A story of success and changes, through the THF Center in Azraq Refugee Camp



AMMAN, Jordan (Jan. 2024) - THF Jordan project in the refugee camp of Azraq has been running since 2016. It has shown significant results through the "Humanitarian Taekwondo Center" opened in 2018, where children can practice Taekwondo in the best conditions.


Under the supervision of coach Asif Sabah, who trains young refugee Syrian Taekwondo athletes and leads the THF Center in Azraq (Jordan), one hundred young boys and girls are practicing Taekwondo on a daily basis, reaching equitably both genders. So far, 500 refugee children experienced Taekwondo at the camp. 80 reached black belt level 1st dan and 20 black level 2nd Dan. Newly, the THF Azraq Refugee Team comes to the light, starting to compete at national Jordan level, participating in two tournaments (Al Fares Taekwondo Championships and the Brave Championships), in Amman. The team, made of 20 athletes, won 13 medals and has been awarded the first-place cup in the men’s category, after THF icons Wael Al-Farraj and Yehya Al-Ghotani won gold medals at the Brave Championships.   


In such a short time, the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation program in Azraq Refugee Camp is really blowing all expectations, having now two refugee athletes (Wael Al-Farraj and Yehya Al-Ghotani) benefiting from an IOC scholarship by the IOC-ORF to prepare for Paris 2024, which was something truly unexpected when the program started.


To succeed in Taekwondo you need skill but you also need determination and hard work. The young THF students are motivated by their two icons Wael and Yehya, showing other refugees but also athletes around the world, that it is possible to overcome the most difficult challenges. Wael, who starred in the documentary “We Dare to Dream”, screened last year at the Tribecca Film Festival in New-York, said: “Taekwondo has changed my life. It has given me more strength and confidence. My goal now is to become an Olympian and to help other refugees just as I received help.” His early trainer and coach, Asif Sabah, explains that Wael had not planned to be a Taekwondo athlete, but that it was his enthusiasm for the sport that linked him to Taekwondo, sharing memories around this success story started in 2016, when Wael was 13.


Despite the difficult realities, Azraq's young refugee athletes continue to hone their kicks, train their bodies and minds every day and most importantly, find joy from it. This is the case of the six members of Al-Ayoub family, led from a rural village in their homeland Syria to neighboring Jordan at the outbreak of the civil war. While taking shelter at the Azraq refugee camp, established and managed by the Jordanian government and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees 100 kilometers east of the capital Amman, the family found Taekwondo to be an "outlet in which we feel comfortable" Muhammad Al-Ayoub, 45, told The Korea Times during the 1st Hope and Dreams Sport Festival held in Azraq Refugee Camp. Working at the camp's Taekwondo Center as an assistant to coach Asif Sabah, the father who passed recently his 3rd Dan Black belt level together with Yehya Al-Ghotani, accessed a referee training course offered by the Jordan Taekwondo Federation.



It took little time for Taekwondo to become a family custom for the Al-Ayoub household, which has always loved inner and outer peace, in the younger Al-Ayoub's words. "We are a sports family par excellence," he said, explaining that they all hold black belts now.


The first family member to learn Taekwondo was the eldest daughter, Shaima, who is now 18 years old and hopes to study medicine. Since she started training at the camp's Center in 2016, the family witnessed how she improved her physical and psychological well-being and learned patience, discipline and positivity through training.


His 16-year-old son, Othman, also said Taekwondo fostered his older sister's physical and psychological well-being and taught her sportsmanship. His younger brother, Rema, is an ambitious 12-year-old with a second-dan black belt in Taekwondo, who is in the process of completing his studies. Rema aims to become a Taekwondo Olympian and an international coach and referee one day. His younger sister Doaa, 8, is a child prodigy in Taekwondo who became the youngest refugee Taekwondo practitioner to earn her first-dan black belt at the age of six in 2021. She acquired her second dan at the age of 8.


Although the mother does not practice martial arts, she is the "unknown soldier who stands behind every member of our family," the father said. She fully supports the family's sports engagements by organizing the children's studying and training schedules and encouraging them to discipline their minds and bodies.


The Al-Ayoub family is among the hundreds of Syrian refugees training in Taekwondo at the Azraq camp's Humanitarian Sports Center supported by Dr Chungwon Choue, President of World Taekwondo (WT) and Chairman of the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation (THF). The Center aims to spread the Olympian values of peace and courage and empower refugees and displaced people through sports.