The idea was new and strange, when 14-year-old Zina Dannoun heard about the formation of a basketball team for people with special needs in East Jerusalem, but she decided to take the adventure.
After two years spent experiencing the new experience offered by the “Play and Learn” project organized by Burj Al-Luqluq Community Association, she now aspires to become an international player.
Dannoun, who came to life with a health condition that made her move in a wheelchair, said that her illness is not an obstacle to her, as the ninth-grade student aspires to become a pediatrician alongside her passion for sports.
In a closed gymnasium in the East Jerusalem town of Umm Tuba, Danon was fervently circling among a small group of her peers, trying to hit the net with a goal.
She succeeded several times and failed at other times, but happiness was evident on her face, while determination stirred all her limbs, even if she was on a wheelchair.
Danon said: “I am very comfortable, it is true that it is a little tiring, but it is very fun, and I aspire in the future to become a world-class basketball player.”
She added, “Special needs are a normal disease that I have adapted to, and we, like other human beings, have ambitions that we strive to achieve.”
Player Danon said; The idea of creating a basketball team for people with special needs was strange and new to the residents of East Jerusalem.
And she added, “When I joined the team, I enjoyed the experience and it became part of my identity, and I feel very grateful to the owner of the idea.”
And she continued, “I did not have any difficulties with my family, they encouraged me more, but it was not like that at the beginning with the rest of the team.”
In addition to her wish to become a global player, Danon said, “I also aspire to be a pediatrician.”
The coordinator of the “Play and Learn” project at Burj Al-Luqluq Community Association, Alaa Ghorab, stated that the project is supported by UNICEF for about 700 boys and girls from 5 neighborhoods in East Jerusalem: Jabal Mukaber, Silwan, Al-Isawiya, the Old City, and Shuafat camp.
“We train children in football and basketball and support them academically by teaching Arabic, English, mathematics and computers, and informing them of their rights so that they are not subject to exploitation,” she said.
She added, “The project includes supporting and empowering children with disabilities, and we have established the first of its kind in Jerusalem for chair basketball for young people, and it consists of 12 children, including 3 females aged 12-18 years, who have been undergoing periodic training since 2020.”
And Ghorab continued, “Despite the modernity of our team, it shows great progress day after day, as they challenge their disabilities and prove their ability to make their mark anywhere they reach.”
She added, “The idea of the project came from an attempt to empower children in their beloved fields that may shape their future.”
And she added, “We expect our team to reach advanced stages in the future, and to have coaches among them.”
Alaa Ghorab mentioned the difficulties they faced in the beginnings to form a basketball team for children with special needs in East Jerusalem.
“It was very difficult to convince the parents, because the idea of basketball on chairs was new, because most of the activities for children with disabilities, were usually entertainment for one day,” she said.
She added, “Our goal was to establish a long-term project with a positive physical and psychological impact on children, in order to make them into people who are able to live their lives with full vitality despite the challenges of disability.”
She pointed out that “parents’ concerns in general were about the possibility of their children suffering physical harm.”
She added, “With the passage of time, the turnout began to increase, and many residents of the area started asking about basketball on chairs, and inquiring about how to join the project.”
Ghorab explained that the team’s training on the field is accompanied by a paramedic and 3 specialists.
“We choose qualified trainers to deal with children with disabilities, and we take over the task of transporting children from their homes to the training site,” she said.
She added, “Working with children with disabilities is a challenge in itself, because they cannot easily reach all facilities, with limited playgrounds suitable for them.”
“We are happy when we feel any positive impact on these children, so that they too can leave their mark on society,” she added.
In 2021, the youth team participated in the Palestinian national basketball competition against an older team.
Alaa Ghorab said, “We got third place despite the team’s newness, and we hope in the future to participate in local and international tournaments.”
She added, “Many of the team members want to become chair basketball coaches, and this opens opportunities for future generations to spread this sport, whether in Jerusalem or in the world.”
And she continued, “We hope that there will be a special club for the team that includes the largest number of children.”
The program is currently receiving the support from UNICEF, and the continuation of the support is a constant concern for the people in charge of the project.
Ghorab said, “The cost of the training is very high, and it is currently funded by UNICEF, and most of the activities are related to support.”
“We hope that our team will achieve the success it hopes for without remaining dependent on donors,” she added.
#Jerusalem #children #aspire #world #basketball #chairs #witness