In Jordan’s sprawling Azraq refugee camp, two little girls cycle home, dressed in stark white martial art uniforms. Read more…
Rayan, 12, and her sister Zeinab, 10, are among dozens of Syrian children taking taekwondo classes as part of an initiative launched last year by UNHCR and the World Taekwondo Federation.
“I would like to be a world champion,” explains Rayan with a broad smile. “I want people to wonder how a little girl was able to discover taekwondo and defend herself.”
In 2016, the girls and their parents fled the war back home in Syria. Their mother, 39-year-old Badra, remembers it well. “Our house was bombed three days before we fled Syria…We came here to this camp. When we first arrived, we started to cry. We were shocked. But the most positive thing is that my children are no longer scared. They are safe and they go to school too.”
They found refuge in Jordan’s Azraq camp, where UNHCR and partners provide shelter and vital support – thanks to kind, caring donors like you.
Then Rayan and Zeinab discovered a sport that changed their life. Learning taekwondo in the UNHCR-supported centre has taught them self-defence and boosted their self-confidence. “They were shy before,” says their mother. “But after they started this sport, they made many friends and their self-confidence improved.”
“For me, taekwondo is a sport that helps to learn and discover new things,” says Rayan. “It is not like football, football is just a game, it does not make you acquire skills that you can make use of. Taekwondo is much more interesting. It teaches you how to defend yourself.”
Attending the taekwondo academy has fueled Rayan’s ambitions. She dreams of competing in the Olympics, while her sister Zeinab wants to be a chef and a taekwondo coach, “to defend myself.” The sport has also expanded their horizons, through a South Korean coach who has been helping to train the girls.
“The coach showed us pictures of Korea,” Zeinab explains. “I fell in love with that view at first sight.” Her older sister Rayan is just as eager to travel: “I want to visit safe countries and explore cities. I want to see places with beautiful views like Syria, where there are green fields, flowers and mountains. I’d like to see it all.”
Self-defence classes are part of a wider UNHCR push to empower refugee women and girls across the region, and reduce the risks of violence and exploitation they face. The drive includes cash assistance, skills training and provision of safe spaces.