Real Madrid trains Palestinian soccer coaches at West Bank camp
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Real Madrid trains Palestinian soccer coaches at West Bank camp

Top Spanish team maintains a charitable program aimed at using soccer as a form of therapy for children

Palestinian physical education teachers (blue) and schoolchildren take part in a training session organized by the Real Madrid Foundation at a UN run school in the Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, April 25, 2016. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian physical education teachers (blue) and schoolchildren take part in a training session organized by the Real Madrid Foundation at a UN run school in the Qalandia refugee camp in the West Bank, April 25, 2016. (AFP/ABBAS MOMANI)

QALANDIYA — Usually they’re the ones giving the orders, but on Monday 20 Palestinian soccer coaches were taking instructions from a trainer sent by Real Madrid at a West Bank refugee camp.

For the past five years the legendary Spanish club have been sending representatives of their charitable foundation to pass on their skills to coaches in a joint program with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which cares for Palestinian refugees.

This year’s teach-in was attended by coaches from all over the West Bank, but their colleagues from the Gaza Strip were absent after being denied permits by Israel to cross its territory to reach the small training ground in Qalandia, between Ramallah and Jerusalem.

As the starting whistle blew, the coaches were allocated to groups of Palestinian youngsters where they conducted quizzes on sport, general knowledge and the benefits of a balanced diet.

The aim, said Spanish UNRWA worker Lucia Martinez, is to promote sport as a therapy for the “very stressed” Palestinian children.

“This helps them to feel better, relieve stress and anxiety created by the situation in the refugee camps or in Gaza,” she told AFP.

Rita Amdaghlas, 34, has been passing on her passion for soccer for the past six years to children aged eight to 14 at a school run by the Roman Catholic church.

She joined the Real Madrid program for the first time this year and says the experience has already taught her “games to boost the children’s capacities and participation.”

The training, she adds, is conducted “in a good atmosphere, without tension, which makes the children help one another.”

The Real Madrid Foundation’s technical manager for the training scheme, David Gil Chapado, says he wants to “pass on methods which have already been tried in over 70 countries.”

Sport in the Palestinian territories is hampered by the conflict with Israel and its restrictions on Palestinian movement as well as a chronic lack of facilities.

In coming to Qalandia, Real made a decision to focus on coaches in refugee camps, which are home to many children with “social and economic problems,” said Gil Chapado.

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