October 1 2022 8:59 AM E-paper Subscribe Sign in My Account Sign out

Little girls with big dreams

Crowns
Squash Dreamers girls wearing paper crowns. (Photo: Handouts from Squash Dreamers)
Squash Dreamers teaches economically disadvantaged young Jordanian and refugee girls, focusing on the sport of squash as a recreational and social outlet while giving the girls academic resources to catch up on their education, English lessons to gain access to Amman’s outstanding international schools, and an environment of mutual support and female empowerment in which they can thrive.اضافة اعلان


(Photo: Handouts from Squash Dreamers)

The organization, which was founded by an American couple who were working in Amman at Reclaim Childhood and King’s Academy, respectively, boasts a 60 percent rate of female staff on the in-country team, and is working to increase that number. It also specifically encourages female volunteers to come and visit the girls so as to provide additional strong female role models for them.

The organization’s programs are settings where women work to empower girls and plant the seeds for the next generation of strong and confident women in Jordan.

Daisy Van Leeuwen-Hill started working with the girls at Squash Dreamers as a volunteer English teacher in January 2019 while she was in Amman studying Arabic.  She fell in love with the work, quickly became more involved in the program, and continued to deliver lessons while managing other English volunteers up to five days a week. She returned to the UK to finish her degree, but ended up moving back to Jordan after graduation and becoming the organization’s executive director.


(Photo: Handouts from Squash Dreamers)

She said: “Our hope is to send these girls out into the world as independent, talented, strong young women able to fulfil their dreams and prosper. Since joining Squash Dreamers full time in September, I have had the pleasure of seeing firsthand what an incredible difference this program can make in the lives of young girls.”

The organization currently works with 17 girls aged 6 to 14, all from the Marka neighborhood in east Amman, and many of them Palestinian refugees. They also partner with an orphanage in Abdoun which sends about 15 girls every week to join Squash Dreamers’ Saturday programming. The girls from the orphanage are Syrian, Sudanese, Yemeni, Palestinian, and Jordanian. While not all of them are orphans, most of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds and live in poverty.

Before their enrollment at Squash Dreamers, many of the girls had no outlet to exercise and play — they would go to school and then come straight home and not leave the house. Squash Dreamers gives them an opportunity to socialize with other young girls, leave the house and play in a safe and supervised setting.


(Photo: Handouts from Squash Dreamers)

Leeuwen-Hill stressed that Squash Dreamers, which provides two and a half hours of squash and English lessons on Mondays and Thursdays and full day of programming on Saturdays, tries to support each girl as an individual, meeting her specific social, academic, and recreational needs to the best of their ability. One young girl was recently resettled by a refugee resettlement program in Canada, and the extra English classes and squash experience in Amman set her up well for her new life, enabling her to communicate better and have a hobby to share. Another girl who excels in the English courses is currently interviewing for enrollment in the King’s Academy summer enrichment program, potentially a life-changing opportunity.

While Squash Dreamers aims to enroll as many girls as possible in high-quality schools through scholarships, and has a strong relationship with King’s Academy, including a program where older girls from the school mentor younger girls enrolled with the program, every girl enrolled with the organization is able to benefit in some way.

The English lessons supplement their regular school education, allow them to communicate with more people, and will make them more employable in the future. The squash side of the program is great for the girls’ physical and mental health, equips them with a hobby through which they can make friends, puts them in a better position for applying to sport scholarships and gives those who really excel an opportunity to enter the professional squash world and teach in the future.

Jordan has a very active national squash federation and squash-playing community, so the sport is a great skill for the girls to possess as they become young women and seek to expand their personal and professional circles.

Reflecting on the reality that not every girl is going to become a squash champion, and not every girl is going to gain entrance into Amman’s most prestigious private schools, Leeuwen-Hill still believes that Squash Dreamers has a huge impact on every girl in the program.
On top of the opportunities to really succeed through the squash and the English, at the very basic level, it is just somewhere safe and wonderful for them to come and smile.

“The essence of it, and what makes me so happy about it, is that it is a group of young women who can come together, they can shout, they can sing, they can laugh, they can cry, they can play squash, they can learn English, they can dream – and it is a safe space for them. On top of the opportunities to really succeed through the squash and the English, at the very basic level, it is just somewhere safe and wonderful for them to come and smile,” she said.

Leeuwen-Hill also said that in addition to the opportunities Squash Dreamers provides, she has seen a huge change in the girls since they were able to return to fully in-person classes, noticing that they have become more sociable and confident. She said that Squash Dreamers staff members help the girls to think about their dreams, encouraging them to think big and know that they can do anything they want to.


(Photo: Handouts from Squash Dreamers)

“Within our team we have future doctors, lawyers, judges, police officers, teachers and professional squash players. More than anything, my dream for the girls is to see them grow into amazing, confident and talented young women equipped with the tools they need to succeed in life,” she said.

Squash Dreamers also welcomes volunteers  who want to share their skills and hobbies with the girls. During the month of January when the girls had a long holiday from school, Squash Dreamers provided daily programming, including sessions in frisbee, arts, dance, and mindfulness, giving the girls the opportunity to express themselves and try new things.

At the beginning of each session they talk through the good and bad parts of the week and say together, “if we win or we lose, we smile because we are a family”.


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