What led you to begin using sport in your work?
For 20 years I played basketball and thought about little else. It was the one thing I planned everything around. Today my best friends are the teammates that I played alongside for many years. So when I quit playing basketball, I knew I had to stay involved in the sport in some capacity. I wanted to inspire and empower girls through sport and give them an opportunity to experience what I had.
In 2013, I was selected to represent Egypt in the “Global Sports Mentoring Program,” an exchange program sponsored by ESPN and the US Department of State. While in the program, I presented my “Girl Power” action plan. Girl Power is a community initiative that uses sport as a tool for development, social change and gender equality. Sport changes the way girls think about themselves and about their roles in society. It makes them feel stronger and gives them the confidence to handle the daily challenges they face in their communities. Girl Power creates a safe and supervised space where girls can acquire life and social skills, learn ethics and values, make friends and have fun.
When I returned to Egypt, I quit my engineering job and decided that I would dedicate all of my time to bring this project to life. I’ve been incredibly lucky to find dedicated volunteers who have been willing to go through this journey with me.
Why do you think sports are a powerful tool for achieving development outcomes?
The importance of sport today goes well beyond improving physical, mental and emotional health. Sport provides a great socio-cultural learning environment. It is a universal language that everyone can speak and relate to, it promotes communication and helps heal the divisions between people and communities strengthening the social fabric.
Sport has the power to advocate for unity, peace and inclusion in a way that nothing else does.
What is unique/innovative about your model?
The Girl Power model is based on studying community needs and understanding the barriers girls’ face in their daily lives. We work to overcome those barriers by integrating the community into our program. We have an all-female coaching staff of current or former professional basketball players who are passionate about sports and believe in the power of sport to cause social change. Together with the participants and community members, our coaches are encouraged to have full ownership of the program in order to ensure its sustainability and long-lasting impact. Our female coaches are role models for the girls and demonstrate to them that females can be great athletes.
What is the greatest lesson that you have learned in the time that you have been working on this issue?
The greatest lesson I have learned is that if you are passionate about something and really believe in it, nothing can ever stop you from achieving your goal. Take every mistake as a lesson learned and you will end up a much better person who can help others in the best way possible. The more you help others to be better, the more you are helping yourself to grow and develop.
Sports have the potential to change the lives of girls all over the world. It is imperative that we make use of this potential that is not yet fully utilized in many places throughout the world, like Egypt. We can use sport to address and tackle social issues that are facing girls and help them stand up to these issues and overcome them.