|Read later

Dubai youth camp tackles bullying through sports

DUBAI // Aaron Ferns is not spending his summer break with friends for games or flying off for a family holiday. The 20-year-old basketball player and four friends, who are preparing for college this year, are instead helping youngsters in Dubai to gain self-confidence in standing up to bullies.

After he saw what he called "subtle bullying" in parks and schools, Mr Ferns and his friends set up Camp Play, a fitness camp for children, between five and 14 years old, that will take place at Dubai World Trade Centre from tomorrow until August 25.

The children will be able to try sports and physical activities while learning to be bold, set goals and work as a team.

The Dh350 programme is part of the Dubai Sports World summer series.

Last year, Mr Ferns, who graduated from Gems Wellington Academy in Dubai, created the Pull Up Project to mentor youths through physical activity. He and his friends travelled to India last summer to coach children in schools in rural Goa.

This year, they decided to develop a programme for children in Dubai to help prepare them for the new school year.

"For a long time I used to be this awkward kid standing in the corner at a party all by myself. But basketball helped me come out of my shell and be a more confident person," said Mr Ferns, who plays for Goa’s basketball team and is a member of BasicBall Academy in Dubai.

He and his friends began talking about how bullying started and decided to draw on those experiences for the project.

"You might not see it happen blatantly, but it does happen and can mess with children psychologically," said Mr Ferns.

"The smallest of actions can harm somebody, and many times schoolchildren don’t realise that."

His friends – Faizal Razak, Soehl Abraham, Sumayyah Mirza and Fahad Al Bloushi, all sports enthusiasts who are starting university this year – will also mentor the camp participants.

The camp will start in the mornings with yoga lessons, followed by team-building exercises such as human foosball. Every day a new sport – football, basketball, dodgeball and table tennis – will be introduced.

Mr Al Bloushi, a 20-year-old Emirati who studied at Gems Winchester School in Dubai, said sports were a refuge for him when he was bullied. He hoped to lead by example.

"I used to be made fun of by a group of kids when I was younger," said Mr Al Bloushi, who plans to study sports science at university. "They used to mess with my stuff all the time and I would get intimidated. But then I joined the school basketball team and built my confidence, gained a lot of friends, which helped tremendously."

He said bullying remained an issue in schools – not just on the playground but online.

"Young people face physical and verbal abuse in all forms everywhere and they don’t know what to do," he said. "So we want to help them stand up for themselves and put a stop to this."

Engaging in sports is beneficial in reforming bullies and helping their victims, according to Dr Samineh Shaheem, an assistant professor of cross cultural psychology in Dubai.

"There are rules and regulations that need to be followed in sports," said Dr Shaheem, who started an awareness campaign in UAE schools called Bolt Down on Bullying.

"It teaches children about winning, perseverance and working hard. It becomes a platform for students who aren’t academically or artistically inclined to shine in another area."

She said sports could boost people’s self-esteem and help them to be themselves without giving in to oppression.

"It also teaches valuable life lessons like sportsmanship, collaboration, healthy competition and the fact that nothing comes without effort," said Dr Shaheem.

They can also channel a bully’s energy into positive actions.