talking about the effect of sport in general and table tennis in particular.


“UNHCR is working jointly with Solidarity for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) and international organizations such as Save Children Sweden”, continued Ahmed Dawlatly. “Also with national government officials, among others, helping civilians in all aspects, repatriate to their homeland, integrate in countries of asylum or resettle in communities.”

Abdulrahman Fadaq, the Community Services Officer and the work shop co-ordinator, was delighted to see the level of enthusiasm and the daily increased participation. It was very rewarding.


“A small tournament was organized at the end of the workshop, using equipment sent by the ITTF for the occasion”, added Ahmed Dawlatly; the ITTF sent twenty rackets, four nets and two gross of balls.

“Mohamed, a fifteen year old who had spent thirteen years in the camp and could remember nothing of his homeland, Somalia emerged as the champion”, explained Ahmed Dawlatly. “The look on his face when he realized the trophy had been made in Somalia was incredible, he had touched his homeland.”


It was a special moment and for Ahmed Dawlatly it was a special experience.

"I would like to thank you all for giving me this great opportunity”, he said. “Reading about refugees camps in the news, watching on television is something but living and touching it, is a completely different story; it was an invaluable experience for me, putting a few smiles on those unfortunate faces even for only a mere four days it is something I`ll always cherish."

Extending Concept

Equally, Glenn Tepper was highly motivated.

“The ITTF looks forward to continuing this important work which was clearly well received and greatly benefited the motivation of the participants in an otherwise depressing scene”, he said.

It was the humanitarian element of sport that provided hope, great hope and the sport was table tennis.


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Glenn Tepper


Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - 23:00

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