Young Change-Maker Waleed Abu Nada wanted to make an impact through Olympic weightlifting in his home of Jordan. In doing so, he has also delivered hope to kids and teens in the Al Baqaa Refugee Camp.
Finding the Potential in Olympic Weightlifting
When Waleed Abu Nada launched IE University in Spain’s first Olympic weightlifting school, the Jordanian university student didn’t know just how impactful weightlifting could be. But after seeing the success of the programme, he was inspired to bring Olympic weightlifting to his home country of Jordan.
What he found was surprising. It turned out there was already an Olympic weightlifting programme in Jordan – at Al Baqaa Refugee Camp, Jordan’s largest camp for Palestinian refugees. With the help of the Jordanian National Olympic Committee, Abu Nada learned of Nadi Yarmouk Al-Baqa’a, a small, underfunded training hall in the heart of the camp, and of coach Captain Ali Al Gabri, who teaches Olympic weightlifting to refugee children there. Abu Nada knew this would be his venue for making a difference through Olympic weightlifting.
“I wanted to explore how the weightlifting school was helping youth in the area stay away from other problems in the region, such as drugs, violence, and all the consequences of poverty,” says Abu Nada. Over three months Abu Nada visited the camp, worked with children and finally released a documentary called The Champ Camp, all to raise awareness of the camp.
What he found was that the kids at this camp where not unlike other young aspiring Olympians. “There are kids and teenagers around the world who dream of becoming big names in Olympic weightlifting. The difference is that these kids in Al Baqa’a do not have the life of typical teenagers. They work before training to earn money for their families, while also prioritising their studies. Many of the children who train at Nadi Yarmouk Al-Baqa’a are denied the joys of a typical childhood. Yet they refuse to give up and they are still full of heart and hope.”
Fighting Adversity in the Champ Camp
What’s unique about the Champ Camp is that it not only teaches weightlifting, but also provides a safe haven for the children, teaching them their value, regardless of traditional gender roles. The camp, which consisted of 14 girls and 11 boys, empowers young females by emphasising the immense role women have not only in sport, but also in life.
I wanted to explore how the weightlifting school was helping youth in the area stay away from other problems in the region, such as drugs, violence, and all the consequences of povertyWaleed Abu Nada
“It’s so refreshing to see the number of young girls in the club,” says Abu Nada. “This is because we’re in a conservative society where young females engaging in sport, and in particular Olympic sports such as weightlifting, is definitely a big deal. But you can see they’re pretty open about it, they’re happy about it, they’re enjoying themselves while doing it.”
Three of those girls even competed in the West Asian Olympic Weightlifting tournament held in Jordan in October of 2017 – and all of them managed to win medals. “Seeing their efforts being rewarded on an international stage was truly heart-warming and only further emphasised the importance of continuing to empower them through sport,” Abu Nada recalled.
Fighting for Good
Weightlifting doesn’t always have positive connotations, as it can be a dangerous sport. But with proper training, it provides important skills and outlets for at-risk children. Abu Nada’s goal is to find funders who can invest in the camp to help support it and give it a really big future.
“You can feel these kids have big dreams and they want to achieve big things in life, but sadly, they have been living through tough circumstances,” explains Abu Nada. “Some of them are third-generation refugees, even fourth. These kids need more investment and more coverage from local media here and on an international scale.”
I am continuously amazed by the progress these kids keep on making. They now have broader horizons and continue to dream bigger.Waleed Abu Nada
Already, the Champ Camp is more than just a small training hall. “It is now a platform that paves a path full of opportunities for these kids – with it being their go-to place to escape their daily troubles and achieve their dreams,” says Abu Nada. “Through the help and support of the people around me, new equipment is gradually being delivered to our facility. I hope to establish that the Champ Camp is not solely a weightlifting school, but rather a way of life. The new vision is to work on attaining better academic and social results for the kids through different means. This would be through educational curriculums, public speaking programmes and other tools.”
Waleed Abu Nada continues to have big dreams for the camp. “I don’t want to only contribute to building champion athletes, but rather champion people. I am continuously amazed by the progress these kids keep on making. They now have broader horizons and continue to dream bigger. I have learned from them much more than I could ever give back, and for that, I will eternally be grateful.”
The Young Change-Maker (YCM) Programme, now in its fifth cycle, invites National Olympic Committees to nominate inspiring young people aged 20-25 to serve as role models for their athletes and ensure they get the most out of their YOG experience. The YCMs are tasked with guiding the athletes through the Athlete Education Programme, encouraging them to be open to cultural exchanges, and introducing them to the Olympic values and all the movement stands for so they too can return home as ambassadors of the rings. YCMs are also invited to apply for seed-funding to deliver their own social projects leveraging sport to address an issue in their community. The YCM+ programme – which is supported by Panasonic – has so far seen 19 YCMs+ deliver 28 projects across 17 countries, impacting over 9,000 individual participants.