Published on Arab Voices

Sports for girls by girls

ImageWhat if the hokey pokey is really what it’s all about? Last summer, the World Bank (thanks to the Youth Innovation Fund!) teamed up with Reclaim Childhood to host a sports camp for young girls in Jordan. Over the course of four weeks, 400 young girls from refugee communities in Amman attended the camp, learned new sports, and played games. What made the camp especially unique was the cultural diversity of its campers and staff. Over half of the campers were Jordanian, and the rest were Palestinian (5%), Iraqi (20%), and Syrian (15%). The camp directors were two young 23-year-old American girls who had studied Arabic at small liberal arts colleges. Ten of the thirty-two coaches hailed from Jordan’s National Women’s Soccer team and the rest graduated from university with a degree in sports health. Ten local members of the communities handled the marketing and administrative logistics of camp. And finally, several Americans and high school students from Jordan’s elite college preparatory school, King’s College, volunteered to help supervise camp.

World BankThe activities ranged from stretching to soccer to basketball to volleyball to Frisbee to self-defense to bean bag races. Through Reclaim Childhood’s fall soccer league and winter basketball league, many of the campers had previously played sports. However, the majority of the Syrian girls had never participated in Reclaim Childhood’s programs, and this was their first exposure to playing sports. Indeed, the camp was as much a learning experience for the campers as it was for coaches. The coaches played Frisbee for their very first time, learned basic self-defense from SheFighter, and developed leadership skills by managing  camp wide activities and taking responsibility for their team of campers. This was the first paid labor market experience for all but one coach and they got a glimpse of the responsibilities (arriving on time) and perquisites of working with a paycheck and sponsored sports gear.

Happily, 99% of the campers reported having fun at camp, which the pictures on  this blog post show vividly -- thanks to a volunteer’s mother, Kate Hotchkiss Taylor, who took many, many pictures including the pictures on this blog post.

ImageWhat I had originally hoped for this project was to underpin the sports camp with a randomized experiment. Specifically, I wanted to research the impact of physical activity and social bonding on Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). The 2010 Cochrane Review calls for more randomized controlled trials on the effectiveness of sports in relieving symptoms of PTSD, and to date, there’s not a single randomized experiment on this specific subject. My plan for the randomized experiment relied on one simple yet key assumption: more girls would apply for camp than we would be able to accommodate. If this assumption held, I could’ve used a methodology known as “oversubscription randomization” to assign girls to treatment and control groups. Unfortunately, the Reclaim Childhood staff was only able to convince 400 parents to allow their daughters to attend camp. And the staff had pulled all the stops marketing starting three months earlier and offering free transportation to and from camp, free snacks, free lunch, and free shoes for all campers for each of the four sessions. There were many more parents that would’ve let their sons attend camp, but for cultural reasons, it was difficult to convince parents to allow their daughters to attend. If the camp had been open to both boys and girls, then we would’ve likely been able to successfully implement the randomized experiment because at least enough boys would’ve signed up for camp. But, then most girls wouldn’t have been allowed to attend. But in the end, I am happy with the project because we successfully launched a large summer camp operation for people who would have never had the opportunity to participate in such activities otherwise. The research is left for another day.

At camp, they say: you put your whole self in. You put your whole self out. You put your whole self in. And you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.

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