#GoalClickRefugees: Football storytelling unites refugees around the world

#GoalClickRefugees: Football storytelling unites refugees around the world
In partnership with UNHCR, Goal Click Refugees is an initiative that helps people understand one another through their love of football.
8 min read
02 July, 2020
Fawzi tried to capture the children's suffering through his photographs [Goal Click]
A global social enterprise working with the UN Refugee Agency has brought together refugees to share their unique stories by asking them to photograph their own world of football. The result has been an intimate, unfiltered and raw series of accounts told through the voices of dozens of refugees across five continents.

The Goal Click Refugees initiative aimed to help refugees document their personal stories by capturing footballing moments using disposable cameras. Launched to coincide with World Refugee Week on 15 - 21 June, the photographs will be exhibited during the UEFA European Football Championship in 2021.

Matt Barrett, who founded Goal Click, tells The New Arab how the initiative began, one centred on the global language of a "beautiful game".

"Football plays a unique role in the world. It is the most universal and relatable game, which you will find being played in every single corner of the world, from the top of mountains in Nepal and Peru to jungles in Indonesia and refugee camps in Jordan. It is one of the best ways to help people understand the world and each other. The common language of football can tell unheard stories and make people listen in a way that is unparalleled," Barrett says.

"We give people the chance to tell their own story and show what football means to them. Rather than an 'outsider' coming in to tell their stories, we focus on the 'insider' view, by giving people the power, control, and freedom to create and tell the world the story of their own lives through the lens of football," Barrett adds.

For the founder, the Goal Click initiative was aimed at lending a voice to refugees and asylum seeks who are "the most unheard and silenced group of people in societies".

"[We] wanted to create an initiative that told their personal stories from their own perspective, showing the full range of experiences around the world, given there are more than 70m displaced people globally," Barrett says.

"These stories are important. Now more than ever is a time to hear the voices and see the perspectives of the marginalised and dispossessed around the world. Football is a window into their worlds."

  Rather than an 'outsider' coming in to tell their stories, we focus on the 'insider' view, by giving people the power, control, and freedom to create and tell the world the story of their own lives through the lens of football
- Matt Barrett, Goal Click founder

A rare platform 

Over the past three years, Goal Click worked alongside NGOs and other football charities to contact refugees to participate in the project. Participants were sent one disposable analogue camera with 27 photos on one roll of film and were asked to capture their footballing lives.

Having received the cameras back, Goal Click developed the images before asking participants to write their own stories to accompany the photos. For the Barrett, the effort was one largely well-valued by the participants themselves.

"We know that the Goal Click project makes a real impact and is positively received by our refugee participants," Barrett says.

"This is the start of a year-long project and we already have over 75 refugees taking part. Whilst there can be some sensitive information we cannot include, in general it provides them with a rare platform to have their stories told and heard. It is a true collaboration and both sides appreciate what the other is doing. 

"Anecdotally, we are often told by our NGO and charity partners what a positive experience the Goal Click project is for our participants," Barrett says.

"The ability to be creative, to be part of a global initiative, and most importantly to have their story listened to are all important elements. So yes, in a way this work contributes to therapy, but it is just one small part of the overall solution."

'I want to break the wall of shame': Maram's story

When Syria's war broke out in 2011, millions of Syrians were forced to flee their homes  into neighbouring countries. In Jordan approximately 650,000 Syrian refugees now live divided between urban areas and refugee camps.

In the Zaatari camp, home to 76,000 Syrian refugees, some 20 percent of the inhabitants are under five years of age. For the children here, football is a key part of their everyday life.

Maram, a 14-year-old Syrian refugee, is one such inhabitant who sees in football as a path away from the horrors of the past.

"I study in the camp and participate in all the events available," she says in her Goal Click Refugees entry. "My favourite hobby is football. My ambition is to continue my education and strengthen my skills in football, so I can achieve my dream and become a famous footballer, and to travel with my family and play football outside the camp. I want to watch all the football games that I can too."

Maram took photographs of the girls' football team in a Makani centre, a UNICEF programme providing critical services to children and their families in the Zaatari camp.

Maram wants to showcase her football skills [Goal Click]

"I wanted to show our skills in football, the game that I find hope in for my future. They show the achievement of our goals," she says.

"Football gives me strength and confidence and fitness. It establishes a daily routine to my life."

Maram photographs the girls' football team [Goal Click]

"Some people in the camp believe that football is only for boys, and girls shouldn't do it. But when I play football it raises my spirits and it reinforces my self-confidence," she says.

"Because I am a girl, I can be the person that changes how the community perceives girls' football and breaks the wall of shame."

'Football keeps me motivated while living in a refugee camp': Fawzi's story

For some of the refugees taking part in the project, the world of football itself provided echoes of a life left behind. Fawzi, 21, was a professional football player when he lived in Syria.

He now plays with Alkass international academy in Zaatari camp and has been selected to participate in football initiatives such as the Aspire Academy in Qatar and the Syrian Dream football project in 2017. 

"I started playing football with al-Shul'a football team in Syria in 2009," he says in his Goal Click Refugees entry. "I left Daraa in Syria because of the war. I have been playing sport since I was a child, and because of that, sports are my life. I can't even imagine my life without it."

Fawzi photographed the children playing football [Goal Click]

"The photos are of Blumont students in the playgrounds of District 5. Blumont runs the UNHCR community centers. The students are refugees who attend the community's activities," he says. 

"I tried to demonstrate the children's suffering and represent their story."

Fawzi tried to show the children's suffering [Goal Click]

"Football was a hobby at the beginning, but after that when I became a professional player, it took an important role in my life. Football is everything in my life. I adore it. I wish to be a professional and international football player with high quality skill," Fawzi says.

"Football is a way that I am able to live a relatively normal life, to hope for a better future and to keep me motivated to train while living in a refugee camp.

"Football is very important because our community doesn't have a lot of enjoyable options. Playing football is the best way to use our energy."

'Our love of football prevails!': Abdelrahman's story

Abdelrahman Hasan al Attar is a refugee living in the neighbourhood of Hashem Shemali, in East Amman, Jordan. It's "historically a refugee area and has more poverty than West Amman" he says in his Goal Click entry.

"The photos show kids from different families in my neighbourhood playing street football," he says. "Many have Palestinian heritage. Some of them are my cousins. Everyone wanted to be in the photos and look cool."

Abdelrahman photographed children in his neighbourhood [Goal Click]

"The photos are meant to show that even without proper football pitches and regardless of the environment we can adapt, and our love of football prevails!" Abdelrahman says.

"Football is easily accessible, and you do not need a lot of equipment. The rules are simple and universal, everyone can agree."

Abdelrahman says football is easily accessible [Goal Click]

"All people love football and Jordan has people who originally come from many different places," he says. "Even though they came to Jordan for different reasons, everyone loves football and can play together. Football is also a good way to kill time, keep people out of trouble and stay fit."

Many more stories

Goal Click has already created a number of storytelling series, often focused on a specific city, country, tournament or an issue in football, such as refugee football or elite women's football).

Last year they launched the  Goal Click Qatar, telling the untold, inside story of Qatari football culture, through the eyes and words of people living and working in the next World Cup host nation.

"The future goals for Goal Click are to tell stories in different ways," Barrett tells The New Arab. "Asia is a huge focus for us. With the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on the horizon, the rise of China, and with huge football markets such as Iran and Saudi Arabia investing more in the sport, we expect to create significantly more stories and a new series in Asia over the next few years.

"And most importantly we want to continue supporting some of the people and charities we work with."

View the full Goal Click Refugees series here.

Sarah Khalil is a journalist with The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter: @skhalil1984