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Netherlands’ best known footballer coaching children in Lebanon [EN/AR]

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Tyre, November 17, 2016 - 2,500 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian children have in past months attended football trainings and life skills education across Lebanon, with the aim of building bridges across communities. This month, the most successful Dutch football player of all times – Johan Neeskens – joins forces with UNICEF, War Child, Right to Play and the Royal Netherlands Football Association, to train the childrens’ youth leaders.

With one in four people in Lebanon being a refugee, and possible tensions between some Lebanese host communities and Syrian and Palestinian refugee populations, the need for social cohesion is strong.

That is why four international organizations, supported by the Dutch Government, are using football - a universal sport - to bring together vulnerable youth and adolescents across all communities, uniting them on the football pitch, combining sports and psychosocial support. Ultimately, the project is to strengthen child protection mechanisms and reduce children’s vulnerability.

The social dimensions and benefits of similar projects are increasingly being recognized in terms of promoting social cohesion, national unity and solidarity among different social groups.

Learning from the best

Hundreds of girls and boys, aged 12-18, have been improving their skills under the guidance of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian youth leaders this year, but this month, the Dutch are sending in additional support; one of their best known footballers - Johan Neeskens.

Neeskens played as part of the famous ‘Clockwork Orange’ that came close to winning the World Cup in 1974 and 1978. He scored 17 international goals in his career and was renowned for his physical presence and penalty kicks. Neeskens gained significant experience as a coach following his career as a player, and served as an assistant coach on the Dutch national team from 1996 to 2000.

Today, the 65-year-old is an ambassador and instructor for the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) WorldCoaches initiative, that integrates life skills and football training to support social development of children and their communities. This November, Neeskens will educate dozens of youth leaders across Lebanon, and inspire youth to use the power of football to promote social stability and increase engagement between communities.

Life skills

The project, which aims for development through sport, has been a success from the very start.

“Before joining, I believed everything that was being said about the Syrians. Now I know better after becoming friends with Syrians. So, I think the project is working. If it was up to me, I’d have more projects like this to make people get along”, says Ali, aged 13, one of the youth participants in Northern Lebanon.

The work towards cohesion does not only take place during integrated football and life skills training, the children also attend structured psychosocial support activities where they find vital child friendly spaces and knowledge to better express and protect themselves.

Approximately 3,400 boys and girls are currently benefitting from Life Skills and psychosocial support activities, 2,500 are engaged in football trainings, 140 youth are receiving training to become football coaches/life skills trainers, and 510 key caregivers, considered to be ‘gate keepers’ in host and refugee communities, are involved in participatory sessions. Half of the children are Syrian and half are from host communities.

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On Thursday November 17, Neeskens will be educating youth leaders, including practice sessions for children, in Tyre Public High School, Hisbe Street. The media is welcome to come for interviews between 3-4pm. Representatives from UNICEF, War Child, Right To Play and the Royal Netherlands Football Association will also be available for interviews.