"I used to play football on our balcony, which is about two square meters," says 12-year old Sara.
"I was always worried that someone would see me play and therefore tried to hide my love and passion for football." Sara lives in Al-Shameyeh in Jordan, where traditionally girls have not been allowed to participate in football.
In 2015, a new football pitch, called the Pitch of Goals was built as part of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy's Generation Amazing program. The program aims to provide facilities where children in refugee communities can participate in sport. The pitch was created so local girls and boys would have a place to play. Yet, due to pressure from the community, girls and young women did not attend the opening event and they were not included in the program.
But things are looking quite different for Sara and her girl-friends, they are all playing football here, now.
Right To Play, Generation Amazing's strategic and implementing partner in Jordan, worked closely with the community to maintain the pitch and to ensure that girls were allowed to use it. Monthly meetings with parents and community members were established to increase their understanding about the Generation Amazing program and to raise awareness about the importance of female participation in sports. The increased support, participation and buy-in from the community has turned the pitch into a real hub, owned and protected by its residents.
"Since the day the maintenance committee was established, it has gone above and beyond its mission of spreading the word about the importance of sport as a tool for development, raising awareness about gender equality and girls' rights, and strengthening the concept of community ownership every time the pitch was accessed by the community," explains Zeid Adarbeh, a staff member of Right To Play Jordan. "This has brought about a transformation in the community -- from resisting the project to leading it."
In partnership with Generation Amazing, Right To Play is making great achievements in challenging gender norms in Al-Shameyeh, a region populated by conservative Bedouin families. By gaining trust and acceptance from the community, many of the parents have since allowed their daughters to participate in a football play day on the pitch. These girls have paved the way for others to participate in regular football for development activities. Two of them are 12-year-old Sara and 10-year-old Mecca, who both live in Al-Shameyeh.
"The day I entered the pitch for the first time felt like a dream coming true," recalls Sara. "I never thought that my parents would allow me to play football in an open space. But they did, which makes me truly happy. Now, I will come every day and convince many girls to join the training sessions. I also feel safe on the pitch because the boys are guarding and sharing it with their sisters."
Mecca, a member of one of the biggest Bedouin families in the area says, "I used to play football in our small garden by myself. When I accessed the Generation Amazing pitch for the first time, I thought I was only allowed to walk on it not play. I was so afraid that boys would come and send me back home. But it did not happen. I believe that many people now understand that we girls also have the same right as boys to play in this area. I already have made a lot of new friends through playing football."
For Sara and Mecca, playing football on a real pitch is a dream come true.
Now, many parents are requesting their daughters participate in Generation Amazing activities, where the male and female teams take turns using the pitch to play football and to participate in the programs where they share their experiences and knowledge with the other participants. Encouraged and inspired by the shift in the community's behaviour, the program's coaches say Right To Play's training has taught new skills, like teamwork and cooperation, and a new perspective about inclusion and gender equality for both girls and boys.
Local Bedouin leader, Mokthar of Al-Shameyeh agrees. He believes Generation Amazing and Right To Play's intervention is helping the local children and youth.
"Parents would go watch their kids playing football on the Pitch of Goals," says Mokthar of Al-Shameyeh. "Residents from Al-Shameyeh and the many different tribes of Jordan were gathered in the same place for the first time."
Ms Suleiman, the President of Tomorrow's Generation, a local community-based organization adds, "We believe that sport is a game changer in helping girls realize their full potential," says Ms Suleiman. "Right To Play's successes related to female participation in the area and the positive feedback from the community were the reasons we wanted them to start training the girls we work with."
Through the program, Generation Amazing continues to connect girls to vital information, skills, and strategies that push for equality. "The first important move has been made towards challenging gender norms," said Tamer Bataineh, program field facilitator for Right To Play. "More exposure and visibility of girls playing sports is now necessary to further break down the stereotypes around girls playing sport, get the community accustomed to seeing girls claiming public space and increase the number of girls playing sport."
The Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy is the authority responsible for the delivery of the required infrastructure and host country planning and operations for Qatar to host an amazing and historic 2022 FIFA World Cup™ which accelerates progress towards achieving national development goals and creates a lasting legacy for Qatar, the Middle East, Asia and the world.