| Kamal Taha |
AMMAN (AFP) – Eleven-year-old Syrian refugee Raghda Hasriyeh whacks a ball against the wall of a squash court as she practices in front of her parents in the Jordanian capital of Amman.
Along with a group of other young girls displaced by the war in their homeland she has been playing the sport for almost a year thanks to a US charity – and now she dreams of taking on all-comers.
“I love this sport. I train almost every day,” Raghda said.
“I hope that I can travel around the whole world and take part in Arab championships and international ones.”
Since the conflict in Syria broke out in 2011 the UN estimates more than 330,000 children have been among the waves of people who fled across the border into Jordan.
Five years ago Raghda and her family escaped the bombs and bullets in their battered hometown of Homs before gradually making their way to safety in the kingdom.
“God alone knows what would have happened to my five children and I if I had not decided to flee my country,” said Raghda’s father Nizar Hasriyeh.
Life for the family in Jordan has been difficult and they had to move out of a crowded camp to the outskirts of Amman.
And in those conditions, squash has proved a godsend for the children.
“I don’t understand anything about this sport but I am so happy to see my three daughters playing squash. I hope to see them become world champions one day,” Nizar said.
With its costly racquets and purpose-built courts, squash might not seem an obvious choice for children displaced from Syria.
But while the game has never been mainstream in the country, it is hugely popular in some parts of the Middle East, most prominently Egypt, and major tournaments are hosted in places like Qatar.
Reclaim Childhood, the charity behind the programme, insists that getting the refugee girls involved in the sport can be invaluable in helping them deal with the hardships they face.
“Today the team is made up of four girls and we are looking to expand it to 15,” said founder Clayton Keir.
“We train five times a week and training includes English lessons aimed at helping them compete in tournaments in Jordan and abroad.”
Coach Reem Niaz – herself a refugee from Damascus – said the girls on the team were chosen from dozens of aspirants.
The aim is to help the players “release the potential inside themselves and let off steam doing something positive,” she said.
“Nothing is impossible! Just look at where we have all come from and where we are now.”
For the girls, there is more to their squash playing dream than just winning tournaments – they hope one day to represent Syria at the sport.
“I want to take part in championships across the globe and help raise my country’s spirits,” said 12-year-old Eman al-Hassan.
Her mother Mona Mohamed can still remember vividly the day she fled Homs in 2012 with her two children in her arms.
“There was nothing left there, even their school was bombed. That is why I decided to leave to start a new life,” she said.
Now despite the difficulties the family has faced creating a new home in a foreign country – for her daughter, squash is at least providing a chink of light.
“She is doing something that we never had the chance to accomplish in our lives,” she said.