Syrian wrestling champion brings love of sport from refugee camp to Canada

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Mohammed Alkarad, the 12-time Syrian nationwide champion wrestler, was teaching the nationwide workforce when he was approached by the Syrian authorities.

With protests across the nation, they needed him to turn out to be an informant and control the individuals he was teaching on behalf of the federal government, and use his celeb to do it.

He refused.

“That made my life harmful in Syria,” he mentioned.

“I took the choice to go away Syria to Jordan.”

When he arrived at Zaatari Camp in Jordan in 2012, “I feel I lived three days in a coma.” He solely felt reduction that he was protected, he mentioned.


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However after three days, he began to note the individuals round him. “I used to be in search of for one thing to assist the individuals as a result of all of the individuals had been very unhappy and the youngsters have stress. I see on a regular basis issues between the individuals and that made me unhappy.”

WATCH: UNHCR video that includes Mohammed Alkarad

The camp is now Jordan’s fourth-largest metropolis, with a inhabitants of about 78,000 individuals – most of them Syrian refugees. In 2013, it reached a peak inhabitants of simply over 200,000.

Alkarad needed to assist the children, he mentioned, and his expertise as a wrestling coach made it an apparent resolution: begin a wrestling program.

“Already the kid has power. It’s essential spend that power. I feel the wrestling was the higher factor to spend their power and take in the violence of the youngsters.”

It began with a small group to only encourage children to play, he mentioned. However as NGOs like Mercy Corps received concerned, this system quickly grew to incorporate a whole bunch of youngsters. Alkarad estimates that about 1,700 youngsters and youth participated at one level or one other.

Wrestling on the camp

A kind of children was Mohammed Nakash, who Alkarad affectionately calls “Hamada.”

Nakash, 16, nonetheless lives at Zaatari camp, and his household’s shelter is embellished with dozens of medals and trophies he received in camp wrestling tournaments.

Mohammed Nakash, 16, with among the medals he’s received at wrestling tournaments on the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

Leslie Younger / World Information

“Once I first began, Mohammed was the supervisor of the fitness center and the wrestling program. He needed to get extra individuals to enrol, so he instructed me, ‘Come and take a look at.’”

After attending for a couple of weeks, he dropped out. And Alkarad quickly searched him out – one thing he did with a lot of his truant college students.

“I instructed him I didn’t prefer it. He instructed me, ‘No, you’ll come again and I’ll practice you.’”

After a couple of months of Alkarad pushing him, Nakash got here to like the game. “It gave me self-confidence,” he mentioned.

“I didn’t have self-confidence earlier than wrestling to talk in entrance of individuals, to go and do interviews. This sport gave me this self-confidence.”

His wrestling profession was minimize brief although when Alkarad left Zaatari Camp to maneuver to Ottawa, after being privately sponsored as a refugee. “We mentioned, ‘Our future went. There isn’t a one to coach us anymore.’”

Mohammed Nakash together with his little brother and his pal, who all participated within the wrestling program at Zaatari Camp.

Leslie Younger / World Information

Though he has nothing however well-wishes for Alkarad, since he left, the wrestling program doesn’t exist in the identical means. So, he practices gymnastics as an alternative however misses wrestling.

“For it to be a part of my future on this camp, it’s actually onerous. There isn’t a future for wrestling in a refugee camp.”

Alkarad believes that Nakash has the makings of a champion although.

“If somebody offers him the possibility to get out of the camp, if somebody helps his coaching, I assure he will probably be a champion.”

“I can see it in his eyes,” he mentioned. Nakash has ardour for the game and the self-discipline to maintain up together with his coaching. “He has some disappointment in his eyes, however he has hope. I’m positive he will probably be a champion sooner or later.”

A view down the “Champs Elysees” buying avenue in Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan.

Leslie Younger / World Information

Life in Ottawa

After arriving together with his household in Ottawa, Alkarad started coaching native wrestlers at a close-by highschool. He quickly needed to step again from that although to deal with his younger son, who has kidney issues and requires plenty of medical care, and his aged dad and mom.


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He’s hoping to get again into the ring quickly. “In October, we are going to begin a brand new program for newcomers,” he mentioned. In partnership with native organizations, he’ll provide new arrivals to Canada the possibility to be coached by a champion.

He’s excited to begin. “It is going to full my undertaking” of serving to youngsters discover social help by means of wrestling, he mentioned.

Mohammed Alkarad and his younger son of their condo in Ottawa.

David de la Harpe / World Information

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