Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

'I can't wait to go back' says Emirati teen who taught refugees jiu jitsu

Abdulla Al Hashimi, 18, swapped days at the beach for Mrajeeb Al Fhood in Jordan

Abdulla Al Hashimi, 18, a Jiu Jitsu athlete, trains at his home in Abu Dhabi. He is one of his team members that volunteered in a refugee camp in Jordan. Reem Mohammed/The National
Abdulla Al Hashimi, 18, a Jiu Jitsu athlete, trains at his home in Abu Dhabi. He is one of his team members that volunteered in a refugee camp in Jordan. Reem Mohammed/The National

When he is not studying, Abdulla Al Hashimi can usually be found running, cycling or swimming with his friends at the beach.

But the teenager swapped the comfortable surroundings of Abu Dhabi for a refugee camp this summer – and says he already can’t wait to go back.

The 18-year-old is one of 30 Emirati students who went to the UAE-run Mrajeeb Al Fhood camp in Jordan, as part of a scheme to teach jiu-jitsu to Syrians displaced by war.

Over a fortnight, Abdulla entertained children at the camp, who were particularly impressed with his ability to perform a backflip, helped out in the hospital, served food and gave out clothes, as well as teaching jiu-jitsu.

They learned the jiu-jitsu really quickly. “I knew it was going to be a great experience

Abdulla Al Hashimi

“I heard about it and I really liked the idea of going,” Abdulla, who is at Khalifa Bin Zayed school in Abu Dhabi and hopes to join the UAE army, said.

“I knew it was going to be a great experience to get to know the people there and see how they live. I always see refugee camps on the TV so I wanted to see it for myself. I wanted the people there to know that people are willing to help them.

“Before I went, my mum just said to be nice with them and don’t let them feel like you are better than them. It was a great opportunity for me, I got along with everybody from the first day. I hope to visit the camp again.”

The camp, which was built in 2013, is home to almost 6,000 refugees, and prioritises the particularly vulnerable and families. Accommodation is provided in caravan-like homes.

Abdulla Al Hashimi - third from right – with refugees at the the UAE-run Mrajeeb Al Fhood camp in Jordan
Abdulla Al Hashimi - third from right – with refugees at the the UAE-run Mrajeeb Al Fhood camp in Jordan

Two groups of 15 Emirati teenagers are volunteering there over July and August, offering classes alongside trained jiu-jitsu coaches. Each group of students spends two weeks at the camp.

The initiative is the first time the UAE’s national Mohamed bin Zayed Summer Jiu-Jitsu Programme has expanded overseas.

“The first time they saw us they were so excited and curious,” Abdulla said of the children at the camp. “We just went and introduced ourselves. They learned the jiu-jitsu really quickly. I built a nice friendship with all of them and they were so kind to us.

“One of them, Saif, who is 13, invited me many times to his house to have lunch with his family. We’re still in touch over WhatsApp. The experience was great and I would love to do it again.”

The initiative is designed to help refugees by teaching them skills such as self-defence and discipline while also building their confidence. It was initially expected that five classes per day would be run at the camp, although the number has expanded to deal with higher-than-expected demand.

Programme organisers believe it will also help the Emirati volunteers, some of whom are as young as 15, by giving them an insight into the lives of people less fortunate than them.

It will also widen the scope for those Emirati kids, [teaching them] about what’s going on abroad,” Fouad Darwish, general manager at Palms Sports, a UAE jiu-jitsu company supporting the programme, said at a launch event last week.

“It will give them more recognition of how valuable the life we have here today is. We live very well here. When they learn about the dilemmas of other people, it will widen their thinking.

“They all stay in the same camp, they eat the same food as their refugee friends and stay in the same type of sleeping quarters. The volunteers do not leave the camp whatsoever.”

Updated: August 4, 2019 12:01 PM

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