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|Alma mater of Coe and Radliffe brings sport to Muslim Women|
|02/24/05 at 19:33:42|
|Masha'Allah!!! Sisters - Excellent work Alhamdulillah!|
[u]Alma mater of Coe and Radliffe brings sport to Muslim women [/u]
All-female coaching courses at Loughborough University develop confidence in place of constraints, writes Paul Weaver
Tuesday February 22, 2005
Something strange and wonderful is happening at Loughborough University. Some £30m has been invested recently in state-of-the-art facilities to nurture sporting excellence, but today the viewing galleries where coaches peer and ponder have been closed. The cameras have been switched off, sentinels guard the doors and paper screens cover the windows.
The country's premier university for sports development, research and training, the place where Sebastian Coe, David Moorcroft, Paula Radcliffe, Steve Backley, Clive Woodward and many more have studied, is up to something. There is a whispered rumour that boffins are attempting to clone Andrew Flintoff and Wayne Rooney. But it is more important than that.
This is a day for Muslim girls, a rare day when sport reaches beyond mere entertainment and business and becomes a force for good. It is a day when jockstraps and cricket flannels make way for veils, hijabs and pashmina wraps.
For two years Loughborough University, in Leicestershire, has been running a Widening Access Through Sport project designed to foster relations with, among others, the Muslim population (mainly Bangladeshi) and to generate interest among them in higher and further education opportunities there. It has been funded by the European Social Fund.
The scheme has been directed by Dr Tess Kay, a senior research fellow at the university's Institute of Youth Sport. "In particular, the target has been local young people aged 14-19 from ethnic-minority groups, and young Muslim women represent one of the areas we have been concentrating on," she says. "We have had to go round to the parents, individually, to assure them that this was appropriate and that everything was all right."
Justine Sanders, the university's widening participation officer, has worked alongside Kay. "This is a huge learning curve for the university as well as the girls," she says. "The vast majority of the facilities here have been designed for training purposes. The great thing is that all the girls want to get coaching experience so they can coach back in their community."
The two women have brought in a development worker, Rahmanara Chowdhury, 24, whose family are from Bangladesh. She was born in Nottingham and now lives in Loughborough, where she used to be a student. "I just wish something like this had been around when I was a girl," she says. "Opportunities like this just don't exist elsewhere. Physical education in schools is not segregated. The girls are forced to take part because of the curriculum but they don't feel comfortable. So they don't take part fully. They don't really join in. They make their way to the sidelines and in some cases find any excuse they can think of to miss PE.
"Here, it's a totally female environment. It's closed off and they can dress and behave as they wish. We are discovering that the confidence and self-esteem they take from this is often carried over into their mainstream studies at their schools and even into their home life."
The girls, mainly in traditional dress, work in small numbers, six to eight for most activities, and the idea is to use sport to engage them at a personal level. They come to the university once or twice a week or at weekends and for longer periods during the holidays.
Chowdhury adds: "The karate, for example, allows them to come out and show their personalities. It really does bring out a side in them that they just can't show to people. They can show that they're not oppressed, that they can do what other girls do. When I set up a swimming class locally my sister came home glowing. She was, like, 'wow, that was brilliant'. It is a chance to be free and express yourself differently."
One of the girls, Ghyda Senussi, says: "Girls in our situation are usually shy and timid. This gives us a real confidence boost. And it helps overall, not just in sport. We are learning to interact more and put our views across."
Another, Amina Gani, adds: "My dad thought I couldn't play sports. Now he knows I can. Netball is my favourite. Now I want to become a PE teacher and am getting some level-one coaching experience."
Occasionally the university will broaden the project and bring in the girls' families and other members of their community. But the essence of the idea is to engage young people at a personal level, break down barriers and make the university seem more accessible to everyone. Organisers' feedback and research indicates that the course has helped many of the girls to develop confidence, greater people skills and physical fitness, with some progressing to take coaching qualifications. The girls, who spend most of their leisure-time at home, have developed physical fitness as well as people skills. Some are now considering not only attending a further or higher education institution but also taking western-influenced courses such as media studies.
Kay adds: "If we had to pinpoint one thing we are pleased with it is that we have facilitated the project in a very responsive mode. We haven't predetermined the activity programmes. Everything has been developed incrementally through consultation with the activity leader. We are offering something the girls really respond to. Their direct input guides the programme.
"At the start we had this naive belief that this would be a particularly hard group to get involved. But because of the usual constraints they face about acceptable activities they respond with enormous energy and enthusiasm to anything we can offer."
It is getting dark and it is time for the girls to go home. The screens are removed from the windows. The guards move away from the doors. Boys and men start to reappear. A sense of normality is returning to Loughborough University. But for an hour or two, well away from the back-page headlines, something remarkable and uplifting has taken place. And sport, as well as Loughborough University and the Muslim girls, should feel proud.
|02/24/05 at 19:35:41|
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