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Together with refugees is how we see it at the ITTF Foundation

Copyrights: ITTF Foundation

Together with refugees is how we see it at the ITTF Foundation

The International Table Tennis Federation has been using the power of table tennis working with refugee in camps, settlements and host communities.

Since 2008, with a project in the Kharaz refugee camp in Yemen the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has been investing in table tennis with refugee projects. Since 2018, these projects have been integrated as part of the ITTF Foundation priorities within the Dream Building programme. What do we do? We provide relief through a regular, fun physical activity of table tennis to build dignity. The programmes look for ways to increase wellbeing by providing an outlook on the longer term, developing coaches, and working on integration with host communities, when possible. We do this through dedicated project leaders and coaches from the communities both in refugee camps and in host countries.

Dream Building projects in Jordanian refugee camps

More than 11 million Syrians are currently displaced. This amounts to 45% of the Syrian population.

(Girls session in Zaatari: Photos credit ITTF Foundation)

Za’atari: Nittaku Dream Building with Refugees

Za'atari Refugee Camp: home to almost 80,000 refugees with more than 50% under the age of 18. In 2018, we commenced table tennis sessions in 5 centres across the camps' 12 districts. In this programme, we offered a coach training and selected 3 refugee coaches who now run our weekly table tennis activities, from Thursday to Sunday, in the camp and run weekly sessions across the 5 districts. To date, more than 146 young people exposed to the programme and are an average of 84 regular participants. The sessions have been on standby due to the lock down since March – the coaches have been doing online sessions with the coach from Ping Pong Alkmaar, a project supported by the Dream Building Fund and soon the children will be joining these online sessions.

The project is supported by the Agitos Foundation and is part of the ‘Live Together Programme’ led by Peace and Sport.

Azraq: Dream Building with Refugees

(Weekly sessions in the Azraq camp: Photos credit coach Youssef)

At the Azraq Refugee camp our programme looks to provide table tennis for relief through regular classes accessible to all refugees. We chose to focus on sessions for persons with disabilities as studies highlight a lack of access to activities for persons with disabilities, the main limiting factors identified: distance and physical access.

With the support of the Agitos Foundation and a partnership with the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation we launched a new initiative in December 2019.

Between December and March, our coach was delivering two open sessions a week in the camp. In this time, we had an average of 6-10 regular participants 70% boys, 30% girls.

Dream Building Fund projects

Two of the Dream Building Fund projects we support focus on integration of refugees through table tennis.

Netherlands: Ping Pong Alkmaar

Ping Pong Alkmaar is running regular sessions that aim to provide table tennis activities for the whole community of Alkmaar, Netherlands and the surrounding area with a focus on breaking down barriers and stereotypes of underrepresented people and groups, such as refugees, and encourage integration. So far, the programme runs two weekly sessions with an average of 15 regular participants.

During the Covid-19 period, the project in Alkmaar and Azraq came together in solidarity through this challenging period. They held weekly online sessions together mainly for the coaches as the kids could not gather however, sessions should restart soon with the youth.

(Online sessions between Ping Pong Alkmaar and the coaches of the projects. Photo: Ping Pong Alkmaar)

Ecuador: FUDELA

FUDELA runs a programme using table tennis as a vehicle of change for youth and integration of Venezuelan, Colombian migrant, and refugee populations with the Ecuadorian community in the North.

Creating safe spaces, through a combination of one-off events and weekly sessions, to play table tennis and promote life skills to youth and developing the integration of refugees with local population through table tennis are the main goals. So far 400 youth have been reached.


(A session in the community. Photo credit: FUDELA)

Signed pledge: Global Compact on Refugees

Last but not least, in December 2019 the ITTF Foundation and the ITTF signed the Global Compact on Refugees pledge. This pledge includes three commitments:

    • To promote and ensure access for all refugees, without distinction of any kind, to safe and inclusive sporting facilities.
    • To increase availability and access to organized sports and sport-based initiatives for refugee and hosting communities, actively considering age, gender, ability, and other diversity needs.
    • To promote and facilitate equal access to and participation of refugees in sporting events and competitions at all levels.

Following the pledge there are regular check points and updates as well as a tracking progress dashboard online developed by UNHCR under the Global Refugee Forum mandate making it an exciting time to work on projects that can bring dignity to refugees.

Learnings and look to the future

We feel a growing need to get involved and we also understand that with natural disasters, growing pressure on the environment and un-equal distribution of resources, migration, displacement, and people seeking refuge will only grow in the future.

So far from what we have learnt through our programs and working with our projects, refugees are resourceful and willing to contribute but most importantly, do not want pity or to feel treated as charity or poster people. They need support but they can help themselves and also need to dream and see fellow-refugee role models, especially for the children to understand there are other identities they can have in the future, not just the refugee label. With our program in the camps, we use the sport to offer a new identity, that of a table tennis player. It is fun, it is social, it requires regular dedicated time, they can see their improvements week after week, they start to build a community within the camp and have something to talk about and a new aspiration. The focus is not performance, it is about togetherness and dignity. For the projects outside the camps in host communities the focus is rather on breaking down stereotypes, changing perceptions, opening dialogue and integration. Here again the fun, social and regular nature of our activities offer a safe space to return to work on your personal development while being physically active and having fun as priorities for the individuals while naturally starting to socialise with the people they see on a weekly basis. We are convinced, and we have seen first-hand how much sport can contribute to their well-being. A few lessons:

  • Like all people, they want to be treated with dignity and respect. That means, sometimes we need to watch how we communicate about refugees and always ensure they are included in this process and do not feel merely used but rather an actor in making this happen.
  • Listen to them and their needs, advocate for them and try to build with them.
  • Build inclusive programs to promote inclusion

What would be great to see in the future and in line with the pledge, we are starting to head in the direction of a long-term vision. We should encourage long term thinking towards sustainable solutions and programs. Looking at how to train locally and offer them access to this training and make them self-sufficient, independent, and able to grow and develop, but also how to combine different projects which could learn from each other. We can do this by looking holistically at what we are doing and thinking long term not just as one-off projects, but as different scenarios of the refugee journey towards their well-being, identifying the right partners and consulting them in the process.


With more than 50% of refugees worldwide being under the age of 18 we are convinced that sports such as table tennis have a huge role to play in the well-being, dignity, integration, or relief of refugees. We have been supporting projects since 2004, we will continue to support projects with refugees.

We are very proud of and grateful to our coaches, project leaders and young participants. We hope to grow and improve these projects and their impact as soon as the Covid-19 situation allows. Until then, we encourage online solidarity between our projects such as the innovative interaction between Ping Pong Alkmaar and Za’atari.

Karine Teow is the Field Programmes Manager within the ITTF Foundation overseeing the Dream Building and Legacy programmes.


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Karine Teow


Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 18:55