Syrian in Lebanon seeks beautiful life with beautiful game

At 16, Odai's passion for the beautiful game has no limits. A refugee from Syria, he dreams of becoming a professional football player.

Odai started playing soccer when he was five.
© UNHCR/Dalal Mawad

Under a scorching August sun, Odai Al Jburri is on the pitch, putting on a show. He heads the ball left and right, dancing around with his feet. “Some people think because I am a refugee, I can’t do much, “ he says loudly, “ I will prove them wrong.”

At 16, Odai’s passion for the beautiful game knows no limits.

A refugee from Syria, Odai started playing football when he was just five. He trained at the Karama club in his hometown Homs until he was 11, dreaming of becoming a professional Football player.  “ Football (soccer) is my first family,” he says. “ It is everything I own, want and fight for.”

But the onset of the Syrian conflict changed everything. Odai had to flee to neighbouring Lebanon with his family in 2011, leaving everything behind. “People were getting shot and arrested,“ recalls Amal, his mother. “We feared for our children’s lives.” The family of 7, settled in Hammanah, a mountainous village East of Beirut, where they rented a small shack. 

But life in Lebanon has been a struggle; moving Odai further away from his dream of becoming a professional Football player. “Many people tell me that I should encourage him and support him,” explains his father Mustafa,”but how would I support him? I have no means, we use the assistance we get to pay for food and rent.”

"The minute I see the ball ... I feel relieved and happy."

Odai’s family lives off a 216 dollars monthly stipend given by UNHCR. Odai had to drop from school to support his family. He works 13 to 14 hours shifts at a local butcher earning only 200 dollars a month.

Despite the hardship, Odai won’t give up on his dream. After hours, he is on the pitch either training or playing at the local club in Hammanah. "No matter how tired or stressed I am, the minute I see the ball and the field, I feel relieved and happy,” says Odai.

His Lebanese coach Raymond Hadchiti, who has trained in the United States, says Odai is full of potential, “He is a very fast player, he always has a good vision of the Football field and fast passing skills.”

But Hadchiti adds that Odai won’t be able to go to the next level without proper professional training abroad.