“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of others.” – Charles Dickens

Since its inception in 2006, the Palestinian Association for Children’s Encouragement of Sports (PACES) has carried the torch of hope all over Palestine and in Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. By implementing healthy, safe and structured after-school sports programs to engage otherwise marginalized boys and girls, our primary goal is to encourage positive behavioral change at a tender age.

Creating safe, healthy and productive havens for children to enjoy sports allows us to shield boys from potential exposure to the dangers of extremism and violence on the streets, and to provide girls with a unique opportunity to engage in empowering activities outside their homes.

Our regular sports program at PACES runs for a full two hours, two to three times a week, with particular emphasis on three team sports: basketball, soccer and volleyball. In addition to basic sports training that rests at the heart of our main program, our handpicked mentors and highly qualified coaches lead weekly sessions on important subjects we believe are inseparable from sports – health, personal hygiene, exposure to environmental issues, and the importance of education.

Furthermore, an intrinsic element of our mission is to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking, the perils of drug abuse and other alarming social problems that threaten these children. In short, our program helps to create an interactive environment that familiarizes our boys and our girls with key life skills – such as teamwork, respect, discipline and leadership – in a non-traditional, entertaining, supportive and nurturing surrounding.  

Since the start of the 2013 after-school program cycle, PACES has successfully engaged almost 6,000 underprivileged and marginalized children in Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon. The emotional and structural support mechanisms inherent in this program continue to provide both our boys and our girls with a sanctuary to savor the meaning of childhood, defy the stifling socio-political circumstances ruling their daily lives, and to develop into healthy leaders for the future.

Sports are both a passion and a powerful motivational tool for promoting academic and personal development. Our team at PACES has opened a window to the outside world for the children by competing in a number of international tournaments, thus allowing them to witness, explore and discover life from a new perspective. Participation in such large-scale events like The Gothia Cup in Sweden and The Norway Cup in Oslo (which our children won in 2010) has proven to be an invaluable source of knowledge about different cultures and exposing them to languages and customs, previously hidden to them in their troubled  homes.

We would never have been able to realize our vision and achievement over the years at PACES without the support of generous, reputable and extremely dedicated donors around the globe, including The Coca-Cola Foundation. Importantly, PACES has been able to receive tax-deductible contributions within the United States, and through a special partnership with the King Baudouin Foundation, which maximizes the impact of every donation.

As an independent, UK-registered organization with no political or religious agenda, we have built a solid reputation over the past seven years or so, not only for the genuine and hard capacity-building work that we undertake on the ground, but also for our distinct sense of transparency at every level. Our program has created much-needed employment opportunities within three underprivileged communities. And our unbending support for gender equality together with our concerted and concrete efforts to empower women have underscored that these employment opportunities are equally open to both males and females, without the shadow of discrimination forcing women to retreat into the domestic sphere.

Since its foundation, PACES has reinforced gender parity in the enrollment of boys and girls in the core sports program; promoted the recruitment of a higher number of female coaches; and ensured that our senior management is predominantly populated with strong women who are role models to the thousands of girls in our programs.

Year after year, we mobilize deeper into the more marginalized areas and work on broadening the scope of our outreach. In every annual report from PACES, the lively images, growing percentages and personal testimonies of the children and their coaches remind us why we were founded in the first place: to keep their hopes and ambitions animated “so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.

Learn more about PACES at www.pacescharity.org

Hani Qattan is chairman of the board of trustees for PACES.