Text and photos: PlayOnside
The Spanish/Norwegian NGO PlayOnside is based in the Thai town Mae Sot, a few kilometer from the Thai/Burma border. Mae Sot is home to approximately 200.000 Burmese refugees and migrants. The prolonged civil war in their native homeland, has forced millions to seek refuge abroad, where they live on the rim of their host communities.
Burmese children go to separate schools, so-called Migrant Learning Centers or MLCs. In Mae Sot there are 54 different MLCs, the only educational opportunity for these children. By closely working together with the schools and local communities, PlayOnside has been able to provide a safe place for sport, fun and learning through football, focusing on the positive life skills like fair play, tolerance and respect.
PlayOnside has three major objectives: Gender Equality, Social Inclusion and Empowerment.
Football in Mae Sot or in Burmese communities has traditionally been viewed as a boys game, but that is about to change! By systematically promoting gender equality PlayOnside has gradually broken down cultural barriers, hindering girls’ participation in football. PlayOnside has also successfully implemented different methodologies to promote girls participation and empower girls on and off the field. Today 40 % of the 600 children regularly attending PlayOnside activities, are girls.
In a divided town like Mae Sot, where the migrant populations live separated from the Thai communities, the need for platforms of interaction is imperative. But when PlayOnside talk about social inclusion, they are not solely focusing on the host/migrant aspect, but also the migrant/migrant aspect. When bringing the different migrant communities together on the football, mixing players from different communities, ethnic background, and gender, we see great social benefits for the migrant communities as a whole.
Football can be a powerful tool for empowerment, both on a community level and on an individual level. Football empowers the community; they get a feeling of belonging, and proudness of participating. It empowers the children, as they improve their skills and gain confidence and recognition. For the coaches/teachers it is about giving them the tools to implement the PlayOnside program. Through the PlayOnside Capacity Building Program young local leaders learn about the “soft” values of football like fair play, respect and tolerance. The Capacity Building Program aims to highlight the role of the coach as a role-model and an inspiration for the children. By equipping coaches with different tools, they are capable of implementing these values in practice.