Group Turns Basketball into a Bridge in Lebanon

Fellows Spring 2007

By Shereen Meraji

June 01, 2009

Appeared on NPR.org


Rabiah Hamoush coaches basketball workshops for GAM3 on a court next to the Tarik El Jedidah neighborhood in Lebanon. Just a few months back, deadly violence broke out there between Sunni and Shia youth.

In Lebanon, professional basketball games are more like political duels carried out on a wood floor between two hoops. The teams are divided by religious sect, and so are the supporters.

Lebanon is often in political crisis, but many say the one going on now is the worst since the 15-year civil war. A Danish international aid group, GAM3 (pronounced game), is hoping to harness Lebanese passion for the game in a positive way.

Every Saturday, GAM3 teaches free basketball workshops for kids from different neighborhoods in and around Beirut. The four-month program ends with a tournament. Unlike their professional counterparts, GAM3's teams blend different religions and sects.

GAM3 coach Rabiah Hamoush says the sectarian problems today remind him of those in the 1970s, right before the civil war. He hopes that playing basketball will teach kids to accept their differences and play past them — on the court, and in daily life.

The concept strikes a chord for some participants. Haithem Ghazir, 16, says, "Even in basketball, if you play as only one player, it doesn't work. The country must go on as one team, not different teams in politics."

But for other players, deep antipathy remains: One boy vows that if there are any Shia on the basketball courts, they will be killed. He ran his thumb across his throat to illustrate his words, not realizing that the translator — along with half a dozen boys he was just running drills with — are Shiite.

Listen to Meraji's story at NPR.org