The all-female refugee football team that’s smashing stereotypes

The Rio Olympics start today, and like millions of others we’ll be rooting for the incredible Olympic refugee team who have made headlines across the world. But there’s an equally inspiring refugee sports team that you might not have heard of: ActionAid’s all-female refugee football team in Lebanon.

17-year-old centre forward Hanin, (below) blogs for us on why they formed the team, what it means to her and what the women have overcome to become ActionAid’s ‘Premier League’.

17-year-old Hanin plays centre forward in ActionAid’s all-female football team in Lebanon

Breaking stereotypes

“When we first decided to form a football team, the men in our community laughed at us. They said: ‘It’s a man’s game. Women’s bodies aren’t strong enough and you can’t run as fast.’ Well we’ve sure shown them.

We won our first football match 2–0 and just for fun, after the game we competed in a race, running 100, 200 and 800 metres. We now train twice a week and play football against girls from all over Lebanon.

Friendship through sport

I had to flee my home in Syria, when my dad died and it became too dangerous for us to live there anymore. My mum gathered up my brother Modat, sister Wajed and me and brought us to Lebanon where we would be safe.

I missed my friends so much. My happiest memories are of hanging out at school with them, just being teenagers, laughing and chatting with no worries.

But then it all changed. Now my friends are all refugees, scattered across Europe. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.

I joined the football team to fill my free time. I work in a bakery from one in the afternoon to eleven at night and I wanted a way to relax. But it’s become so much more to me.

The women learn how to tackle on the football pitch.

Our team is made up of Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian girls. Many of them are refugees, but some are from the local community here. They are all so positive and our team spirit keeps us united.

‘Now my friends are all refugees, scattered across Europe. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again.’

The ActionAid Community Centre, where we meet, has become my second home. If I face any problems with work or everyday life I always know I’ll get good advice from my friends and the ActionAid staff there.

Building dreams

The best thing about playing football, is that when I’m on the pitch I forget all my worries and the hard things I went through in Syria. I just focus on my role in the team and winning the game.

‘The ActionAid Community Centre, where we meet, has become my second home.’

My football hero is Ronaldo, because he’s a Forward like me and he scores all the goals!

Two players from the ActionAid refugee women’s football team.

Since I started playing I’ve felt happy and full of energy, even when I’m not on the pitch. It’s made me feel positive about my future. I’ve set a goal for myself to continue my studies in the next three years and I have a ‘bucket list’ of dreams I want to achieve before I die. In 10 years who knows, maybe I’ll be a famous football player, or an actress or a singer.

‘When I’m on the pitch I forget all my worries and the hard things I went through in Syria.’

I want to break the stereotypes around women — this box men put us in — and I’m prepared to work hard to do it!”

Photos: Jo Harrison/ActionAid

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