12 March 2019
Beirut last Monday morning was rainy and chilly as Mount Lebanon was snow-capped. Outside a hotel in the city centre which has been re-built since the civil war with much of the old French flair, a minibus waited, while the women walking past in black boots and jackets made Parisiennes seem shabby. We were waiting for security clearance to enter a different world, the Shatila refugee camp, as the second step of a most ambitious project.
Once clearance had come from the security council in Shatila – Lebanon’s police and army do not enter the camp – we drove through the drizzle along dual carriageways to the refugee camp, only three or four miles away, so not far from the middle of Beirut. The cricket world drives on the left; driving on the right was a mark of how we were going against the grain.
The moment we turned into Shatila, the Beirut of luxury clothing shops and Porsches and the new national football stadium – which echoes a majestic Roman amphitheatre – ceased. Wooden carts displaying oranges and vegetables from the Bekaa valley; males of all ages waiting, and waiting; nothing so wide as a street but crowded alleys, and relatively clean, given the taps seldom have water (and then too salty to drink). Above all, wires: walk down any alley in Shatila and at least 50 wires and electric cables hang over your head. Annually about 30 people are fatally electrocuted.
To read more visit the Telegraph by clicking here: www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2019/03/12/cricket-provides-unlikely-refuge-displaced-syrian-kids-lebanons/
Sat 9 Mar 2019
For the displaced Syrian children learning the rudiments of a new sport, it’s a time for hopes and dreams
One of cricket’s most charming attributes is its habit of being played in the strangest places: mountain tops, short-lived sandbanks, the bottom of lakes, the South Pole. But perhaps no venue has ever been as improbable as this.
Across south Asia, cricket is played in slums and shanty towns all day every day but this was the Shatila refugee camp in Beirut. And the players were not weaned with a makeshift bat in their hand. These were Syrian refugees – aged between seven and 15 – who had never played cricket, watched cricket or heard the word cricket until six months ago, in some cases six days. Yet now, exiled in equally uncrickety Lebanon, they were spending a week immersed in cricket.
Shatila, set up as a temporary home for displaced Palestinians after the establishment of Israel 70 years ago, is hardly a camp any more. It is a teeming square-kilometre anthill of humanity with maybe 25,000 people – no one knows for sure. They live not in tents but in blocks of flats, built storey on storey as the population grew, like Lego but not as sturdy.
To read more, visit the Guardian website by clicking here: www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/mar/09/cricket-beirut-shatila-refugee-camp-children
Sat 5 Jan 2019
Cricket grows slowly outside the English-speaking world. The International Cricket Council expelled Cuba and its Spanish-speaking team for being under government control, while every Sri Lankan team has to be submitted for approval by its minister of sport. Yet Syrian refugees in the Shatila camp in Beirut are taking their first steps to assemble an Arabic-speaking team.
Almost two million people have fled from the Syrian civil war to Lebanon, although there are no official statistics, and about a third of them children. In 1949, Shatila was opened for 3,000 Palestinian refugees, and now that Syrians have been shoehorned in alongside, the camp is estimated to house more than ten times that number of people. They have shelter, blankets, food and medical care provided by the United Nations, but nothing much to do: the Lebanese government allows the camp’s inhabitants to do only the most manual labour.
Hence, when cricket was offered in Shatila last October, 40 Syrian refugee boys and girls turned up for the first session, and 140 by the end of the week. The organisers are the local charity, Basmeh & Zeitooneh, which funds other projects in the camp, and the management consultants McKinsey & Company, who are providing pro bono support for some of Basmeh & Zeitooneh’s activities, in particular education programmes for children. The Shatila camp became a worldwide name in 1982 when the Lebanese Christian Phalangists were allowed by the Israeli Defence Force to massacre a never-verified number of Palestinians.
To read more, visit the Sunday Telegraph website by clicking here: www.telegraph.co.uk/cricket/2019/01/05/cricket-building-bridges-syrian-refugees/