As the Tokyo Olympics concluded, as many as 120 boys from 12 different Syrian camps enthusiastically gathered together on Sunday 8 August to stage their very own version of the ‘Tent Olympics’. 

Catapulting javelins, leaping over hurdles and sprinting past tent rows to win gold, displaced youth in northwest tent settlement of Yaman in war-torn Syria, became star athletes overnight.

Ten years of humanitarian crisis and hostilities have had a profound impact on the situation of children in Syria, across the region and beyond. The Idlib region is home to nearly three million people with two-thirds displaced from other parts of the country.

The young boys aged between 8-14 years old, also competed in the high jump, discus throw, gymnastics, martial arts, volleyball, badminton, football and even horse racing.

Illustration: Displaced Syrian boys in karate outfits drop a curtsy to each other before the game. Source: Omar Haj Kadour.

The day was a rare moment of joy for the children. Grinning from ear to ear and surrounded by his teammates, a delighted 12-year-old participant Walid Mohammed al-Hassan recounted his victory;  proudly representing his camp in the long jump. 

“We had such fun. I won second place in the long jump,” said young Walid.

A gleeful 11-year-old, Haider Jumaa who was forced to leave his home two years ago spoke of how the games inspired him to become even more physically agile.

“I participated in the Olympics today, in the gymnastics competition. I hope to develop my skills and become a gymnastics professional,” exclaimed Haider.

Syrian boy lands on household mattresses as he performs a jump. Source: Omar Haj Kadour.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that nearly 2.45 million children in Syria are out of school and face other grave concerns for violations of their rights as children.

The majority of these youth come from families that reside in camp tents or destroyed buildings and are dependent on humanitarian aid to survive.

Organiser Ibrahim Sarmini explained that the aim of the games was to give the children hope and shine a light on the plight of the camps. 

We wanted “to introduce the kids to different kinds of sports that we, as a society, hadn’t really tried before”, explained Mr Sarmini.

As the sunset over the red earth, the glorious young winners stepped up onto the podium to receive their medals under a shower of confetti and wild cheers. 

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